Silly suits and students – get ready for the new academic year

New students in Delft. Photo: Delta

If you see gangs of girls in pink outfits or young men in ties and smart suits… they are probably part of a university initiation ritual. Yes. It is that time again – the new academic year is about to start. Here are some facts and figures about Dutch higher education.

1 Aspiring students in the Netherlands have a choice of 13 universities. Alternatively, they can elect to go to a ‘Hogeschool’ or ‘HBO instelling’ which in English translation magically transforms into a university as well, albeit a University of Applied Sciences.

2 The terms Universiteit and Hogeschool are in the process of becoming protected, as they are in other European countries: The Johan Cruyff University has already changed its name to the Johan Cruyff Academy, for instance. Institutes calling themselves ‘university’ or ‘university of applied science’ and which do not adhere to the conditions can face a fine of over €800,000. Ok, the ‘academy of life’ it is then.

3 Universities of applied sciences and universities both offer bachelor’s degrees but only universities offer master’s degrees. A bachelor’s degree at the former takes four years and the official title is specialised (Bachelor of Business Administration, for example) whereas a university graduate is either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts after a (mainly) three year course.

However, a specialised Bachelor’s degree does not automatically mean a student can go on to do a Master’s degree at a university. Confused? One university certainly was. We know of at least one case where a student with a Bachelor from a ‘university of applied sciences’ wrote himself in to do a master’s and the hapless institution had no option but to keep him.

4 In 2012 the basic grant system was abolished. Now each Dutch student under 30 is eligible for a package consisting of a student loan and a public transport pass, and if  from a poor background, a small grant as well. After they graduate students pay the lot back apart from the public transport pass. The average student debt is now around €14,000.

5 After the basic grant was abolished more students opted to stay at home: independent budget expert NIBUD calculated that expenses for students at home are an average €535 compared to €980 for students who manage to find accommodation for a reasonable rent.

6 And still on the subject of money, according to a 2105 poll by NIBUD are financially supported by their parents to the tune of some €180 a month. They also often shoulder health insurance costs.

7 Students who are lonely or ambitious or both can apply for membership of a student society. There are some 48 societies of which Vindicat atque Polit of Groningen University is the oldest (1815). However, student beware. Initiation ceremonies last for at least a week and every year at least one hits the headlines for some scandal or other every year. Sleep deprivation, alcohol and physical abuse are supposed to be outlawed…

8 According to Nuffic, which promotes Dutch educational institutes abroad, 2017 was a bumper year for foreign students: some 112,000 international students came to this country of which 81,000 came away with a degree while the rest were Erasmus exchange students.

9 Dutch universities are represented in all international rankings, of which there are many. The latest, by Jia Tong University in Shanghai put Utrecht University top of the Dutch list in 47th place and proclaimed it the Netherlands’ best university. However the QS World University Rankings said last year Amsterdam was the top-rated Dutch university The Times Higher. Education ranking puts Delft in the lead of the Dutch pack.

10 Leiden University is the oldest university in the Netherlands. It was founded in 1575 and has produced no fewer than 16 Nobel prize winners. Founded in 1976, Maastricht is the newest.

11  Of the 1,632 different degree courses at the country’s 13 universities 60% are now in English. When it comes to master’s degrees, just 30% are taught in Dutch and three universities only offer master’s degrees in English. Not everyone is happy about this. In particular, students complain about the poor quality of the English used by lecturers. At the end of last year, almost 60% of students in a poll by students union LSVB said they had been confronted with incomprehensible lecturers. has been free for 12 years, but now we are asking our readers to help. Your donation will enable us to keep providing you with fair and accurate news and features about all things Dutch.
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