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The Netherlands Higher Education System

Structure of the Higher Educational System in The Netherlands
Admissions to Higher Education in The Netherlands
Types of Higher Education Institutions in The Netherlands
Cycles of Higher Education in The Netherlands
 


Types of Higher Education Institutions


Higher education in the Netherlands is provided by three types of institution.

• Government-funded institutions receive funding from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science or the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation, and charge their students government-approved fees. There are 36 higher professional education institutions and 14 universities, including the Open University.

• ‘Legal entities providing higher education’ are covered by the terms of the Higher Education and Research Act but are not funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. They are free to decide on their own fees and admissions policy, although students must be in possession of a HAVO, MBO or VWO certificate. Students at these institutions are eligible for student support. Like government-funded institutions, legal entities providing higher education award bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees for courses that are accredited. A small number of these institutions (primarily for faith-based higher education) do receive funding. Many of the provisions of the Higher Education and Research Act do not apply to legal entities providing higher education.

• Private-sector institutions are not covered by the Higher Education and Research Act. They include foreign universities and business schools to which Dutch government regulations do not apply.

Higher professional education

Higher professional education is provided at ‘hogescholen’ (institutions of higher professional education) and is for students aged around 17 and over. HBO institutions generally offer courses in several different fields.

The average size of HBO institutions is constantly increasing as a result not only of mergers but also of rising student numbers. There are 36 government-funded higher professional education institutions. In addition, there are about 60 legal entities providing higher professional education.

In addition to the range of initial courses of higher professional education, there are also a small number of advanced courses, most of which have been upgraded to master’s degree courses. These include art courses, courses in architecture, and teacher training courses in special education or leading to a grade 1 qualification in general subjects. These are open to students who have already completed a higher education programme.

University education

Degree courses are provided at 14 universities, including the Open University. Three universities – the universities of technology in Delft (TUD), Eindhoven (TUE) and Twente (UT) – focus predominantly on engineering and technology. Besides the 14 universities, there are a number of approved institutions, including six offering theological courses, one offering a degree course in humanism, and Nyenrode Business University.


First Cycle Programmes


Bachelor

Types of programmes

Higher professional education


HBO institutions provide theoretical and practical training for occupations for which a higher vocational qualification is either required or useful. Graduates find employment in various fields, including middle and high-ranking jobs in trade and industry, social services, health care and the public sector. In higher professional education, research tends to be application-related. They have the following tasks:

● to provide initial bachelor’s degree programmes;

● to provide master’s degree programmes under certain conditions;

● to transfer knowledge for the benefit of the community;

● to contribute to the development of those occupations to which their teaching is geared;

● to devote attention to students’ personal development and foster their sense of social responsibility;

● within the framework of their responsibilities in the field of education, to train Dutch students to improve their communicative proficiency in Dutch.

University education

Universities combine academic research and teaching. University education focuses on training in academic disciplines, the independent pursuit of scholarship and the application of scholarly knowledge in the context of a profession and aims to improve understanding of the phenomena studied in the various disciplines and generate new knowledge.

Universities have the following tasks:

● to provide initial courses in higher education (i.e. bachelor’s and master’s degree programmes);

● to carry out research;

● to train researchers and design engineers;

● to transfer knowledge for the benefit of the community;

● to devote attention to student’s personal development and foster their sense of social responsibility;

● within the framework of their responsibilities in the field of education, to train Dutch students to improve their communicative proficiency in Dutch.

University education includes both the study of academic disciplines and specialised training for certain occupations.

A bachelor’s programme primarily trains students in academic disciplines. They acquire skills and specialised knowledge, as well as analytical ability. University education does not end with the completion of the three-year bachelor’s phase, however. Graduates may opt to get a job after obtaining their bachelor’s degree and then follow a master’s degree course later on, if they wish. Alternatively, they may proceed directly to a master’s programme. It is only then that they start to specialise. The master’s degree lays the foundation for an academic career, although many students go straight on to the labour market after completing their master’s degree.

Admission requirements

HBO institutions and universities have a central admissions system. For courses subject to a quota (‘numerus fixus’), there is also a weighted draw for places followed by selection by the institutions themselves. Prospective students must apply to the Central Applications and Placement Office (CBAP). Where no restrictions on numbers apply, students are free to enrol on whichever course and at whichever university they wish.

The selection procedure for places at universities and HBO institutions is as follows:

● Prospective students with an average grade of 8 or higher in their school-leaving examination are automatically awarded a place on the course of their choice.

● Those not entitled to direct admission are allocated places by means of a weighted draw. The higher a prospective student’s average school-leaving examination grade, the higher their chances of gaining admission via the draw. Applicants may take part in no more than three draws.

● Decentralised selection: places may be awarded by the educational institutions themselves. They may apply their own selection criteria, provided these are not linked to school-leaving examination results. Decentralised selection is optional, and if institutions decide not to opt for it, the draw system automatically applies instead. Currently, the number of places to be allocated under decentralised selection may not exceed 50% of the total available places, minus the number of students with a grade 8 or higher, who have been directly awarded places. There are plans to expand this to 100%, minus the number of directly awarded places. It is up to the individual educational institution to decide how often a candidate may apply through the decentralised system.

Numerus fixus courses are those where the maximum number of first-year students that may be admitted to a particular course and/or institution is restricted (such as university courses in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry and life sciences, or HBO courses in journalism and physiotherapy).

There are two types of ‘numerus fixus’:

● a national quota, when the joint capacity of all the institutions providing a particular course is insufficient for the number of students wishing to enrol on that course. When applying, students may rank the institutions in order of preference. The national quota only applies to university education;

● an institution quota, when there is sufficient capacity within the sector as a whole but insufficient places at one or more individual institutions. The institution quota applies to universities and HBO institutions.

Online application and registration

All applications to first-year courses are filed online through Studielink, a common instrument for higher education, which links up all institutional administrations with DUO, thus enabling them to exchange information. In concrete terms, this means that students have a one-stop shop on the internet for all application and registration procedures, including change of address. Studielink also helps to ensure that the requirements for better-quality information do not cause more administrative problems for students and institutions.

Special entrance examination

Applicants who wish to be admitted to higher education and are over 18 or do not have the required school-leaving certificates may study at the Open University, which has no formal entry requirements. Alternatively, prospective higher education students may be admitted to higher education after passing a special entrance examination (‘colloquium doctum’) which tests their knowledge at the appropriate level. This entrance examination may only be taken by those aged 21 or over. This lower age limit may be waived in the case of courses in the fine and performing arts. In exceptional cases, younger students may also take a special entrance examination.

Subject combinations

Secondary school pupils choose one of four subject combinations for their school-leaving examination. Entry to most higher education courses is on the basis of specific subject combinations but candidates who do not meet this requirement may still be admitted on the strength of certain optional subjects studied at school. Applicants who obtained their school-leaving certificate before the subject combinations were introduced may be assessed by the institution in question prior to admission to determine whether they satisfy equivalent requirements.

Higher professional education

Applicants wishing to be admitted to higher professional education must possess:

● a senior general secondary education (HAVO) certificate;

● a middle-management or specialist training certificate at secondary vocational education (MBO) level;

● a pre-university education (VWO) certificate.

Applicants possessing any of the above qualifications have in principle the right to be admitted, but additional requirements regarding the subjects studied can be laid down by ministerial order. In addition to educational requirements, institutions may impose supplementary requirements relating to the profession for which the course trains students or to the course itself. For instance, applicants for courses in dance or sport and movement must have the skills specified by the institution in question. These requirements may only relate to matters not covered during the student’s previous schooling. Prospective students must first contact the institution concerned, which then decides whether they meet the supplementary requirements and can be admitted.

University education

Admission to university is possible with a pre-university (VWO) school-leaving certificate or an HBO qualification or HBO propaedeutic certificate.

Curriculum

Central government stipulates the framework within which institutions operate but the administration of each institution is ultimately responsible for developing courses within this framework. The choices made with regard to the syllabus and examinations are set out in the teaching and examination regulations.

Teaching methods

Bachelor’s degree programmes


There are two types of bachelor’s degree course in the Netherlands: broad and narrow. Narrow courses target a specific subject area. A broad bachelor’s degree is multidisciplinary (i.e. it contains elements from several fields of study). Students choose a main subject (major) and a number of optional subsidiary subjects (minors). There are no special regulations governing the major-minor system. Some institutions offer both broad and narrow bachelor’s courses, but an increasing number are opting for the broad variant.

Progression of students

At the end of their first year – the propaedeutic year – students in higher education following bachelor’s programmes are advised as to whether they should continue with their course or switch to another. At universities, the propaedeutic year serves as a means of orientating, referring and selecting students. Universities are free to decide whether to hold propaedeutic examinations.

Employability

Guidance


Students enrolled on HBO courses have a right to guidance. The administration of the institution has a duty to pay particular attention to the guidance of ethnic minority students. The Expertise Centre for Ethnic Minorities in Higher Education (ECHO) supports higher education institutions in their efforts to provide guidance and assistance for this category of students with a view to boosting the number of ethnic minority students and graduates in higher education and reducing the dropout rate. The Platform Bèta Techniek was set up by the government in 2004 to ensure a sufficient supply of well-qualified people with a background in science and technology. It is also responsible for bringing together authoritative expertise from the worlds of business, education and research and acting as ambassador for the government’s Delta Plan, which is designed to prevent a shortage of knowledge workers, especially in science and technology.

Higher professional education

Close contacts between HBO institutions and the labour market are extremely important. Such contacts occur at both national and individual course level. Each year a national survey of the employment position of HBO graduates, known as the HBO Monitor, is carried out by the Council for Higher Professional Education.

University education

University studies prepare students for research training and for occupations in which it is useful to have an academic background. Only a small proportion of graduates (around 10%) are eventually employed in research. Some full-time courses include a compulsory placement. The universities, like the HBO institutions, monitor the position of their graduates on the labour market by means of an annual survey first held in 1998. The results are announced every year in the Universities Monitor (in Dutch only).

Student assessment

Each unit of study (e.g. module) concludes with an interim examination (‘tentamen’) testing students’ knowledge, understanding and skills. Institutions determine the content and design of these examinations themselves.

Certification

Higher professional education

At all institutions, responsibility for the examinations lies with the administration. A separate examining board is set up for each study programme to conduct examinations and organise and coordinate the interim examinations. The Act contains a number of conditions regarding the procedure to be followed. The purpose of the examinations is to assess whether candidates have attained the level stipulated in the teaching and examination regulations in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills. At the end of the first year of study, there may be a propaedeutic examination. After four years the final examinations are held. Successful candidates are awarded a certificate listing the subjects in which they were examined. Students abandoning their courses before the final examinations receive a transcript indicating how much of the course they have completed and which interim examinations (‘tentamens’) they have passed. Courses which are geared to specific occupations must include preparation for professional practice.

Academic titles

A bachelor’s or master’s degree is conferred on students who pass the final examination of an HBO bachelor’s programme. Since April 2009, HBO graduates have been entitled to add the words ‘of Applied Arts’ or ‘of Applied Sciences’ to their title, subject to the following provisions:

• HBO graduates have a choice: they may opt for the title conferred by the individual institution or alternatively, the title ‘Bachelor of Applied Arts’ or ‘Bachelor of Applied Sciences.’

• In the future, it will be possible for the holders of older Dutch bachelor’s degrees to add the words ‘of Applied Arts’ or ‘of Applied Sciences’ to their title.

• Former HBO students who graduated before the introduction of the bachelor-master system in 2002 and use the old-style ‘ing.’ before their name will be entitled to adopt the title ‘Bachelor of Applied Sciences.’ Similarly, HBO arts graduates who use the old-style ‘bc.’ after their name will be entitled to use the title ‘Bachelor of Applied Arts’.

University education

All bachelor’s and master’s programmes at university conclude with a final degree examination. A separate examining board is set up for each study programme to conduct final examinations and organise and coordinate interim examinations. Students who pass the final examinations are awarded a certificate listing the different parts of the examination and, where appropriate, the professional qualification obtained.

Academic titles

● A bachelor’s degree is conferred by the institution on students who pass the final examination of a bachelor’s course. Graduates are entitled to use the titles ‘Bachelor of Arts/Science’ abbreviated to ‘BA’ or ‘BSc’ and placed after the holder’s name.


Short-Cycle Higher Education


Associate Degree

A new type of higher education was introduced in 2007. It lasts two years and confers its own statutory qualification: the Associate Degree. Associate degrees (AD) were introduced at the request of various sectors of the labour market. The course of study is a two-year degree programme within the HBO bachelor’s degree framework. In terms of level of education, the AD lies between MBO level 4 and an HBO bachelor’s degree.

In general, associate degree programmes:

● are part of HBO bachelor’s degree courses;

● involve a study load of 120 ECTS credits;

● lead to an independent labour market qualification in the form of an official degree (AD), as provided for under article 7 of the Higher Education and Research Act (WHW);

● entitle the holder to complete the HBO bachelor’s degree immediately or at a later date. Students doing an associate degree programme are entitled to financial support if they meet the standard eligibility requirements.


Second Cycle Programmes


Higher professional education

All existing first degree courses were given the status of bachelor’s degree programmes by law as of 1 September 2002. Master’s degrees may only be awarded for accredited courses.The existing advanced courses will remain in their present form until they are discontinued by royal decree and upgraded to master’s degree programmes. Many of them already have master’s degree status.

Government-funded higher professional education courses cover the following seven areas: Education, Economics, Behaviour and Society, Language and Culture, Engineering and Technology, Agriculture and the Natural Environment, and Health Care. Most HBO institutions offer courses in several of these fields .

University education

Most university courses have already switched to the bachelor-master system. Of the 14 universities excluding the Open University, ten teach and carry out research in a broad range of disciplines spanning seven sectors: Economics, Health, Behaviour and Society, Science, Law, Engineering and Technology, and Language and Culture. Three – the universities of technology in Delft (TUD), Eindhoven (TUE) and Twente (UT) – focus predominantly on engineering and technology. The Agricultural University in Wageningen provides courses in agriculture and the natural environment and comes under the Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.

Besides the 14 government-funded universities, there are a number of legal entities providing higher education, including six offering theological courses, one offering a degree course in humanism, and Nyenrode Business University. There are both full-time and part-time courses, as well as dual courses combining learning and working.

Admission requirements

A bachelor’s degree awarded by an HBO institution or University will qualify its holder for admission to a master’s degree programme at either an HBO institution or a university. However, universities will usually require holders of such degrees to complete a bridging programme. HBO institutions and universities set their own intake requirements.

In order to be admitted to a post-initial master’s degree programme, applicants need not necessarily hold a bachelor’s degree in a related subject. Since the number of places is limited, candidates are individually selected. Post-initial master’s degree programmes are offered by some universities as well as by HBO institutions.

Curriculum

Central government stipulates the framework within which institutions operate but the administration of each institution is ultimately responsible for developing courses within this framework. The choices made with regard to the syllabus and examinations are set out in the teaching and examination regulations.

Teaching methods

University master’s degree courses


Master’s degree courses at Dutch universities are academic in character and last one or two years. As a rule, students are eligible for a year’s financial support. However, two years’ financial assistance may be granted for a master at the Minister’s discretion, for instance for certain courses in science, technology and education. Master’s programmes vary in focus, and may prepare the student for:

● a career in business or society

● the teaching profession or

● an academic career (for instance via a PhD).

The study load for a bachelor’s programme is 180 credits, and for a master’s programme usually 60 credits. Some master’s programmes have a heavier study load:

● teacher training (generally 60-120 credits);

● medicine (180 credits);

● pharmacy (180 credits);

● veterinary medicine (180 credits);

● philosophy of a particular discipline (120 credits);

● some engineering and agricultural sciences courses (leading to the title of ‘ingenieur’)(120 credits);

● dentistry (120 credits; from 1 September 2007, 180 credits).

Post-initial master’s degrees

The new master’s degree programmes (for example in Finance, Fine Arts, Health Administration, Real Estate or Theology) do not follow on directly from a specific bachelor’s course. They are primarily designed for people who already have an HBO or university bachelor’s degree and relevant work experience. These programmes do not receive any government funding. However, students who have not yet used up all the financial support to which they are entitled, can still make use of it, on condition that the new course is accredited by the NVAO.

Employability

Guidance


Students enrolled on HBO courses have a right to guidance. The administration of the institution has a duty to pay particular attention to the guidance of ethnic minority students. The Expertise Centre for Ethnic Minorities in Higher Education (ECHO) supports higher education institutions in their efforts to provide guidance and assistance for this category of students with a view to boosting the number of ethnic minority students and graduates in higher education and reducing the dropout rate.

The Platform Bèta Techniek was set up by the government in 2004 to ensure a sufficient supply of well-qualified people with a background in science and technology. It is also responsible for bringing together authoritative expertise from the worlds of business, education and research and acting as ambassador for the government’s Delta Plan, which is designed to prevent a shortage of knowledge workers, especially in science and technology.

Higher professional education

Close contacts between HBO institutions and the labour market are extremely important. Such contacts occur at both national and individual course level.

Each year a national survey of the employment position of HBO graduates, known as the HBO Monitor, is carried out by the Council for Higher Professional Education.

University education

University studies prepare students for research training and for occupations in which it is useful to have an academic background. Only a small proportion of graduates (around 10%) are eventually employed in research. Some full-time courses include a compulsory placement. The universities, like the HBO institutions, monitor the position of their graduates on the labour market by means of an annual survey first held in 1998. The results are announced every year in the Universities Monitor.

Student assessment

Each unit of study (e.g. module) concludes with an interim examination (‘tentamen’) testing students’ knowledge, understanding and skills. Institutions determine the content and design of these examinations themselves.

Certification

Higher professional education


At all institutions, responsibility for the examinations lies with the administration. A separate examining board is set up for each study programme to conduct examinations and organise and coordinate the interim examinations. The Act contains a number of conditions regarding the procedure to be followed. The purpose of the examinations is to assess whether candidates have attained the level stipulated in the teaching and examination regulations in terms of knowledge, understanding and skills.

At the end of the first year of study, there may be a propaedeutic examination. After four years the final examinations are held. Successful candidates are awarded a certificate listing the subjects in which they were examined. Students abandoning their courses before the final examinations receive a transcript indicating how much of the course they have completed and which interim examinations (‘tentamens’) they have passed. Courses which are geared to specific occupations must include preparation for professional practice.

Academic titles

A master’s degree is conferred on students who pass the final examination of an HBO master’s programme. Since April 2009, HBO graduates have been entitled to add the words ‘of Applied Arts’ or ‘of Applied Sciences’ to their title, subject to the following provisions:

• HBO graduates have a choice: they may opt for the title conferred by the individual institution or alternatively, the title ‘Master of Applied Arts’ or ‘Master of Applied Sciences.’

• In the future, it will be possible for the holders of older Dutch master’s degrees to add the words ‘of Applied Arts’ or ‘of Applied Sciences’ to their title.

University education

All master’s programmes at university conclude with a final degree examination. A separate examining board is set up for each study programme to conduct final examinations and organise and coordinate interim examinations. Students who pass the final examinations are awarded a certificate listing the different parts of the examination and, where appropriate, the professional qualification obtained.

Obtaining a master’s degree does not necessarily mean that the course of training is complete. Courses which are geared to specific occupations must include practical preparation for professional practice, followed by further examinations. This applies to medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, philosophy and all teacher training courses run by university departments (ULOs).

Academic titles ● A master’s degree is conferred by the institution on students who pass the final examination of a bachelor’s or master’s course. Graduates are entitled to use the title ‘Master of Arts/Science’, abbreviated to ‘MA’ and ‘MSc’ and placed after the holder’s name.

To obtain a doctorate and be entitled to use the title ‘Dr.’, students have to complete a thesis with the support of one or more supervisors.


Programmes outside the Bachelor and Master Structure


Alternative structures and advanced courses

Advanced courses

Postgraduate vocational courses are offered by both universities and HBO institutions. Examinations following on from postgraduate vocational courses are not regulated by the Higher Education and Research Act. Courses of this kind are not funded by government and there is no state financial assistance for students. Although government start-up subsidies were available in the past, in principle the costs of such courses are borne by the students or their employers.

Training for researchers and design engineers

After completing their degree, graduates can apply for posts as research assistants (AIOs), research students (OIO) or grant-funded PhD students. AIOs and OIOs are appointed on a temporary basis by universities and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) respectively to conduct academic research and receive training with a view to becoming fully-fledged researchers or design engineers. Both AIOs and OIOS are public servants and as such have certain rights (holiday allowances, pension rights) and obligations (terms of contract). PhD students receive a four-year grant. The four-year research training concludes with the presentation of a thesis, prepared with the help of one or more supervisors. The design engineer training provided by the three universities of technology concludes with the production of a technological design.

Research schools

Research schools are centres for high quality research in one particular field or in a multidisciplinary context. They offer talented research assistants (AIOs) research posts including an intensive four-year course at the end of which they will be capable of carrying out independent research. AIOs are expected to obtain a doctorate at the end of their training. The research schools are national and international centres of excellence and provide a guaranteed level of supervision and tuition. They are responsible for their own budgets and carry out regular evaluations. There are 81 officially recognised research schools in the Netherlands (2009).

Top research schools

The concept of top research schools was introduced to give extra impetus to top-level academic research in the Netherlands. The institutions bearing this title must meet stringent quality criteria and are eligible for extra funding. They are selected by the general board of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), on the basis of the recommendations of an independent committee. Six institutions were designated by the Minister as top research schools in 1998. The performance of these institutions was evaluated at the end of 2003. Based on this evaluation, it was decided to continue extra funding until 2008. The performance of these institutions was evaluated at the end of 2003 and it was decided to continue extra funding until 2013, with an interim evaluation in 2010, the results of which will be published in 2011.

Training for researchers and design engineers

After completing their degree, graduates can apply for posts as research assistants (AIOs), research students (OIO) or grant-funded PhD students. AIOs and OIOs are appointed on a temporary basis by universities and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) respectively to conduct academic research and receive training with a view to becoming fully-fledged researchers or design engineers. Both AIOs and OIOS are public servants and as such have certain rights (holiday allowances, pension rights) and obligations (terms of contract). PhD students receive a four-year grant. The four-year research training concludes with the presentation of a thesis, prepared with the help of one or more supervisors. The design engineer training provided by the three universities of technology concludes with the production of a technological design.

Open University of the Netherlands

The Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) is a state establishment founded in 1984. Its social task is to provide a second chance or second way to attend higher education (partly through distance learning) to adults who have not previously had this opportunity. The tasks of the OUNL, as stated in the Higher Education and Research Act (WHW), are to provide initial courses at university level in the form of distance education and contribute to innovation in higher education. By dispensing with formal admission requirements and offering considerable flexibility as regards place, duration and pace of study, the OUNL makes higher education accessible to a wide range of people. There are 12 study centres and 2 support centres in the Netherlands and 6 study centres in Flanders, which provide information, guidance and advice for students in relation to their studies. Although the OUNL is independent, it maintains contacts with other institutions of higher education.

Certificates and diplomas

Students who pass their examinations are awarded a certificate which can then be ‘traded in’ if they subsequently decide to follow a full OUNL programme. A full university degree can be obtained by completing one of the eight degree programmes.

Academic titles

The Open University of the Netherlands has the right to award students completing a degree programme legally recognised titles such as ‘BA’ and ‘MA’. It is also possible to obtain a doctorate (‘Dr’).


Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes


Organisation of doctoral studies

A doctorate or doctoral degree is the highest academic qualification that can be awarded. The accorded title is ‘doctor’. To obtain a doctorate, a candidate must have conducted doctoral research in an academic discipline and report on this research in a dissertation. A doctoral degree is often required for certain positions in higher education or research positions in government and industry.

Doctoral programmes count as level 8 programmes in the International Standard Classification of Education 2011 (ISCED 2011). Entry normally requires successful completion of a programme at ISCED level 7. The taught course component of a doctoral programme must have a duration of at least 3 years full-time. Shorter research programmes that do not lead to a doctorate are considered level 7 programmes.

Doctoral candidates must write a dissertation based on original research and independent study, conducted over a number of years under the supervision of a university professor.

Most doctoral candidates conduct their doctoral research as university employees. They are usually appointed for a period of four years

External doctoral candidates, on the other hand, are not attached to a university. They may work at a research institution not affiliated with a university, such as a commercial laboratory or a regional hospital. They may even write their dissertation at home if they do not require special research facilities. External doctoral candidates must however have a supervisor who is a professor at a university. Doctoral degrees are only awarded by universities.

Admission requirements

Doctoral candidates must already have obtained their master’s degree. In exceptional cases the university may admit a candidate without a master’s degree to a doctoral programme.

Status of doctoral candidates

In principle, doctoral candidates in the Netherlands are university employees whose main task is to conduct research in the context of a doctoral programme. Doctoral programmes also have a taught course component for which the requirements are set individually at the beginning of the programme. Doctoral candidates are also required to do some teaching.

The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) runs a number of grant schemes to finance doctoral research related to specific NWO research programmes. These grants enable universities to appoint doctoral candidates for approved project proposals (see NWO funding).

Besides salaried doctoral positions and external doctoral candidates, new forms of doctoral programmes have developed in response to increasing internationalisation, such as PhD scholarship programmes and joint PhDs. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) distinguishes four types of PhD candidates:

Category A: Doctoral candidates employed by a university

1. Doctoral candidate: university employee whose contract stipulates that the employee’s primary task is to conduct research at the university or university hospital with a view to obtaining a doctoral degree.

2. Doctoral fellow: university employee whose contract stipulates that the employee will conduct research at the university or university hospital with a view to obtaining a doctoral degree.

Category B: Other doctoral candidates

3. Contract doctoral research associate: doctoral candidate not employed by the university where they are doing research. The candidate’s doctoral research is sponsored from another source. A contract PhD candidate differs from an external candidate as the former receives funding (e.g. a grant) in order to perform research or may work towards a doctoral qualification during their regular working hours. The main types of funding in this category are:

3a. scholarships awarded by universities or university hospitals;

3b. scholarships awarded by other organisations, e.g. the European Union, foreign universities, private parties (e.g. banks), philanthropic organisations (e.g. Fulbright);

3c. other contract funding. For instance, the doctoral candidate is sponsored by their employer or allowed to do research (partly) during work hours.

4. External doctoral candidates. These candidates do not have a job at the university where they aim to obtain their doctorate. They include retirees or employees working on their doctoral research in their free time.

Supervision arrangements

Each doctoral candidate has a supervisor who is responsible for coaching the candidate during the research phase and the writing of their dissertation. The supervisor’s status is provisional until their official appointment, shortly before the dissertation defence ceremony takes place. The supervisor plays a key role in this ceremony. Sometimes candidates also have a co-supervisor.

After the supervisor has approved the dissertation it is submitted to an assessment committee made up of at least three academics (or, in any case, an odd number), which assesses whether the dissertation satisfies the criteria for a doctorate. Within five weeks of receiving the dissertation, the chair of the committee must give its decision, with reasons, to the dean and the supervisor.

Employability

Holders of a doctorate can take up academic positions at universities. Outside academia, PhD graduates generally get the same sort of jobs as those who hold a master’s degree. Research has shown that 80% of doctoral candidates hope to build a career in research after obtaining their doctorate. However, only 20% of them will get tenure at a university, while another 10% will find research-related jobs outside academia. The remaining 70% find other jobs in the private and public sectors.

Certification

A doctorate is awarded if the candidate has demonstrated that they are able to perform independent scientific or academic research. This is assessed on the basis of the research product, generally a dissertation. In the exact sciences, it may also be a technological product or a collection of previously published articles.

The candidate must have a supervisor who is prepared to confirm in writing that he/she guarantees the quality of the candidate’s work. The supervisor guides the candidate’s research and has an important say in the research topic.

After the doctoral defence ceremony, the candidate is awarded a doctorate and may bear the title of ‘doctor’ (dr.), preceding the name, or PhD following the name. In the Netherlands, someone with more than one doctorate can use the title dr.mult.


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