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Second-cycle programmes


7.Higher education

7.3Second-cycle programmes

Last update: 27 November 2023


Branches of study

A master study is a follow-up of a bachelor study. For master studies there are the same type of categories as for bachelor studies. According to the CROHO register (only available in Dutch), the categories are:

  • Economics
  • Healthcare
  • Behavior and society
  • Agriculture and natural environment
  • Education
  • Law (school)
  • Language and Culture
  • Technology

The course load of each master study is expressed in credits (ECTS). In the Education and Examination Regulations (OER) of each training (institution) agreements are made about the credits of the master studies.

Below you can find an overview of the course load for master studies higher education.

Program/Study                 Duration                       Course load

Master HBO/University      at least one year           at least 60 ECTS

The course load of a master in both higher professional education (HBO) as in universities is at least one year, this applies to most programs. More information on the course load is mentioned in the Higher Education and Research Act (article 7.4).

Master studies are offered both in higher professional education as at universities and these institutions offer both offer full-time, part-time and dual training.

The NVAO assesses all master studies. Only approved accredited master studies may award a master's degree. On the website of the NVAO you can find all approved master studies in higher professional education and universities (only available in Dutch).


The Dutch Qualifications Framework (NLQF) is a way of describing Dutch qualification levels.  It is a systematic organisation of all existing qualification levels in The Netherlands, from Level 1 basic education to the master’s degree at level 7 and a Doctorate's degree at level 8. Qualifications are classified in NLQF levels and are given a level indication. The framework consists of an Entry Level followed by 8 levels, Level 1 being the least complex and Level 8 the most complex. A master studies is categorized in level 7. For more information on NLQF, please click here.

Post-initial Master’s degree

Within higher education there are also two other forms of master studies:

  • A post-initial master study at an university
  • A post-initial master study in higher professional education.

The new master’s degree programmes (for example in Finance, Fine Arts, Health Administration, Real Estate or Theology) do not follow on directly from a specific bachelor’s course. They are primarily designed for people who already have an HBO or university bachelor’s degree and relevant work experience. These programmes do not receive any government funding. However, students who have not yet used up all the financial support to which they are entitled, can still make use of it, on condition that the new course is accredited by the NVAO.


Admission Requirements

A bachelor’s degree awarded by an HBO institution or University will qualify its holder for admission to a master’s degree programme at either an HBO institution or a university. However, universities will usually require holders of such degrees to complete a bridging programme (also called a ‘pre-master’). Institutions for higher professional education (HBO) and universities set their own intake requirements.

There are three types of bridging programs;

  • A circuit program is followed during the HBO bachelor.
  • A bridging program if followed after a bachelor's degree by enrolling in a WO bachelor's degree (university).
  • In some cases, a bridge program within a bachelor study is not (or not entirely) possible. After completing a bachelor's program a separate bridging program is necessary to eliminate deficiencies required for admission to the master study.

In order to be admitted to a post-initial master’s degree programme, applicants need not necessarily hold a bachelor’s degree in a related subject. Since the number of places is limited, candidates are individually selected. Post-initial master’s degree programmes are offered by some universities as well as by HBO institutions.

A number of master studies also have drawing of lots.



The government stipulates the framework within which institutions operate but the administration of each institution is ultimately responsible for developing courses and the curriculum within this framework. The choices made with regard to the syllabus and examinations are set out in the teaching and examination regulations (of each institution).

Many of the master programs in higher education are given in the Dutch language. In a few cases, parts of the training or even the entire education program is in English. Various language courses are also taught in the language of the program (for example speaking Spanish in a Spanish course).


Teaching Methods

Higher education has a wide range of teaching methods. Institutions for higher professional education and universities may choose their teaching method themselves. Examples of these teaching methods are lectures and seminars. Universities thus decide upon the content and the way they want to teach. Within the cadres of the universities’ expectations, teachers furthermore also enjoy some freedom in their teaching methods. 

The requirements which teachers in higher education should fulfill differ per educational institution. These requirements furthermore depend on the type of work a teacher does. The institutions for higher professional education or universities can share information on these requirements for teachers and may instruct them about the way education is taught at a specific university.

In addition, more attention will be given to open and online education, including Massive Open Online Courses. For more information, please click here for a statement of the Cabinet on digitalization in higher education.


Progression of Students 

Institutions in higher education enjoy a great amount of autonomy. Institutions can for example decide themselves in what way the progress of a student is measured. Many institutions give an overview of the individual results in a study progress report.

Number of graduated students with a master’s degree in HBO (number x 1000)

  Education Healthcare Behavior and society Language and Culture Agriculture and natural environment
2010 2.9 0.3 0.2 0.6 0.0
2011 3.6 0.3 0.2 0.7 0.0
2012 3.3 0.4 0.3 0.7 0.0
2013 2.3 0.4 0.2 0.6 0.0
2014 2.2 0.4 0.3 0.7 0.0

Source: Education in numbers (only available in Dutch).  

Number of graduated students with a master’s degree at an university (number x 1000)

  Nature Technology Healthcare Economics Law Behavior and Society Language and Culture Education Agriculture and natural environment Cross-Sectoral
2010 2.1 3.4 4.1 5.5 4.2 7.5 3.9 0.7 1.0 0.0
2011 2.2 3.6 4.4 6.9 4.4 8.2 4.4 0.8 1.0 0.0
2012 2.5 3.9 4.5 8.1 5.0 9.1 4.9 1.1 1.4 0.0
2013 2.5 3.7 4.6 7.4 3.9 8.3 3.9 0.9 1.3 0.0
2014 2.6 4.0 4.6 8.2 4.3 8.4 3.8 1.0 1.4 0.0

Source: Education in numbers (only available in Dutch).



Close contacts between HBO institutions and the labour market are extremely important. Such contacts occur at both national and individual course level. Each year a national survey of the employment position of HBO graduates, known as theHBO Monitor (only available in Dutch), is carried out by the Council for Higher Professional Education. The instrument allows institutions for higher professional education to assess the position of their graduates on the labour market and to evaluate to what extent their studies meet the requirements set by the labour market.

The universities, like the HBO institutions, monitor the position of their graduates on the labour market by means of an annual survey first held in 1998. The results are announced every year in the Universities Monitor (only available in Dutch). The study is carried out by means of a written survey among students graduated in the preceding academic year. The survey thus takes place roughly one and a half year after graduation. All sectors, except for the  sector education (teacher education at university) are represented in the Monitor.

Furthermore, it is at many institutions possible to do an internship during the master’s program. This prepares students on working on the labour market.


Student Assessment 

Institutions may choose themselves in what way they evaluate students. Each unit of study (e.g. module) often concludes with an interim examination (‘tentamen’) (summative) testing students’ knowledge, understanding and skills. Institutions determine the content and design of these examinations themselves. Institutions also have the possibility to let students write a paper or an oral exam at the end of a module.

Individual study results of students are often shown on the overview of a student’s study progress.

In the final phase of a university master the student does a research. It depends on the degree program and in what form it is carried out. For example, a literature study or doing research at an organisation. It can also be a part of a research at the university itself. The student must write a thesis about this research.



A master’s degree is conferred on students who pass the final examination of an HBO master’s programme. Behind the title of the master’s program the specific field can be added, in accordance with the classification of the HBO council (

A master’s degree is conferred by the institution on students who pass the final examination of a master’s course. Graduates are entitled to use the title ‘Master of Arts/Science’, abbreviated to ‘MA’ and ‘MSc’ and placed after the holder’s name.

To obtain a doctorate and be entitled to use the title ‘Dr.’, students have to complete a thesis with the support of one or more supervisors. The title of ‘Dr.’ stands before the name of the graduated. A person can also choose to use the title ‘doctor’. In this case the letter ‘D’ is placed after the name of the graduated. If a person obtained a doctorate multiple times, they may use the tile ‘dr mult.’.

Overview of titles in higher education for master programs.

Form of education Title
HBO-master (higher professional education) Master (M) followed by the specific field. From 2014 a person can also place 'of Arts' or 'of Science', behind the title of ‘master’.  This depends on the training and the assessment done by the NVAO.
HBO-master followed after a completed HBO-master Master (M) followed by a specific field/area.
WO-master (university) Doctorandus (drs.), master (mr., ingenieur (ir.), Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MSc), depending on the kind of education followed.
WO-master followed after a completed WO-master Master (M) followed by the specific field/area, Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MSc).

Source: Government (only available in Dutch)