Immigration. Travel. Living.

Education in Netherlands – guide for expats

Flag of Netherlands

With over 16 million people, this country is the 22nd most densely populated country worldwide. Buzzing with culture and life, it is an ideal place to call home.

This article contains a comprehensive guide for ex-pats planning on moving to the Netherlands for studies. We will be taking an overview of the academic system in Holland, cost, and standard.

Academic system

Education in Holland is characterized by a clear dichotomy of categories. It is oriented toward the needs, characteristics, and background of the pupil. The learning system is divided over schools for different age groups, levels, and categories.

The education systems and policies are coordinated by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science with municipal governments. All Public, special [religious], and general-special [neutral] schools are financed by the government. All of these institutions receive equal financial support from the country’s government. While private schools are self-financed and rely on their funds.

The grading scale in Holland runs from 1 to 10 being very poor and outstanding respectively. Compulsory studies (Leerplicht) start at the age of 5, but Dutch schools generally accept children from the age of 4. There is a partial compulsory education (Partiële Leerplicht) for students above the age of 16. This means that students in this age grade must attend some form of tutoring for at least 2 days a week.

Compulsory education for all students comes to an end with they are above 18 years old or obtain a diploma on the VWO, HAVO, or MBO level. Public schools in the state are coordinated by local governments while special schools are coordinated by the school board.

Most special schools are based on a certain religion. There are Catholic, Jewish, protestant, Muslim schools, elementary schools, high schools, and universities. Special schools that assume equality between religions are referred to as general-special schools.

Pre Primary (kinderopvang, kinderdagverblijf, peuterspeelzaal)

Until the age of five, infants and children in the Netherlands can attend any non-compulsory daycare such as crèche or kindergarten. Parents, guardians, and any other relatives can also look after them.

Primary school (basisonderwijs)

pile of story books

Elementary or primary school (Lagere school) has eight grades. Grades in Holland are referred to as Groepen. Primary education takes 8 years to complete. By 12, the student must have completed primary school. At this level, the pupil attains basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Secondary school (voortgezet onderwijs)

pile of books beside white printer paper and black ballpoint pen

When the pupil is ready to start secondary school, he/she enters into any one of three different streams for their secondary education. Dutch secondary schools have similar structures with those applied in most other countries. The main difference is that there is a third, middle, stream in high schools that prepare students for higher education at the universities of applied sciences (HAVO).

VMBO (secondary vocational education)

The VMBO is a 4-year vocation-orientated stream focused on handy knowledge, which leads to vocational training (MBO). There are two qualification levels that students need to complete before they graduate from this program. This level of education usually begins at the age of 16.

HAVO (senior secondary education)

The HAVO program is a 5-year middle stream that prepares students for higher education in the universities of applied sciences (Hogescholen). This program is usually taken by students around the age of 17.

VWO (university preparatory education)

The VWO is a 6-year education stream that is inclined to theoretical knowledge. It prepares students interested in higher education. Students study the VWO at schools are called “athenaeum” or  “gymnasium”.

Tertiary institutions

Holland universities are world-renowned for high-quality lectures and research. Over 2,000 programs and degrees are taught in English, these institutions accommodate over 100,000 international students every year. 11 out of 13 universities in Holland are among the finest in the world rankings.

Lectures in Holland are usually interactive and focuses on teamwork and group participation. Studying in this country will encourage you to express your own opinion, respect contradicting views, and freedom to ask questions whenever you like. Degrees programs are made up of multiple lectures, seminars, tutorials, projects, group work, and research.

All international students can benefit from the Orientation Year after they graduate. This means that all interested persons can apply for jobs in Holland after completing his tertiary education in the country.

Tuition fees & educational costs

Most schools in the Netherlands are funded by the state and are usually free. There are however some schools that require a voluntary contribution to cover extracurricular activities and events. While private schools generally charge fees for both academic and extracurricular activities.

The tuition fee in Holland is quite lower than those charged in the UK, USA, and Australia. Students from EEA, Switzerland, or Surinam are charged €2,060 annually, while other nationalities spend €6,000 – €15,000 per year on tuition.

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