There are two types of higher education in the Netherlands. The universities prepare students for independent scientific and scholarly work in an academic or professional setting. The hogescholen are universities of applied sciences that prepare students for a wide variety of careers in seven sectors: agriculture, engineering and technology, economics and business administration, health care, education/teacher training, social welfare, and fine and performing arts. This type of higher education is known in Dutch as HBO (hoger beroepsonderwijs). At present there are 14 universities in the Netherlands and 45 universities of applied sciences.
The differences between the universities of applied sciences and the research universities have become less marked in the course of time. Nevertheless, a number of differences remain. Universities of applied sciences offer four-year programmes, leading to a Bachelor's degree, which are strongly geared towards practical training. The programmes focus on specific occupations and include traineeships or work placements that provide students with practical work experience. Universities of applied sciences also offer an increasing number of programmes that lead to a Master's degree.
Bachelor/Master degree structure
In September 2002, the Bachelor/Master degree structure was officially introduced in Dutch higher education. The new degree structure is the result of the decision of the European ministers of education, made in Bologna in 1999. The aim is to harmonize the various degree systems that exist across Europe by introducing a system of higher education consisting of three cycles (undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate). The undergraduate cycle leads to a Bachelor's degree; the graduate cycle leads to a Master's degree; the post-graduate cycle leads to a PhD degree. All students who have successfully completed an undergraduate degree programme at a university of applied sciences after 1 September 2002 will be allowed to use the title of Bachelor.
Degree programmes offered by Dutch universities and universities of applied sciences are accredited by the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organisation (NVAO), which is responsible for assessing the quality of study programmes offered by higher education institutions in the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium). The NVAO uses a validation framework, containing the topics, facets and criteria to be assessed. A positive validation report indicates that potentially a study programme satisfies the requirements of basic quality.
Skills and knowledge
The Dutch education system is aiming for a secure future and thinking and working with an international orientation is key to achieving that aim. The uniquely close cooperation in the Netherlands between the education and business sectors is vital.
In February 2011, the Dutch government has issued this publication about how the Dutch organise skills and knowledge together with international partners.