With world-class universities, teaching in English and reasonable study costs, the Netherlands (Holland) is becoming an increasingly popular destination for international students. This is a brief guide for those thinking about studying in the Netherlands…
The first thing you would need to do is find a suitable course in your chosen field that is taught in English. You can either get information on courses from specific universities/colleges or do a search using the studyfinder.nl portal set up by Dutch organisation NUFFIC which lists over 2,100 courses in the country taught in English. Obviously you must be able to speak and understand English sufficiently well if it is not your first language.
Generally, the academic year in the Netherlands runs from September to July. The admissions process usually opens in September/October the year before the course starts with final application deadlines by May. Before applying do try to visit the country and your prospective university if at all possible. Regular open days are held and you can also get a feel for the city you would be living in.
Dutch higher education uses the international 3 cycle model – Bachelor, Master’s and Doctorate (PhD). It also uses the European credit transfer system (ECTS) where 60 study credits correspond to 1 academic year.
The Dutch teaching style is student-centred with a focus on teamwork and active participation in lectures, seminars and tutorials. There is also a considerable amount of independent study. Grading marks are given from 1-10 with 6 constituting a pass and a 10 only given for outstanding work.
The first year of a Dutch university course is effectively a probationary period – you will be expected to pass regular examinations in order to continue your education.
There are 2 types of higher education:
WO (wetenschappelijk onderwijs or theoretical education) offered by the research universities (universiteit).
HBO (hoger beroepsonderwijs or higher professional education) is a more applied and vocational education studied at universities of applied sciences (hogeschool). Degrees usually have a year long work placement element.
Bachelor and Master’s degrees can be done at either, but only PhDs can be awarded at research universities.
There is also a third type of tertiary education called MBO (middelbaar beroepsonderwijs or mid-level applied education) which offers vocational diplomas in different fields. This can be done at regional education centres known as ROCs (regionaal opleidingencentrum).
For Dutch secondary school students to enter WO courses they need to have done the VWO stream at school (age 12-18, 6 years); entry to HBO courses requires the HAVO stream (12-17, 5 years) whilst MBO students need to have done 4 years (12-16) of the VMBO stream.
There are possibilities to cross streams, for example a VMBO graduate can continue and complete HAVO.
Universities in Amsterdam and The Netherlands
University of Amsterdam (UvA) – Founded in 1632, UvA is the country’s largest university with around 32,000 students including 5,000 international students. It has 7 faculties: Humanities, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Economics and Business, Law, Science, Medicine and Dentistry. UvA buildings are scattered around the centre of Amsterdam.
Vrije Universiteit (VU) – “Free” university established in 1880 with a focus on research activities. Its campus is located in Amsterdam Zuid district. It has 25,000 students and 12 faculties: Earth and Life Sciences, Human Movement Sciences, Economics and Business Administration, Sciences, Medicine, Theology, Arts, Psychology and Education, Law, Social Sciences, Dentistry/ACTA, Philosophy and Education.
Utrecht Universiteit – Founded in 1636, this university located around the centre of Utrecht is renowned for its arts/humanities courses. It also has a campus at Uithof on the city outskirts. It has 30,000 students across 7 faculties: Humanities, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Law, Economics and Governance, Geosciences, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Science.
Nyenrode Business Universiteit – This is a private business university located just outside Breukelen, a small town between Amsterdam and Utrecht. It has a campus featuring a historic 12th century castle and offers various business and accounting courses including MBAs.
Research universities of the Netherlands are very well regarded. The following are Dutch universities ranked in the top 200 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019:
Delft University of Technology (world rank 58)
Wageningen University and Research Center (=59)
University of Amsterdam (62)
Leiden University (68)
Erasmus University Rotterdam (70)
Utrecht University (=74)
University of Groningen (=79)
Radboud University Nijmegen (=123)
Maastricht University (=128)
VU University Amsterdam (166)
Eindhoven University of Technology (=167)
University of Twente (=184)
Visa/entry requirements for the Netherlands – International students from the European Economic Area (EEA) can freely enter the Netherlands and do not require a visa. Those from most other countries outside Europe studying longer than 3 months generally require an entry visa MVV (machtiging tot voorlopig verblijf) – although certain nationals are exempt – including those from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and USA.
For non-European students, after arriving your institution will apply for a VVR (verblijfsvergunning), basically a residence permit valid for 1 year. The VVR is extended if you continue studying.
All international students should register with the local council once they have found a place to live. Shortly after you will receive a Burger Service number (BSN), basically a citizen/fiscal number which is needed for many procedures. With a BSN you will be able to open a Dutch bank account.
Tuition fees – For Dutch and European (EU/EEA/Swiss) students, the annual statutory tuition fee is €2,087 for the 2019-20 academic year. In future this fee is expected to rise in line with inflation. Private universities and some University Colleges can have higher fees though these will generally be under €4,000 per year.
Non-European students need to pay the institutional fee which varies depending on the university and course, with an average range of €8,000 to €22,000 per year. Medical students can pay up to €32,000 per year. Some international students can come to the Netherlands as part of an exchange program; others can get grants or part-financing from their home governments.
Note for UK students – The Dutch tuition fee is significantly cheaper than the £9,000 per year charged by many UK universities – so the Netherlands should be seriously considered if you are looking at reducing your total study costs. Admission is generally possible with 3 reasonable ‘A’ Level grades.
By studying outside of the UK you would not get any financial support from the British government. However, British and European students who are under 30 can apply for a tuition fee loan (collegegeldkrediet) which is paid out in monthly installments and needs to be repaid within 15 years. In addition EU students who work at least 56 hours per month can qualify for a cost of living loan known as Studiefinanciering. Student grants in the Netherlands are in the process of being abolished.
With the UK voting to leave the EU and the ongoing Brexit negotiations, it is not yet known how UK students’ rights to study in the EU in the coming years will be affected.
Work – Some students decide to work part-time to help finance their studies. European citizens are free to work in Netherlands without restrictions – though citizens of Croatia will need a work permit. All other students from outside Europe need a work permit and are restricted to working either (1) a maximum of 10 hours per week during the academic year or (2) working full-time between June and August. Work permits can only be applied for by the employer or recruitment agency – not the student.
Healthcare – You must have an adequate form of healthcare insurance which will depend on your circumstances. European students under 30 are exempt from the basic Dutch health insurance – unless they are working – and can get by using an EHIC card obtained from their home country. Students from outside the EU who do not plan on working should get private healthcare insurance unless their home country has a reciprocal agreement with the Netherlands.
Any student who starts paid work or an internship must get local Dutch health insurance which is taken out on a calendar year basis and covers any medical expenses. A basic package will cost about €95-120 per month though some students may receive a rebate.
Accommodation – You will not find large on-campus halls of residence at universities in the Netherlands. Most students tend to rent a room in their university city from the private market. Depending on location and size of the room, expect to pay anything between €400 and €1,200 per month. Rooms in Amsterdam are more expensive than those in a provincial city. Check if the room is furnished or unfurnished, and whether utility bills are included. Rooms can be found on kamernet.nl, Facebook, Craigslist and marktplaats.nl but check first if your university can assist in finding housing.
Living expenses – Depending on the cost of your accommodation, living expenses should amount to about €900 to €1,400 per month. Food/drink costs depend on what you eat and how often you go out. You can get by cooking for yourself for under €250 per month if you shop carefully. Other expenses to consider are public transport in Amsterdam/Netherlands (international students don’t get free travel unlike Dutch students), course books (expect to pay anything up to €1,000 per year) and going out/entertainment.
On a tight budget? Check out our 101 free things to do in Amsterdam
After study – There are some possibilities to stay on and look for work in Netherlands after completing your course. You are highly advised to learn Dutch during your study time which will certainly increase your job chances. Most universities will have career advisors and hold workshops/events to improve your soft skills and assist in your job search.
European students are free to find work in the country without any restrictions. Other international students who have graduated in the Netherlands are allowed an orientation year after their study – basically 12 months where they have full access to the Dutch labour market without need for a work permit. After the year it is possible to transfer to a Highly Skilled Migrant (kennismigranten) visa as long as minimum salary requirements are met.