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The Netherlands (Holland) - Education & Schools
The standard of education is high in the Netherlands, and a large proportion of the population participates in some form of education or training. Around a third of all school leavers reportedly enter higher education of some kind.
Dutch education is regulated by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which sets a national framework covering educational objectives, admission requirements and funding arrangements. There has been a trend within recent years to allow schools increased flexibility of approach within this national framework.
Education is compulsory under the principle of leerplicht (learning obligation), between the ages of 5 and 16 for all children who reside in the Netherlands or stay there for prolonged periods. At least two days a week of education of some form, which may include a component of on-the-job training, is also compulsory between the ages of 16 and 18, although there is no such obligation for anyone who leaves school at the end of the school year in which they turn 17.
While they are in compulsory education, children are not allowed to take time out of school during term time unless they have special permission from the local authority, and this is rarely granted for periods exceeding two weeks.
All education, except for that provided by private schools, is funded by the government until the age of 16, after which there is a requirement for the parents to pay an annual tuition fee, which in recent years has been in the region of €950. From the age of 18, individuals who remain in education are responsible for paying this fee themselves, but study grants are generally available for higher education. Tuition fees for higher education in the Netherlands are considerably lower than in many other European countries, typically around €1,500 a year.
There are a number of international schools located in the main cities of the Netherlands, offering primary and secondary education and mainly following either the British educational curriculum or a curriculum based on the International Baccalaureate. The fees vary considerably between international schools. There are also English-language streams in many local Dutch schools, for which tuition fees may be payable, but at much lower rates than for international school education.
Some expats employed in the Netherlands will have educational fees for their children paid for or subsidized by their employer, and the payments may be tax-deductible in many cases. Some may also have school fees reimbursed under the 30% ruling. However, it may not be possible to claim payment or tax reimbursement for fees paid for education at a local Dutch school, even if this is within the English-language stream.
In the Netherlands, children usually attend 8 years of primary school between the ages of 4 and 12. Under Dutch law, children must start school no later than the first day of the month after their 5th birthday. In practice, however, almost all Dutch children start school at the age of 4.
Most of the Netherlands’ primary schools, except for a relatively small number of private schools, are funded by the government and parents are only required to make a contribution (ouderbijdrage) to the cost of some special activities or excursions.
Around two thirds of primary school-age children in the Netherlands attend a school in which the educational approach is based on a particular religion or denomination. Although most of these are based on Catholic and Protestant denominations, there are also government-funded Jewish and Muslim schools. A further third attend a public non-denominational school (openbare).
There are also some schools, both government-funded and privately-funded, which are based on particular educational approaches such as the Montessori Method, the Dalton Plan and the Jena Plan. Additionally, publicly-funded schools catering for children with special learning needs or other disabilities are provided at primary as well as secondary level.
At the end of the eighth year of primary education most primary school students take the Citotoets (Cito test) the results of which are, along with the advice of their teachers, used to help determine which type of secondary education they will enter.
It is fairly unusual for primary schools in the Netherlands to offer extra-curricular activities; these are usually provided in the cities and towns by the municipalities.
The Netherlands has eight international primary schools, which mostly follow the British primary school curriculum, or the primary years programme of the International Baccalaureate.
Like primary schools, publicly-funded secondary schools in the Netherlands also include those which are based on particular religions or denominations, and those which are non-denominational. Additionally, there are some based on specific educational philosophies and those which provide specialist education or support for students with disabilities or other special needs. There are also private secondary schools which are not government-funded and charge tuition fees, including a number of international schools.
There are three main categories of local secondary education in the Netherlands: Vocational Education (VMBO), Senior General Secondary Education (HAVO) and Preparatory Scientific Education (VWO). For the first three or four years, secondary school students in each of these separate types of education follow a similar curriculum, after which their education becomes more specialised.
Vocational Education, or Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs (VMBO), taken by around 60% of secondary students in the Netherlands, consists of two main phases. The first consists of a four-year course which combines vocational education with academic work in mathematics, sciences, arts, languages and history. At the end of the second year of study, students choose to enter one of four main sectors with different subject emphases: technology, health and personal care and welfare, economics and agriculture. The second phase, known as secondary vocational education (Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs), lasts up to four years. In this phase, students progress through four consecutive levels, which equip them to enter the job market or various forms of higher education, depending on their career aspirations. There are four main streams of study: theoretical (Theoretische Leerweg), mixed (Gemengde Leerweg), middle-management-oriented (Kaderberoepsgerichte Leerweg) and basic profession-oriented (Basisberoepsgerichte Leerweg). There is also a “practical education” (Praktijkonderwijs) option which consists almost exclusively of vocational training and provides students who do not wish to enter higher education with a diploma to enable them to enter the job market.
Senior General Secondary Education or Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs (HAVO) consists of a five year course on completion of which students obtain a diploma which equips them for entry to Universities of Professional Education (HBO). After three years of following a common curriculum consisting of mathematics, sciences, arts, languages and history, HAVO students opt to enter one of four subject profiles, specializing in nature and technology, nature and health, economics and society or culture and society. Mathematics is a compulsory subject in all profiles, but is taught at different levels depending on the profile, and students have flexibility to choose some subjects from different profiles.
Finally, University Preparation or Voorbereidend Wetenschappe-lijk Onderwijs (VWO) consists of a six year course and is more academically-focused than VMBO or HAVO. Students who obtain a VWO diploma are eligible to enter a traditional university or Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs (WO) or a higher professional education institute (HBO), although they must still meet the entrance requirements of the specific university they choose to apply to. As in the case of HAVO, there are four main subject profiles to choose from in VWO.
A recent innovation in secondary education in the Netherlands has been the introduction of the study house (studiehuis) principle, in which students from the fourth year of HAVO and VWO upwards are encouraged to study independently, with the teachers acting more as facilitators than as instructors.
Within the international schools in the Netherlands, students mainly take programmes of study leading to the International Baccalaureate (IB) or the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).
The Dutch system of higher education consists of universities or Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs (WO) and higher professional education institutes or Hoger Boroeps Onderwijs (HBO). These all offer consistently high standards of education and are regulated under the Higher Education and Research Act 1993, while all their degree courses are validated by external experts. The main difference between them is that the universities focus on preparing students for an academic or scientific career, while the professional education institutes prepare students to enter particular professions. Both universities and higher professional education institutes are funded from a number of different sources including government grants, tuition fees and external contract work.
There are 14 universities in the Netherlands, including the Open University, some of which are very long-established and some of which are more modern. The centuries-old universities at Groningen, Utrecht, Amsterdam, and Leiden are members of the very highly regarded League of European Research Universities. Other Dutch cities with universities include Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Maastricht and Delft. Although the Netherlands has its own particular system for awarding academic degrees, it is also in the process of introducing a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree system (Ba-Ma) in line with other European countries, with many courses taught in English.
Under the traditional Dutch university system, only a single doctoraal degree is awarded, and this takes between four and six years to complete depending on the field of study. The degree is generally considered to be the equivalent of a Master’s degree, and meets the eligibility criteria for admission to study for a doctorate, the equivalent of a PhD. Under the new system, university students will be able to obtain a Bachelor’s degree after three years of study, and a Master’s degree after a further two years of study, as in the United Kingdom.
Currently, study for a doctorate involves four years of full-time research, supervised by a university professor, and is often conducted concurrently with paid work as a research assistant or other university employee. Under the new system, four years will still be required to complete a doctorate.
There are more than 40 professional education institutes located throughout the Netherlands. These currently award baccalaureus (bc) or ingenieur (ing) degrees which generally take four years to complete and can be conducted in any of 7 main fields of study: agriculture, engineering and technology, economics and business, health care, fine and performing arts, education or social work. In most cases, there is a work placement period during the four years of study. The qualifications gained from these courses do not generally meet the requirements for entry to a doctorate. However, some of the professional education institutes also offer Master’s courses in English, which are validated by an external body, in some cases a British university. Under the new higher educational system being introduced, HBO students will be awarded a Bachelor’s degree after their four years of study, but it has not yet been confirmed whether a degree awarded by a HBO will be considered sufficient for entry to a Master’s degree course at a traditional university.
University courses are measured in terms of credits (studiepunten) each of which corresponds to 40 hours of full-time study, including independent study. Each academic year consists of 42 weeks, and there is an annual requirement to complete 168 credits. A grading system from 1 to 10 is used, with 1 representing “very poor” and 10 representing “outstanding”, and 6 being the pass mark.
There are also 15 institutes for International Education, which offer Masters degree courses and mainly cater for foreign students, who are generally required to hold a Bachelor’s degree and have some previous work experience.
All recognized degree courses that are listed in the CROHO register generally charge the same tuition fees. Dutch students and some other EU nationals qualify for student grants (studiefinanciering) if they commence their degree course before the age of 30, and these are payable annually to students up to the age of 34.
The student grant is made up of a basic component, the amount of which only depends on whether or not they live in the family home, and an additional component which is paid to some students depending on the level of family income, numbers of siblings who are still in education and whether private medical insurance is held. It is also possible for students to take out top-up loans, for a fixed annual interest rate. Student grant recipients are eligible for free travel on public transport either at weekends or weekdays using a special pass called the ov-studentenkaar, with discounted fares the remainder of the time.
Certain categories of non-Dutch nationals also qualify for student grants to undertake higher education in the Netherlands. These include, for example, EU nationals who have previously been living and working in the Netherlands or who have a parent who is an EU national working in the Netherlands; other foreign nationals who have temporary residence permits and are moving to the Netherlands on the basis of family unification, and refugees holding temporary or permanent residence permits.
EU nationals who are enrolled in secondary or higher education in the Netherlands and who do not qualify for a study grant are generally awarded a one-off payment per year as tuition fee restitution, currently around €1,000 for university students.
Student Life and Leisure
Although few of Holland’s universities and professional higher education institutes are campus-based, most of the cities and towns in which they are located, whether old university towns or thriving new centres of professional education, have a definite student-like feel to them due to the presence there of many entertainment and shopping facilities catering to the needs of students, as well as the large numbers of students themselves.
Since there are few campus universities, virtually all students have to find privately-let accommodation, usually in the form of shared houses or apartments. There is a severe shortage of student housing in the Netherlands, but most higher education institutes have departments offering assistance to their students to find accommodation.
Many higher education students join fraternities, sororities or other student organisations for socialising or enjoying shared interests such as sports, hobbies or religious beliefs. Some of these are very long-established, relatively closed associations, and have complex “hazing” procedures for admissions which may take many months to achieve. Others are organised more simply and are open for immediate admission to anyone interested in joining. Virtually all higher educational institutes have many sports clubs, with rowing being especially popular among students, but other sports commonly played by students including rugby, football and tennis.
Most educational faculties also have their own associations related to their field of study, which organise extra seminars and lectures and provide a means of socialising with students sharing the same academic interests.
Useful Contacts and Links
2518 AX The Hague
PO box 29777
2502 LT The Hague,
Tel: +31 (0)70 426 0260
Fax: +31 (0)70 426 0399
The Inspectorate of Education in the Netherlands
2730, 3500 GS Utrecht
Tel: 030 669 06 00
Fax: 030 662 20 91
Vereniging voor Openbaar Onderwijs (Association of Public Education)
PO Box 2290
3500 GG Utrecht
Tel: 030 234 66 00
Stichting International Onderwijs (Foundation for International Education in the Netherlands)
The International School of Amsterdam
1185 TB Amstelveen. The Netherlands
American International School of Rotterdam
3055 WJ Rotterdam, The Netherlands
The American School of The Hague
2241 BX Wassenaar, The Netherlands
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences
2500 EA Den Haag
2501 CC Den Haag
Tel: (070) 312 21 21
Fax: 070) 312 21 00
VSNU (Association of Universities in the Netherlands)
Lange Houtstraat 2
2501 ES DEN HAAG
University of Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam)
Service and Information Centre
1012 ZA Amsterdam
Tel: +31 20 525 8080
Fax: +31 20 525 2921
Nyenrode Business Universiteit
MBA General Information
P.O. Box 130
3620 AC Breukelen
Tel: +31 346 291 291
Delft University of Technology
2600 AA Delft
T: +31 15 2785404
F: +31 15 2781855
University of Twente
P.O. Box 217
7500 AE Enschede
Fax: +31-53-489 2000
PO Box 90153
5000 LE Tilburg
Phone: +31 (0) 13 466 9111
Saxion Universities of Applied Sciences
P.O. Box 501
7400 AM Deventer
Telephone number: +31 570 603789
Fax number: +31 570 603628
Saxion Universities of Applied Sciences
P.O. Box 70.000
7500 KB Enschede
Telephone number: +31 53 4871508
Fax number: +31 53 4327893
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