Education in the Netherlands

Education maybe compulsory in Holland but the Dutch education system is one of the free in the world, with schools free from government tampering and the ability to pick and choose what their students are taught. Children are required to attend school full time from the age of 5 until the age of 17. The Dutch education system is regulated by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. Higher education at Dutch universities is often regarded as one of the best in Western Europe and Dutch educational centres have grown increasingly popular with students from the UK. Dutch education is efficiently run and internationally orientated. Tuition fees are also a lot cheaper in Holland than in the UK, thanks to the hike in UK fees. (Thank you very much Mr Clegg!).

Primary Education (Primair Onderwijs/PO)

Children start school when they are either 4 or 5 years old and remain in primary school for 8 years. As a parent you should ensure that you apply for a school place well in advance as many schools have long waiting lists. Schools are able to choose what classes they teach and how. The government has little influence over education but does impose a few rules.

Secondary Education (Voortgezet Onderwijs/VO)

Upon joining secondary education the pupils can choose from one of three directions to take. The first few years are pretty much the same for all choices but after that there are big differences. Just like primary education there are no fees to pay but there are costs for books, trips and other services that the school might provide.

The three main directions are:

Pre-vocational secondary education (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs/VMBO): Within this education, there are many directions and sub-directions that students can choose. It’s best to talk about this with the school you have chosen and see what appeals most to your child.

Senior general secondary education (Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs/HAVO): This education takes 5 years to complete and is meant as a preparation for a Bachelor’s degree.

Pre-university education (Voorbereidend Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs/VWO): VWO takes 6 years to complete and is meant as preparation for a Master’s degree.

Secondary vocational education (Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs/MBO)

As an alternative to the three choices you can send your child to a secondary vocational education. There are over 40 regional trading centres across the country that provides vocational education in three sectors. These are, Engineering and technology, Economics and Health and Social Care. In total these centres offer 700 courses for students starting at the age of 16. There are 2 routes: a full-time college-based route with work placements and a part-time work-based route, where part-time education is combined with an apprenticeship.

International Schools

As an expat it is probably preferable and easier for older children to be enrolled at one of the country’s 100 international schools. These schools teach their classes in English and Dutch. It could make your child’s attempts at settling in easier if they can use their home language but they could also be missing out on the experience of learning a foreign language. The list of international schools can be found on the ‘Foundation for international Education in Netherlands website


Students from the UK who are considering studying in the Netherlands have the choice of over 1000 courses that are taught in English. Many of the degrees are recognised internationally and tuition fees are far cheaper than those in the UK. Foreign students have to be able to read, write and speak English to qualify for enrolment and will have to pass a language test.

Students who want to study for a bachelor’s degree attend institutions called Hogeschool. These institutions prepare students to start work after their school studies, with these courses typically lasting at least 4 years to complete.   Higher professional education can be combined with some form of work, so students can attend part-time.

Universities in the Netherlands are for students seeking to earn a Master’s degree. A university education is imperative for anyone who wants to do independent research or solve scientific problems. University education can be combined with some form of work, so students can attend part-time.

Fees and student grants

Unfortunately higher education is not free in the Netherlands but it’s a darn sight cheaper than in the UK. The tuition fees in Holland are typically €1,000 to €1,500 per year on tuition, compared to £9,000 in the UK!

You could also be eligible for a student grant from the Dutch government. There are many rules over who is entitled to these payments but if you’re a regular student in recognised education or have a residency permit then you could receive up to €300 per month to help pay for your beer…studies.