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Masters in the Netherlands

by Mark Bennett

When you consider Masters study in the Netherlands your first thoughts might be of cycling to campus past picturesque canals, cafes and windmills. However, the Dutch are also one of the wealthiest nations in the world, boasting a young and diverse population.

What's more, the Netherlands is home to a renowned higher education system, with universities dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

On this page you can read about studying a Masters in Holland (and the rest of the Netherlands!) including information on the Dutch higher education system, postgraduate course types, university rankings and visa requirements.

Elsewhere in our advice section you can read about student life in the Netherlands, learn about Dutch language tests and check out our guide to fees and funding for Masters degrees in Holland.

Or, if you'd just like to start searching for a Masters degree in the Netherlands, you can use our course listings.

Why study a Masters in the Netherlands?

The list of thinkers, ideas and innovations fostered and supported by Dutch universities crosses a range of fields. Dutch scholars and inventors are responsible for developments as diverse as the first electric battery (the Leyden Jar), the first central banking system, the first diagnostic electrocardiograph and, perhaps less popularly, the first speed camera.

In addition to its own achievements, the Dutch academy has also provided a home for international thinkers as important as Rene Descartes and Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit.

So, whatever you choose to study as a Masters student in the Netherlands, you'll be part of a proud tradition of innovative ideas and international scholarship.

There's also plenty to attract today's international students to the Netherlands, with low tuition fees (subsidised by the Dutch government) and financial support available to both Dutch and EU students through loans, work-supported grants and scholarships.

The Dutch higher education system: an introduction for postgraduates

There are three types of higher education institution in the Netherlands: Research Universities, Universities of Applied Science, and Institutes for International Education.

All offer Masters level programs. However, some are more expensive to study at than others, so check that tuition fees are as expected before applying.

The differences between each type of institution mainly concern the kind of academic work they focus on and the students they cater to most specifically.

Research Universities

Research Universities, as their name suggests, are the main centres for academic research in the Netherlands. Their Masters courses may draw upon expertise in particular research fields and be associated with ongoing academic projects

The chance to become acquainted with these as a Masters student in the Netherlands could be an advantage if you plan to continue to PhD-level work after completing your degree - particularly if an institution's research agenda overlaps with your particular interests.

Many Research Universities also offer professional training as a component of some postgraduate programs, so your options won't be restricted to further study.

Universities of Applied Science

Universities of Applied Science (also known as hogescholen) offer programs designed to develop practical skills in various fields, ranging from arts subjects to business management training.

Their postgraduate courses will often include internships and other partnerships with business and industry. A Masters at a Dutch University of Applied Science could therefore be a great opportunity to explore professional opportunities whilst you develop your academic subject knowledge.

Institutes for International Education

Institutes for International Education are a modern expression of the Netherland's historical focus on international education and intellectual exchange.

Their programs draw on experience from different countries and may be particularly attractive to international students. At present there are six such institutes in the Netherlands, some of which are affiliated with Research Universities.

Accreditation of Dutch Masters programs

Masters degrees from the Netherlands are internationally recognised by both employers and academics. In addition, all accredited by the NVAO (Netherlands and Flemish Accreditation Organisation) to ensure the course content meets recognised standards for both academic and real-world relevance.

You should check that the Masters degree program you're applying to is accredited by the NVAO to ensure that your postgraduate qualification is recognised outside of the Netherlands.

Dutch university rankings

The international prestige and recognition of the Dutch higher education system is reflected in global league tables. Universities from Holland and the Netherlands place in the upper half of all three main world rankings.

What are the top-ranked universities in the Netherlands?

Five Dutch universities feature in the top 150 of each of the THE, QS and ARWU ranking systems: Wageningen University, the University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Leiden University and the University of Groningen.

Other universities in the Netherlands feature prominently elsewhere in these tables.

Dutch universities in the Academic Ranking of World Universities

Seven Dutch universities feature in the top 150 of the 2015 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU):

Dutch Unis in the ARWU
University Ranking Place
Utrecht University 56
University of Groningen 75
Leiden University 82
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 98
University of Amsterdam 101-150
Radboud University 101-150
Wageningen University 101-150

For more information on the ARWU rankings (and advice on using them when searching for a Masters degree) see our guide.

Dutch Universities in the QS World University Rankings

Eight institutions in the Netherlands feature in the top 150 of the 2015-16 QS World University Rankings:

Dutch Unis in the QS Rankings
University Ranking Place
University of Amsterdam 53
Delft University of Technology 64
Utrecht University 94
Leiden University 95
University of Groningen 100
Eindhoven University of Technology 117
Erasmus University Rotterdam 126
Wageningen University 135

For advice on using the QS World University Rankings system as a Masters student, check out our detailed guide.

Dutch universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings

Ten Dutch universities feature in the top 150 of the 2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Rankings:

Dutch Unis in the THE Rankings
University Ranking Place
Wageningen University =47
University of Amsterdam 58
Utrecht University 62
Delft University of Technology =65
Leiden University 67
Erasmus University Rotterdam 71
University of Groningen 74
Maastricht University =88
Radboud University =125
University of Twente =149

For more information on the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (and advice on making the most of them as a prospective Masters student), see our postgraduate guide.

Dutch Masters degrees: program types and course structure

The Dutch academic year usually runs between September and June, though you'll probably find that the summer holiday period (between June and September) is reserved for internships or for work on a dissertation.

The length of a Dutch Masters degree varies, but is usually between one and two years (as is common for other European countries). Exact program duration will vary depending on the nature of your course and the institution you choose to study at.

programs at Universities of Applied Science are often delivered on a part-time basis, with practice-based work and academic training feeding into each other. This also means some programs may exceed the minimum length of one year.

At Research Universities, Masters degrees differ according to subject area. Taught programs may be one year in length, but research degrees or courses in certain subject areas (such as engineering, teacher training, agriculture and natural science) are likely to run for at least two years.

ECTS credits for Dutch Masters degrees

Dutch Masters programs use the ECTS credit system, common across the European Higher Education Area.

Each year of full-time study on a Masters program corresponds to 60 ECTS credits, with longer programs carrying a higher overall credit value. This means that a program at a Research University will normally be worth up to 120 credits. Some longer programs at Universities of Applied Science may be worth up to 240.

Assessment and grading for Dutch Masters degrees

Dutch universities operate a student-centred teaching philosophy with a focus on teamwork and intellectual exchange. This is even more important on most Masters programs, which will expect and encourage you to put forward and discuss your own ideas with tutors and peers.

The standard grading system in the Netherlands follows a ten-point structure, running from 'very poor' at one to 'outstanding' at ten. In practice, most work is awarded a grade between four and eight.

A final grade for your course will be based on the credit weighting of its individual components, including academic modules, practical placements and / or a final research project and dissertation (as relevant).

Applying for a Masters in the Netherlands

As is common for postgraduate study in most countries, the Netherlands doesn't operate a central applications system or 'clearing house' for Masters-level study. Instead you should apply directly to the university (or universities) at which you have found a suitable program. You can find application details included with all the Dutch Masters courses listed on FindAmasters.com

Admissions requirements

All types of Dutch higher education institution will usually require prospective students to hold a Bachelors degree, or equivalent in a relevant subject area.

You should be able to find out more about the specific requirements for your institution by getting in touch with them or consulting their listings on this site.

In some cases places on courses will be limited and admissions will be more competitive. This may mean that you are asked to submit additional materials with your application, such as a personal statement and / or academic transcripts and references.

Applications to research Masters programs may require you to outline any prospective project goals and demonstrate your preparedness for independent work in the field in question. You may also be asked to take part in an interview (which can sometimes be conducted over the phone for overseas students).

Language requirements

The Netherlands was the first non-native English speaking country to teach courses in English, and now almost all Masters degree programs are available in either English or Dutch.

Programs in English will require appropriate language skills and - if you are not a native speaker of English - these may need to be demonstrated by providing a test score.

International language tests such as the IELTS and TOEFL exams are usually accepted. Most institutions will require a minimum TOEFL score of 550 (paper based) or 213 (computer based) or an IELTS score of 6 or more.

Programs in Dutch will require a Dutch language test (or evidence of proficiency in Dutch, such as an existing qualification completed in the language).

Of course, you may want to take on the challenge of learning some Dutch whilst studying a Masters degree in the Netherlands, regardless of the language of instruction for your program. Doing so will make living in the Netherlands as a Masters student more fun and acquiring an international language certainly won't look bad on your CV.

Universities often offer courses in the Dutch language. Taking one of these may be particularly advisable if you wish to continue on to PhD study in the Netherlands.

Masters student visas in the Netherlands

Holland is one of Europe's most multicultural multilingual and cosmopolitan nations. Around 70,000 international students participate in a tradition of study mobility and scholarly exchange that extends for hundreds of years and has long been a hallmark of the Dutch university system.

This attitude and heritage is reflected in a student visa and immigration system that welcomes legitimate applicants from all countries.

Entering the Netherlands for study purposes

The procedure by which you enter the Netherlands as a student will depend on your nationality:

  • Nationals of the EU and EEA won't usually require a visa to study in the Netherlands. Instead your university will be responsible for registering you with the Dutch immigration authorities (IND).
  • Students from other countries will usually need to acquire an entry visa (MVV) and a residence permit (WR) for the duration of their studies in the Netherlands. Your university will usually apply for these for you and you may be able to collect them from a Dutch Embassy or Consulate in your home country before you travel.

Note that student registration and residence permits will only be valid so long as you are continuing with your studies and achieving a certain proportion (usually 50%) of the annual credit value associated with your Masters.

Registering with the local Dutch council

Whatever your nationality and immigration circumstances, you will also need to register with your local Dutch council in order to live in the Netherlands as a student.

EU and EEA students do this after being registered with the IND by their university. Other students do so after successfully receiving their visa and residence permit.

You will normally need to present proof of identity (including your passport and a certified copy of your birth certificate) as well as a record of your accommodation in the Netherlands.

Further information

In some cases additional or alternative requirements may apply to Dutch student visa applications.

You can check exact requirements and procedures for your country by using the visa applications wizard at the Netherland's official study portal.

Health insurance

All students in the Netherlands must have some form of medical insurance, valid for the duration of their course.

The source of this will depend upon your age and nationality:

  • EU and EEA nationals will usually be covered by an existing European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This will entitle you to healthcare in the Netherlands under reciprocal agreements with your home country.
  • Other students will usually need to take out private healthcare insurance (unless covered by an existing healthcare policy that is valid in the Netherlands).

Student health insurance requirements may vary slightly if you intend to take up employment alongside your studies. In such cases you may need to pay for a Dutch public healthcare insurance policy, regardless of your nationality and existing cover.

For more information, you can consult detailed information provided by Nuffic (the Netherland's Organisation for International Cooperation).

After graduation: careers and opportunities with a Dutch Masters degree

The Dutch higher education system is designed to produce high quality graduates, prepared for further academic study or employment. This is achieved through a focus on student-centred learning, alongside the development of professional skills and placements that form a part of many Dutch Masters.

Can you remain in the Netherlands to see work after a Masters degree?

Yes - in fact, the Netherlands is so confident in the quality of its graduates that it maintains an online portal with advice for international students interested in remaining in the country to seek employment after their degrees.

Holland and the Netherlands also offer very welcoming terms to graduate jobseekers of all nationalities:

  • EU and EEA citizens are automatically entitled to work in the Netherlands and can therefore remain in the country after graduation, provided their residence registration is maintained.
  • Other graduates are also allowed to remain in Holland for up to one 'orientation year'. During this period you will be covered by a special residence permit that grants full rights to seek employment in the Netherlands without a separate work permit. If you are successful you can then go on to apply for a longer term permit under the Netherlands's Highly Skilled Migrant Scheme.

More information is available on the NUFFIC website.

Can you remain in the Netherlands for further study after a Masters degree?

A Masters in the Netherlands provides excellent preparation for PhD study at a Dutch university (or elsewhere). Holland's international outlook, university facilities and academic heritage make it a popular destination for postgraduate research. And, having already studied in the country, you'll be well-prepared to to succeed with more advanced work.

You can find more information on PhD study in Netherlands at our sister-site, FindAPhD.com.

Last updated - 23/10/2015

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