“Why did you go to study in a “Hogeschool”? Isn’t that like a second class higher education?”

In my practice as consultant I now and then get questions about the Dutch educational system. Therefore I thought to write it down to be of help to those who try to understand the rationale behind this rather complex system. As I did not want to invent the wheel I searched online and found a nice article written by Irene Panuju on the blog „Indonesia Meng Global” and used that as the basis for an article that you can download HERE in the hope that it helps people from abroad to understand the complexity but also the logic behind the Dutch System. In the end it is not about whether the Dutch system is of lesser or higher quality but how to get there where you want to be in life after you study in The Netherlands.

Myself, I took my studies at the Sociale Academy in Eindhoven with a follow-up at the Technische Hogeschool where I took my AMBI studies. This was at a time that regular education in Informatics did not exist yet and only the first computers entered the educational system in 1984. As the pioneers of an „information society” as we called it then, we really had to invent the wheel. Our first mission was to educate our colleagues to use a computer and discuss how it could help students in their education and later, their profession. Read more about my early IT experiences on my blog under History.

Translated literally to English, Hogeschool means “high school”, however Hogeschool has nothing to do with High School at all! The proper translation of Hogeschool would actually be „University of Applied Sciences”. The Dutch word Universiteit is translated into University in English; an institute that focuses on“Research”. Both Hogeschool and Universiteit, in this regard, should be referred to as the Institutes for Higher Education.

To graduate from a Universiteit, you need to write a thesis based on a research topic, while in Hogeschool, you will need to complete a graduation project during an internship period — usually for one semester — at a company or institution.

Other names for Hogeschool and Universiteit are: HBO(Hoger Beroepsonderwijs, translated into English as Higher Professional Education) and WO (Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs, translated into English as Scientific Education), respectively.

In Hogeschool, only Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses are offered. If you want to get a PhD, you need to study at an Universiteit.

In order to understand the difference between the two the following scheme of the Dutch system might sched some light on this rather complex system (figure 1)


figure 1 Dutch educational system

Initially the system was designed with three main pillars in mind: general, professional and scientific education. This got shape in the following streams:

General education: Lavo – Mavo – Havo

Professional: LBO – MBO – HBO

Scientific: Atheneum (Gymnasium) – University

Where L stands for lower, M for Middle and H for Higher. However, this system was not (at all) compatible on international level while over the years many changes where implemented as the connections between the different levels as well as streams or pillars often failed. Also the so-called Gymnasium, a high school for the smartest kids with Latin and Greek languages included, did not logically fit in either in the system. Over the years study points were introduced and the different types of higher education needed to structure their educational programs in order to make them not only accessible but also (more) interchangeable with other countries. What remains in the split in scientific and professional.

For students that graduate from High School (not the „Hogeschool”), HAVO or Atheneum in the Dutch system there are basically two choices: either HBO if you wish to have a practical post-high school education or University if you want to focus on science rather than directly prepare for a profession.

If you want to be a scientist or have a career in academia, then technically you need to have a diploma from an Universiteit. There is also Technische Universiteit (Technical University / Institute of Technology), which is another type of Universiteit that offers courses almost exclusively in technical and engineering studies. Conservatoriums and Schools of Art („Kunstacademie”) and Design in the Netherlands, on the other hand, are all categorized as Hogeschool. To make things more complicated: some Hogescholen are called academy: Kunst Academie, Sociale Academie while a captain on a ship would have his studies at the Hogere Zeevaart School.

If you start your Bachelor study at a Hogeschool and want to switch to study Bachelor’s degree courses at a Universiteit, it is possible to do so after you get your Propedeuse Certificate. The Certificate is given to Bachelor’s degree students in Hogeschool and Universiteit that complete all the courses given to them in their first year of study with sufficient marks. Thus, after you have acquired a Propedeuse Certificate from a Hogeschool, you can directly continue your study at an Universiteit without having to do the Universiteit’s first year’s courses.

However, if you graduate from a Hogeschool and want to continue with studying courses at the level of Master’s degree in an Universiteit, most likely you will be required to do a Pre-Master course for one or two semesters. This is to catch up with the theory lessons given in Bachelor’s degree level at an Universiteit but not at Hogeschool.

This does not mean that graduating a Hogeschool equals to one year University. For instance, if you want to switch from WO to HBO then it depends on your study points and in which courses you got them where you can enter. The difference between the two therefore is not only study points but also the content of the studies. In the end the Hogeschool provides you with less study points becuase part of your study is practical.The advantage ist hat after de Hogeschool you are ready for a job while after the University you still need to specialize for a certain profession.

Although a Bachelor degree in Hogeschool requires four years of study and three years in Universiteit, there is a difference in the way that the courses are composed in both institutions. Courses in Universiteit are given much like in various universities in other countries; you choose the courses relevant to your study and you would collect your credits by passing them.

In Hogeschool, you need to collect credits by passing a fixed set of courses for four or five semesters, then by passing a minor and/or specialization course for one semester, and then by going through two internships each for one semester. Thus, while in Universiteit you get theory lessons for the whole six semesters, in Hogeschool you technically “study” for only five or even four semesters. This is why the Pre-Master is needed.

Another difference between Hogeschool and University is that Hogeschool graduates for certain studies implicitely have their „teaching degree” while a University graduate needs an additional year for becoming a teacher. Again depending on the type of study, the Hogeschool degree is provides implicitely a first degree or second degree license.

Also : a University degree needs a follow-up education to become licenced in certain professions such as: doctor, lawyer, judge and, teacher. This is called the master degree. A Hogeschool graduate can either directly continue to the (University-) master degree study, do a pre-master or gets dispensations to enter the second year (=post propedeuse) in the University; all based on the type of study was followed on the Hogeschool. To make things even more complicated: also Hogescholen provide master degrees. Only if you want to continue and obtain a PHD then you will have to switch to the University. Usually that will require some additional study classes as the Hogeschool does not provide direct acces to the PHD studies i.e. is not equal to a WO Master degree.


Hogeschool Graduates may use the B (Bachelor) or M (Master) before their name while University graduates may use one of the following such depening on the studies: B.A., B.Sc., B.S., LL.B while the master may use: ir., mr. or drs (old system) or choose M.A., M.Sc. LL.M. all such depending on the studies followed. A PHD is also referred to as „Doctor”. While using the titles in Germany is very common practice in all kind of communication and even is social contact – do not forget to refer to a German PhD as: „Herr Doktor or Frau Doktor”-  it is often omitted if not „not done” in The Netherlands.

The Clash

The problem of the ”Hogeschool” in fact is the name. As mister Van Oorschot, chairman of the Board of Hogeschool NHTV in Tilburg, explained it recently in an interview in De Telegraaf 1): ”It is a political decision that Dutch Hogescholen are not allowed to call themselves abroad „University”. Almost all institutions for higher education in other countries are called University but we have to call ourselves University for Applied Sciences. ‘Try to explain that in China’ ”, he says and continues: ”We are being burdened with a name that nobody understands and which puts us (ed.: schools and students) at a disadvantage internationally.”

So, the following summary perhaps could settle the “clash” of understanding the Dutch higher education system: that the higher education in the Netherlands is divided into Hogeschool / HBO and Universiteit / WO. If you want to get an education with more focus on practical knowledge, you go to Hogeschool, but if you want a deeper understanding in theories and scientific research (and perhaps more prestige), you go to Universiteit. The two of them are different, but it doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It all depends on what type of student you are and what you aspire to do after your studies.


1) Politiek houdt ’beste hogeschool’ tegen, De Telegraaf 8th February 2016

See also: CHANGE OF DEGREES AND DEGREES OF CHANGE a dissertation about the Bologna process.



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