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Structure of the national education system 2015/16

Age of students                                                                                                                                                Programme duration (years)

Diagram Dutch education system.jpg


Legend diagram on the Dutch Education system - English version.jpg

A 'specialistenopleiding' can be followed after completing the 'middenkaderopleiding' or 'vakopleiding'.

source: Eurydice


Primary education
Primary education covers mainstream primary education (BAO), special schools for primary education (SBAO) and special schools catering for both the primary age group and secondary age group (SO and VSO). Mainstream primary education is for all children aged 4 to 12.
Special schools for primary education are for children with learning or behavioural difficulties, and children who – temporarily, at least – need special facilities or extra assistance. Pupils can attend special schools for primary education until their 14th birthday. They can then transfer to pre-vocational secondary education, practical training, other forms of mainstream education or special secondary education.

Special education caters for children with special educational needs. There are special schools for the primary age group (SO) and special secondary schools (VSO) for the secondary age group. Both are divided into four categories, catering for pupils with different kinds of disability and children with severe learning difficulties.

Secondary education
Secondary education encompasses schools providing pre-university education (VWO), senior general secondary education (HAVO), pre-vocational secondary education (VMBO) and practical training (PRO). HAVO and VWO courses prepare students for tertiary education programmes.
VMBO comprises four learning pathways: the basic vocational programme (BL), the middle-management vocational programme (KL), the combined programme (GL) and the theoretical programme (TL). These pathways lead on to MBO programmes. After completing a combined or theoretical programme, students may also go on to HAVO.

Adult and vocational education
The Adult and Vocational Education Act (WEB), which came into force on 1 January 1996, covers two types of education: secondary vocational education (MBO) and adult education.
MBO comprises school-based vocational training (BOL) and block or day-release programmes (BBL). BOL can be taken either full-time or part-time. Within BBL, the focus is on practical training, which takes up 60 per cent or more of the course. MBO courses can be taken at four different qualification levels:

  • assistant level (level 1)
  • basic vocational training (level 2)
  • professional training (level 3)
  • middle-management or specialist training (level 4).

MBO courses are offered in four sectors:

  • personal and social services and health care
  • engineering and technology
  • business
  • agriculture and the natural environment (funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs).

Adult education comprises adult general secondary education and adult basic education. VAVO gives learners a second chance to obtain a VMBO (theoretical pathway), HAVO (senior general secondary education) or VWO (pre-university education) certificate. Adult basic education is a first step towards further training and development and teaches basic skills in the form of:

  • courses providing a broad basic education;
  • courses aimed at fostering self-reliance;
  • courses in Dutch as a second language (NT2).

Higher education
The Higher Education and Research Act (WHW) governs a wide range of higher education issues, including the planning, funding, administration and organisation of HBO institutions and research universities.

HBO institutions (also known as universities of applied sciences or hogescholen) provide higher professional education. They contribute to the development of those occupations to which their teaching is geared and conduct design and development activities and research related to specific occupations. They provide bachelor’s degree programmes and in some cases master’s degree programmes, and transfer knowledge for the benefit of the community. All higher education institutions are required to pay attention to the personal development of their students and nurture in them a sense of social responsibility. A total of 37 hogescholen currently receive central government funding. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (EZ) is responsible for funding three of these, which provide agricultural and environmental education.

Research universities focus on academic teaching and research. They train students to become researchers or design engineers, and transfer knowledge for the benefit of the community. Like hogescholen, they pay attention to the personal development of their students and nurture in them a sense of social responsibility.
The national government funds 18 research universities. These include the Open University for distance learning, four theological or humanist universities, three universities of technology, and Wageningen University. The latter is funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

For further information, please consult the introduction articles of Organisation and Governance and of each educational level: Early Childhood Education and care, Primary Education, Secondary and Post Secondary Non Tertiary Education, Higher Education and Adult Education and Training.

For a brief description of other main topics regarding the national education system, please read the introduction article of Funding in education, Teachers and education staff, Management and other educational staff,Educational support and guidance, Quality assurance, Mobility and internationalisation.

For information on recently adopted or planned reforms and policy measures, please consult topic Ongoing Reforms and Policy Developments.

While Eurypedia provides comprehensive and comparable information, further information may also be found on the website of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.




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