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Short-cycle higher education


7.2.First-cycle programmes

7.2.2Short-cycle higher education

Last update: 27 November 2023


Branches of Study

A new type of higher education was introduced in 2007. It lasts two years and confers its own statutory qualification: the Associate Degree (only available in Dutch). Associate degrees (AD) were introduced at the request of various sectors of the labour market. The course of study is a two-year degree programme within the HBO bachelor’s degree framework. In terms of level of education, the AD lies between MBO level 4 and an HBO bachelor’s degree and there is a strong focus on the labour market. Since September 2013 the Associate Degree is officially established by law. 

The Associate Degree is provided by an institution for higher education, and in some cases by an institution for higher education and an institution for vocational education together.

In general, associate degree programmes:

  • are part of HBO bachelor’s degree courses;
  • involve a study load of 120 ECTS credits;
  • lead to an independent labour market qualification in the form of an official degree (AD), as provided for under article 7 of the Higher Education and Research Act (WHW);
  • entitle the holder to complete the HBO bachelor’s degree immediately or at a later date. Students doing an associate degree programme are entitled to financial support if they meet the standard eligibility requirements.

In the Netherlands there are over 150 Associate degree programs in areas such as economics, the Green sector, Technology and Healthcare. Usually the programmes are offered either full-time, dual and part-time. The focus is on courses for where there is a great demand from the labour market. The website Study 123 (only available in Dutch) shows which Associate degree programs exist and where they can be followed.


Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for an Associate degree are:

  • a diploma on at least level four of MBO (Vocational education and training) or a HAVO diploma.

Persons aged 21 years and older can sometimes be exempted from this requirements.

From 2014, also students for the Associate Degree programs must register themselves for the study of their choice before the first of May. Then they are entitled to a check of study in the program. Prospective students receive a study advice, so that they can properly assess whether the study suits them.



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).


Teaching Methods

Higher education institutions that offer Associate degrees programs are free to determine the teaching methods. Students can be taught in different ways. For example, in lectures or workshops. Institutions may determine the form and content of the education provided.


Progression of Students

Progression of StudentsInstitutions 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. Students following an Associate degree program will receive a binding study advice (BSA) at the end of the first year of study. BSA is a decision from the an institution in higher education about the progress of a student in his or her study. Every students receives a BSA at the end of the first year of the study. When an institutions for higher education issues a negative study advice, the student has to stop the study. This may occur when a student lacks too many study points and when there have been no special circumstances.



An Associate degree program has a strong focus on the labour market. All Associate degree programs train students for specific professions, where businesses are asking for.  It is not always easy to assess the  employment opportunities precisely. It is therefore good to ask for more information about possibilities and opportunities at institutions for higher education.


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. In most Associate Degree programs internships or projects that a students does within a company are part of the study.

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



Students who have graduated in an Associate Degree program are given the title "Associate Degree (AD). This is based on the Act on quality in diversity (only available in Dutch). This title may be placed after the name of the graduate. After the completion of an Associate Degree the graduate can (possibly) move on to the next phase of the bachelor's degree (bachelor in higher professional education).


Organisational Variation

Most Associate Degree programs can be both followed fulltime, part-time as dual. A number of private Associate Degree programs can be followed at home: 'distance learning'. For example, this may at the ‘Leidse onderwijsintellingen (LOI)’ (only available in Dutch).