Educational system

The philosophy behind education in the Netherlands reflects Dutch society and aims to encourage students to be open-minded, and able to think and learn in a creative manner. Children have to go to school from 5-16, but most are in some form of education from 4-18 or longer.

Primary Education

Basisonderwijs (primary education) can start at the age of 4 (groep 1) and is mandatory from 5 years old.

The curriculum is broad, divided over 8 groepen (years), and progress is monitored by toetsen (standardised testing). In the final year of primary school (groep 8), the most appropriate type of secondary school is selected. All pupils in the last year of primary school must complete a primary school leavers attainment test (doorstroomtoets). The test measures pupils’ skills in language, arithmetic and mathematics.

The school week is normally from around 08:30 to around 15:15 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; and from 08:30-12:00 on Wednesdays. Children in groep 1 and groep 2 often have a half or even a whole day off on Fridays.

Primary school students are often allowed to go home at lunchtime, however some (inner-city) primary schools have a continurooster which means that the students stay on school premises and remain in the care of the school or overblijfouders (parents that volunteer to help at lunchtime). For parents wanting their child to stay at school they can utilise tussenschoolse opvang – TSO (lunchtime care). Primary schools charge an extra fee for TSO or a continurooster, it is not included in standard yearly contributions.

The school year runs from August/September to July, with a summer holiday of 6 weeks, a Christmas break of 2 weeks, and a number of shorter holidays, including spring and autumn breaks and study days.

There are many primary schools in the Maastricht Region, with various types of educational philosophies. 

There are 5 academische basisscholen (academic primary schools) in the Maastricht Region. Academic primary schools are set apart by the way in which they connect the professionalisation of incoming and incumbent teachers with research and innovation in education. Students are challenged to learn in a research-focussed way.

United World College Maastricht (UWC) and AFNORTH International School (AFNORTH-IS) offer an international curriculum.

It is possible to send children living in the Netherlands to schools in Belgium or Germany.

If you want to know how a typically Dutch School operates check out this video on Welcome-to-NL.

Secondary Education

Voortgezet Onderwijs (secondary education) starts after completion of primary education, usually at age 12, and generally continues to the age of 18. Children are obliged to go to school until the school year in which they become 16. In the final year of primary school (groep 8), the most appropriate type of secondary school is selected. All pupils in the last year of primary school must complete a primary school leavers attainment test (doorstroomtoets). The test measures pupils’ skills in language, arithmetic and mathematics.

There are 3 levels determined by the outcome: 

  • Voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs – VMBO is a 4 year programme that provides preparation for a more practical career (via MBO) or is a stepping stone to HAVO education;
  • Hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs – HAVO takes 5 years and prepares for university of applied sciences or a transfer to VWO education;
  • Voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs – VWO takes 6 years and is the admission level for universities.

Some schools offer dual curriculum for the first few years on several levels at the same time. The student is then assessed during and at the end of this period, allowing the parents and student to decide over a longer period of time which level and direction suits them best.

There are several secondary schools in the Maastricht region.

Tweetalig onderwijs –TTO (Bilingual Education) in the Maastricht Region

In order to be eligible for this a student needs to be reasonably fluent in Dutch as well as in English. Each subject is taught in just one language, but both languages will be used across the curriculum, and the subject/language combinations will vary from one year to the next. At the end of their education, students should have had all subjects in both languages. Final exams are held in Dutch.

Other languages

UWC and AFNORTH-IS offer secondary education in English, with support for a child's mother tongue. It is possible to send children living in the Netherlands to schools in Belgium or Germany (e.g. for French or German language education).

Tertiary Education

Technical college (vocational education)
Middelbaar beroepsonderwijs – MBO is available for students from the age of 16. The programme takes 3 or 4 years and offers practical qualifications at a variety of levels. Following this programme some students will be eligible to continue the education at hoger beroepsonderwijs – HBO (Bachelor) level. Others will go into employment.

The technical colleges based in the Maastricht Region are:

University (higher education)

Higher education in the Netherlands is offered at 2 types of institutions:

  • Hogescholen (universities of applied sciences) 
  • Universiteiten (universities) 

Both types of institutions offer courses in, for example, engineering, law, social studies, and agriculture. Not all subjects are offered everywhere – each institution has its own specialisms.

The higher education system in the Netherlands is organised around a 3-cycle system consisting of Bachelor's, Master's and PhD degrees. However, the higher education system continues to be a binary system with a distinction between research-oriented education and professional higher education.

A great deal of the courses taught at the tertiary institutions in the Maastricht Region are taught in English, however not all are. Refer to the respective websites for detailed and up-to-date information.

The universities based in the Maastricht Region are:


The four innovation campuses are home to state-of-the-art facilities, fundamental and applied research offered to scientists, entrepreneurs, students and investors. Together they are creating new chances and solutions in circularity, health, nutrition and data that are environmentally sound, business wise and socially positive.

Brightlands consists of 4 campuses embracing the following areas of expertise:

All Brightlands campuses are supported by the Province of Limburg, Maastricht University, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, private companies, as well as several European, national and local public funds.

Also potentially of interest to residents of the Maastricht Region are the universities in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine, all accessible via public transport.

For information about the Bachelor-Master structure in the Netherlands check Nuffic (Dutch Organisation for Internationalisation in Education) website.   ​​​

Mature/Adult Education and Life Long Learning

Open Universiteit Nederland – OU is an independent government-funded institute for distance learning at university level. The Government of the Netherlands' purpose in founding the OU was to make higher education accessible to anyone with the necessary aptitudes and interests, regardless of formal qualifications.

Future Learn is a portal offering a wide range of free courses as distance learning courses. These are provided in English by a number of universities throughout the world.

A number of institutes in the Maastricht Region offer a variety of programmes for full-time or part-time adult education at MBO level during the daytime. These are, however, mostly in Dutch.

Syntra, a Belgian institute offers a wide range of practical qualifications, some of which can be followed as full-time, part-time or evening classes, but in Dutch.

Assessment of diploma/degree in the Netherlands

Students with a foreign diploma want to enrol in education in the Netherlands should contact the school or university where they want to study. The educational institutions can apply for a credential evaluation for free at Samenwerkingsorganisatie Beroepsonderwijs Bedrijfsleven – SBB (Cooperation Organisation for Vocational Education, Training and the Labour Market) or Nuffic (Dutch Organisation for Internationalisation in Education). They then also decide whether or not the student can be admitted and if there is the possibility of exemption for certain elements of study.

Students who want to study at private educational institutes in the Netherlands have to apply for a credential evaluation via Internationale Diplomawaardering – IDW for a fee. The fee is paid by the student or the private education institute.


Assessment of earlier gained competencies

In the absence of an official diploma, it may be possible to assess practical experience as eerder verworven competenties – EVC, which is then judged to be equivalent to a specific diploma qualification, and/or provides exemption from certain subjects whilst studying for a particular qualification. The level of competences and experience is assessed by the EVC Centre. This procedure can also be followed together with an employer.

Language courses

There are several locations in the Maastricht Region offering lessons for Dutch as a foreign language.

Nationally based Intensive, Immersion courses 
Regular courses
Free courses
Nederlands als Tweede Taal (NT2) course
Civic integration courses – also combined with language courses

Head to the Study in Holland website for in-depth information about the reasons for studying in the Netherlands, what to expect, how to gain access to tertiary education and information about scholarships and funding.