A growing number of international students are choosing the Netherlands, attracted by its low tuition fees, high-quality education system and laid-back culture
The Netherlands is a relatively easy place to settle as most Dutch people speak English and often another foreign language such as German or French. While it's a small and famously flat country, there is plenty to see and do - not least sampling the canal boat trips, museums and nightlife of multicultural Amsterdam.
More than 2,100 undergraduate and postgraduate courses are taught in English, giving you lots of choice over what to study. In 2014/15 there were 90,000 international students in the Netherlands, with economics, behaviour and society, and engineering the most popular subjects.
The teaching method is focused on interactive, teamwork-based learning, and you are encouraged to develop and express your own opinions.
The Netherlands has two main types of higher education institution:
- Research universities offer academic, research-based programmes at Bachelors, Masters and PhD level. There are 18 of these.
- Universities of applied science, of which there are 41, provide vocational training in the arts and sciences, with courses including work placements.
In addition, there are a small number of Institutes for International Education, where postgraduate courses are taught by staff with experience of working in developing countries. Some of these institutes are part of research universities.
The higher education system in the Netherlands is well regarded internationally. Eight Dutch universities are included in the top 100 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2016-2017. The highest-placed are Delft University of Technology in 59th, the University of Amsterdam in 63rd and Wageningen University & Research in 65th.
Some universities perform strongly in certain subjects. For example, Leiden University is 28th in the world for arts and humanities, according to the Times Higher Education rankings, while Tilburg University is 11th for business and economics.
If you decide to study in the Netherlands, be aware that Dutch universities use a very different grading system to those in the UK. Work is given a grade of between one (very poor) and ten (outstanding). The minimum grade to pass a course is six, with most students gaining a score of between six and eight.
One of the leading academic communities in the Netherlands with a strong focus on research Radboud is renowned for its green campus.
A research-intensive institution offering a wide range of highly regarded Bachelor, Master and PhD programmes in all fields, completely in English.
Students attending a UK university who want to study in the Netherlands can take part in the European Union's (EU) education, training and youth support programme, Erasmus+. The scheme offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to many young people, with opportunities lasting from three months to one academic year.
Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative for any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation that is actively involved in education and training. However, your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in another EU country, of which the Netherlands is one. Speak to your institution for information on how to apply.
This information remains valid following the UK's decision to leave the EU and will be updated if any changes occur.
Degree courses in the Netherlands
An undergraduate Bachelors degree studied at a research university will take three years to complete. The academic programme, which typically includes a course on research methodology and a thesis, will prepare you for employment or further study.
Meanwhile, Bachelors degrees at universities of applied sciences take four years to complete and provide the skills required to enter a specific profession. They consist of hands-on projects, group work, classroom instruction and work experience.
Entry requirements are decided by individual institutions - if the course you are interested in is taught in English, you will need to demonstrate your proficiency in the language through a recognised test. The academic year runs from September to June/July.
Dutch Bachelors programmes are directly equivalent to their UK counterparts. You can search for courses using the Study in Holland - Studyfinder tool and apply through the central applications portal Studielink.
Postgraduate study in the Netherlands is split between research universities and universities of applied sciences. At research universities there are three types of Masters programme:
- academic Masters - advanced study to prepare you for employment;
- research Masters - scientific research;
- teacher training Masters.
Academic Masters typically take one year to complete but research Masters, teacher training Masters and courses in science, maths and engineering take two years.
Masters programmes at universities of applied science last between one and four years, and are designed to prepare you for managerial or leadership roles in a specific profession. Most students on these courses are already working in a relevant job and study part time.
In most cases you will need a Bachelors degree in a related subject, as well as proficiency in the language the course is taught in (English or Dutch), in order to get a place. However, you should check entry requirements with individual institutions.
Dutch Masters programmes are directly equivalent to those in the UK. Search for postgraduates courses in the Netherlands.
A PhD in the Netherlands involves conducting original research under the supervision of a tutor before writing a dissertation. They can only be awarded by research universities and take at least four years to complete.
You will work at a graduate school (within a university) or a research school (a collaboration between a number of universities and research institutes). In some cases universities also partner with private sector businesses.
You will usually need a Masters degree in a related field to be considered. Search for Dutch PhD programmes on Study in Holland - Studyfinder.
Students from the EU pay about €1,950 per year in in tuition fees, the same as Dutch students. If you are from outside the EU, you will be charged between €6,000 and €15,000 for undergraduate courses and between €8,000 and €20,000 for postgraduate courses.
According to Study in Holland, living costs for an international student in the Netherlands are between €800 and €1,100 per month.
Funding to study in the Netherlands
If you are from an EU country you can apply for a tuition fee loan from the Dutch government. You must be under the age of 30 to be eligible, although this will rise to 55 in September 2017. In addition, you will need to have a Dutch bank account, a Citizen Service number (you get this when you have an address in the Netherlands) and be enrolled on a recognised course.
The loan is paid into your bank account and will cover your tuition fees in full. Interest is charged at 0.81% and you will start repaying the government two years after graduating. It must be fully repaid within 15 years. For more details see Study in Holland, an information website for British and Irish students considering the Netherlands.
Grants and scholarships may also be available. You can search for funding opportunities at Study in Holland - Find a scholarship.
How to apply
Contact the university you are interested in to find out whether to apply directly or through the central applications portal Studielink. Most courses start in September and you can usually apply from around a year in advance. Closing dates vary between institutions.
You will typically need to provide academic transcripts to prove your qualifications, plus a personal statement, a CV and references. The university will make a decision within six to eight weeks.
Most Dutch people speak English fluently. However, if you wish to learn Dutch while you are living there, universities often offer courses for international students at beginner level. If you want to study a course taught in Dutch, you will need to pass the NT2 language exam to prove your proficiency.
As an EU citizen you're permitted to live in any EU country while studying, without needing a visa, as long as you:
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution;
- are studying for more than three months;
- have comprehensive health insurance cover;
- have sufficient funds to live without needing income support.
If you intend to stay in the Netherlands for more than four months you will need to register with the personal records database in your local municipality. All students are obliged to have health insurance.
Non-EU students may need a visa to enter the country. Find out exactly which documents are required by entering your details in the Study in Holland - Get prepared tool.
This visa information remains valid following the UK's decision to leave the EU and will be updated if any changes occur.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Existing higher education qualifications gained in other European countries will usually be accepted by Dutch institutions. Equally, undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications taken in the Netherlands should be internationally recognised, including by employers in the UK.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in the Netherlands.