National education system

The Dutch education system is characterised by obligatory school attendance from the age of 5 till the age of 16. Schools are free to decide which subjects they teach or do not teach. The education system consists of primary education and secondary education. Primary education is spread over 8 years/classes. Children start primary school at 4 or 5 years old until they are 12 (on average). Then they continue on to secondary education which comprises the following three levels:

  1. Preparatory Middle-level Vocational Education (VMBO). VMBO offers various tracks and prepares children for a specific profession. VMBO lasts four years.
  2. Higher General Continued Education (HAVO). HAVO prepares children for higher education (Bachelor’s degree) and lasts five years.
  3. Preparatory academic education (VWO). VWO prepares children for academic education (Master’s degree) and lasts six years.

Primary and secondary education

Primary and secondary education is free of charge but schools have the right to ask for a contribution from the parents (usually for school trips, parties, swimming lessons etc.). Parents are not obliged to pay this contribution but it may mean that their child cannot participate in these activities. In principle, books and study material are free of charge. Additional study material (such as atlases, dictionaries, calculators etc.) must be paid for by the parents. Schools have the right to ask parents or carers for a deposit when issuing books and study material.

Parents have the choice to register their child with a public or a special school. About one-third of Dutch children go to a public school. Two-thirds go to a special school with a religious (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Islamic) or pedagogic (Montessori, Jenaplan or Dalton) signature. The Dutch government is responsible for the education at and the costs of both public and special primary and secondary education.

The Netherlands also boasts various international schools for primary and secondary education that teach in English, French or other languages. In the Utrecht area, we have the International School Utrecht for primary and secondary education. There are also many bilingual schools, usually teaching in both Dutch and English.

For further information about the international schools, go to ‘Foundation for International Education in the Netherlands’.

Higher education in the Netherlands

Higher education in the Netherlands comprises two tracks:

  1. Universities of applied sciences (HBO). At the HBO, students can obtain a Bachelor’s degree. HBO usually lasts 4 years. To be able to register with an HBO school an HAVO or MBO (middle-level applied education) diploma is required.
  2. Research universities (WO).  The research universities provide students with the opportunity to obtain a Bachelor’s as well as a Master’s degree. To study at a research university a VWO diploma is required.  

Higher education in the Netherlands is not free of charge. Tuition fees are approx. €1,700 per year. Books and study material are not included in these fees. Students from countries outside of the EU/EEA usually pay higher tuition fees.