The government wants to ensure higher education is equipped to meet the demands of the future. Institutions for higher professional education (HBO) and universities need to become more specialised. Students must choose their courses of study carefully to reduce dropout and must complete their courses in a shorter time. In addition, HBO institutions and universities must tailor their courses more effectively to students’ varying requirements and the demands of the labour market. Accessibility is another key feature of the Dutch higher education system.
Government funding from the education budget is partly performance-based. Performance agreements have therefore been made with every HBO institution and university.
The goal of higher education is to educate people for today’s knowledge economy. This requires high-quality teaching. The Higher Education and Research Act (WHW) states that university education prepares students for the independent pursuit of scholarship or the professional application of academic knowledge and fosters interdisciplinary insight. The Act also states that higher professional education is geared to the transfer of theoretical knowledge and the development of skills directly relevant to the world of work. All higher education institutions are required to pay attention, among other things, to the personal development of their students and nurture in them a sense of social responsibility. For the full text of the Act in Dutch, go to Higher Education and Research Act.
Types of recognised higher education institution
There are two types of recognised higher education institution in the Netherlands:
- universities and HBO institutions funded by the government, which are listed in the Higher Education and Research Act (WHW);
- private-sector institutions that do not receive government funding. Their courses and the certificates they award to graduates are legally recognised after they have been approved by the Education Inspectorate and the Netherlands-Flanders Accreditation Organisation (NVAO).
For a fuller account of these institutions, see § 7.1, Types of Higher Education Institution.
Organisation of higher education
In higher education, the academic year officially begins on 1 September and ends on 31 August of the following year.
The bachelor-master system was introduced in 2002. The distinction between higher professional education and university education in terms of their respective goals remains. A bachelor’s programme at university takes three years (180 ECTS). A master’s degree takes one year (60 ECTS), or one and a half or two years (120 ECTS). Within the HBO system, all bachelor’s degree courses take four years (240 ECTS), and there are accredited master’s degree programmes in which 60 ECTS credits equate to 1,680 hours of study.
The introduction of the bachelor-master system and accreditation system is part of the move towards a common open system of higher education in Europe. Students have greater choice and can more easily pursue a master’s degree programme at a different institution (in the Netherlands or abroad) from the one where they obtained their bachelor’s degree.
In general, the higher education calendar is divided into four blocks. In each block, a student attends classes in a number of subjects and, as a rule, takes tests or examinations at the end of the block. The duration of lectures, tutorials and seminars is not fixed by law but is determined by the institutions themselves.
Higher education institutions usually consist of several faculties. A university faculty usually consists of related study programmes and research groups. The term ‘faculty’ is used by HBO institutions for their departments, which bring together related study programmes.
Academic calendar in Higher Education 2014/2015
|Type of information
|Dates or periods
|Beginning of the academic year
|1 September 2020
|Teaching activity and holidays
|All periods of teaching activity and holidays are fixed by institutions.
|Institutions are entirely free to fix examination dates.
|End of the academic year
|31 August 2021
|25 and 26 December 2020 (Christmas Days)
31 December 2020 (New Year’s Eve)
1 January 2021 (New Year's Day)
5 April 2021 (Easter Monday)
27 April 2021 (King’s Birthday)
5 May 2021 (Liberation Day)
13 May 2021 (Ascension Day)
24 May 2021 (Whit Monday)
|Number of intervals:
Free for institutions to decide.
|Length of intervals:
Free for institutions to decide.
Higher Education and Research Act (WHW), article 1.1/definitions, k.: academic year: the period which starts on 1 September and ends on 31 August of the following year.
The academic year can be divided into a semester or a trimester. Institutions are free to decide how many weeks are used to teach and how many weeks are used for exams.
During the period of examinations, teaching activity stops so that students can work specifically for them.
Some courses also start in the course of the academic year, at 1 February.