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| Published in Education in the World | Written by Wade Tackett

Education System in the Netherlands

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Education in the Netherlands is many-sided and offers a wide range of opportunities for students from all over the world.

The school system in this country consists of primary, secondary and higher study levels. The structure is flexible, which gives students a multitude of chances of finding the correct academic route.

Primary Education

Elementary education is compulsory for children from the age of 5 to 12 but schools tend to accept children who are 4 years old. It has eight grades known as groepen (the range from Groep 1 to Groep 8).

Secondary Education

Gifted children are sometimes offered the opportunity to skip an academic year in the elementary school but in general, students at the age of 12 choose one of the following high schools as a place for further education:

  • VMBO – preparatory vocational middle-level education (4 years)
  • HAVO – senior general continued education (5 years)
  • VWO – university preparatory education (6 years)

VET (Vocational Education and Training)

VET programs are referred to by the Dutch with the abbreviation MBO. The education at this stage is oriented towards vocational training, which can take from half a year to 4 years. Applicants can choose among 70 Dutch colleges, which can be divided into the following main types:

  • Multidisciplinary colleges – offer MBO in economics, technology, health care, social services and adult education.
  • Agricultural colleges – offer programs for food technology and agriculture.
  • Specialized VET colleges – programs are offered for the specialized fields of such industries as butchery, graphic design, furniture painting, house painting and transport.

Students also have an opportunity to decide which level they would like to study. There are 4 levels of VET schooling:

  • MBO level 1: entry level at which the training is focused on the execution of basic tasks;
  • MBO level 2: basic vocational training. The programs at this level are more complex than those at MBO level 1 but the emphasis is also made on executing simple tasks.
  • MBO level 3: full professional training. Here students learn how to perform tasks independently.
  • MBO level 4: middle-management and specialized VET training. At this point, students are working on tasks, which require a higher level of professional responsibility. They also get prepared for enrollment into the higher educational institution.

There are two MBO learning pathways:

  • BOL – the school-based pathway
  • BBL – the work-based pathway

In the case of BOL education, training within a company may take up to 59% of the curriculum (but not less than 20%). Students who chose the apprenticeship pathway will need to take on training, which takes more than 60% of the study time. After 4 years of MBO, learners can either look for employment or enroll in HBO.

Higher Education

Higher education in the Netherlands is divided into two following types:

  • Research-oriented education – offered by research universities
  • Higher professional education – offered by universities of applied sciences

Programs at research universities make an emphasis on the theoretical aspects of the particular field of study. Students are prepared for conducting independent research. Successful graduation usually leads to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. At research universities, you can also pursue a Ph.D. degree.

Programs offered at universities of applied sciences are more practically-oriented and help students prepare for a chosen profession. Successful graduation usually leads to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Admission Requirements

To enroll in a WO Bachelor’s program students are required to present one of the following:

  • VWO diploma
  • Completion of the first year (60 credits) of an HBO program

To enroll in an HBO Bachelor’s program students are required to present one of these documents:

  • HAVO secondary school diploma
  • Level-4 (highest) MBO diploma

If the applicant cannot provide any of the diplomas, it is possible to get qualified for admission after a satisfactory entrance assessment and examination.

To enroll in all Master’s programs students require:

  • Bachelor’s degree in the specified discipline

In some cases, additional requirements might need to be completed, especially if a student wants to get admitted to a WO Master’s program.

Netherlands Education Briefly