Secondary Education

After attending elementary education, children in the Netherlands (by that time usually 12 years old) go directly to high school (voortgezet onderwijs; literally, "continued education"). Informed by the advice of the elementary school and the results of the Cito test, a choice is made for either VMBO, HAVO or VWO by the pupil and their parents. When it is not clear which type of secondary education best suits a pupil, or if the parents insist their child can handle a higher level of education than what was recommended to them, there is an orientation year for both VMBO/HAVO and HAVO/VWO to determine this. At the end of the year, the pupil will continue in the normal curriculum of either level. For HAVO/VWO, there is sometimes an additional second orientation year when inconclusive. A high school can offer one or more levels of education, at one or multiple locations. A focus on (financial) efficiency has led to more centralization, with large schools that offer education on all or most educational levels.

Since the Dutch educational system does not have middle schools or junior high schools, the first year of all levels in Dutch high schools is referred to as the brugklas (literally, bridge class), as it connects the elementary school system to the secondary education system. During this year, pupils will gradually learn to cope with the differences between school systems, such as dealing with increased personal responsibility.

It is possible for pupils who have attained the VMBO diploma to attend the final two years of HAVO level education and sit the HAVO exam, and for pupils with a HAVO diploma to attend the final two years of VWO level education and sit the VWO exam. The underlying rationale is that this grants pupils access to a more advanced level of higher education. This system acts as a safety net to diminish the negative effects of a child's immaturity or lack of self-knowledge. For example, when a bright pupil was sent to VMBO because she/he was unmotivated but later discovered its potential or has acquired the desire to achieve better, the pupil can still attain a higher level by moving on to HAVO. Most schools do require a particular grade average to ensure the pupil is capable of handling the increased study load and higher difficulty level.

Aside from moving up, there is also a system in place where pupils can be demoted to a lower level of education. When for example a pupil has entered secondary education at a level they cannot cope with, or when they lack the interest to spend effort on their education resulting in poor grades, they can be sent from VWO to HAVO, from HAVO to VMBO, and from any level of VMBO to a lower level of VMBO.

The VMBO (voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs; literally, "preparatory middle-level applied education") education lasts four years, from the age of twelve to sixteen. It combines vocational training with theoretical education in languages, mathematics, history, arts and sciences. Sixty percent of students nationally are enrolled in VMBO. Students can choose between four different levels of VMBO that differ in the ratio of practical vocational training and theoretical education. Not all levels are necessarily taught in the same high school.
Theoretische leerweg (VMBO-TL; literally, "theoretical learning path") has the largest share of theoretical education. It prepares for middle management and the MBO level of tertiary education, and allows students to resume vocational training at HAVO level. It was previously known as "MAVO".
Gemengde leerweg (VMBO-GL; literally, "mixed learning path") is in between VMBO-TL and VMBO-KL. The progression route to graduation is similar to the VMBO-TL.
Kaderberoepsgerichte Leerweg (VMBO-KB; literally; "middle management-oriented learning path") is composed of an equal amount of theoretical education and vocational training. It prepares for middle management and vocational training at the MBO level of tertiary education.
Basisberoepsgerichte Leerweg (VMBO-BB; literally; "basic profession-oriented learning path") emphasizes vocational training and prepares for vocational training at the MBO level of tertiary education.
Praktijkonderwijs (literally, "practical education") mainly consists of vocational training. It is tailored to pupils who would otherwise not be able to obtain a VMBO-diploma. This form of on-the-job training is aimed at allowing pupils to enter the job market directly.

At all of these levels, Leerwegondersteunend onderwijs (literally, "learning path supporting education") is offered, which is intended for pupils with educational or behavioural problems. These pupils are taught in small classes by specialized teachers.

Selective secondary education
Secondary education, which begins at the age of 12 and, as of 2008, is compulsory until the age of 18, is offered at several levels. The two programmes of general education that lead to higher education are HAVO (five years) and VWO (six years). Pupils are enrolled according to their ability, and although VWO is more rigorous, both HAVO and VWO can be characterised as selective types of secondary education. The HAVO diploma is the minimum requirement for admission to HBO (universities of applied sciences). The VWO curriculum prepares pupils for university, and only the VWO diploma grants access to WO (research universities).

The first three years of both HAVO and VWO are called the basisvorming (literally, "basic formation"). All pupils follow the same subjects: languages, mathematics, history, arts and sciences. The last two years of HAVO and the last three years of VWO are referred to as the second phase (tweede fase), or upper secondary education. This part of the educational programme allows for differentiation by means of subject clusters that are denoted "profiles" (profielen). A profile is a set of different subjects that will make up for the largest part of the pupil's timetable. It emphasizes a specific area of study in which the pupil specializes. Compared to the HAVO route, the difficulty level of the profiles at the VWO is higher, and lasts three years instead of two. Pupils pick one of four profiles towards the end of their third year:

Cultuur en Maatschappij (C&M; literally, "culture and society") emphasizes arts and foreign languages (French, German and less frequently Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Turkish). In the province of Friesland, West Frisian is also taught. The mathematics classes focus on statistics and stochastics. This profile prepares for artistic and cultural training.

Economie en Maatschappij (E&M; literally, "economy and society") emphasizes social sciences, economics, and history. The mathematics classes focus on statistics and stochastics. This profile prepares for management and business administration.

Natuur en Gezondheid (N&G; literally, "nature and health") emphasizes biology and natural sciences. The mathematics classes focus on algebra, geometry and calculus. This profile is necessary to attend medical training.
Natuur en Techniek (N&T; literally, "nature and technology") emphasizes natural sciences. The mathematics classes focus on algebra, geometry and calculus. This profile is necessary to attend technological and natural science training.

Because each profile is designed to prepare pupils for certain areas of study at the tertiary level, some HBO and WO studies require a specific profile because prerequisite knowledge is required. For example, one cannot study engineering without having attained a certificate in physics at the secondary educational level. Aside from the subjects in the profile, the curriculum is composed of a compulsory segment that includes Dutch, English, mathematics and some minor subjects, and a free choice segment in which pupils can choose two or more subjects from other profiles. Picking particular subjects in the free curriculum space can result in multiple profiles, especially the profiles N&G and N&T that overlap for a large part.

The HAVO (hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs; literally, "higher general continued education") has five grades and is attended from age twelve to seventeen. A HAVO diploma provides access to the HBO level (polytechnic) of tertiary education.

The vwo (voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs; literally, "preparatory scholarly education") has six grades and is typically attended from age twelve to eighteen. A VWO diploma provides access to WO training, although universities may set their own admission criteria (e.g. based on profile or on certain subjects).

The VWO is divided into atheneum and gymnasium. A gymnasium programme is similar to the atheneum, except that Latin and Greek are compulsory courses. Not all schools teach the ancient languages throughout the first three years (the "basic training"). Latin may start in either the first or the second year, while Greek may start in the second or third. At the end of the third and sometimes fourth year, a pupil may decide to take one or both languages in the second three years (the second phase), when the education in ancient languages is combined with education in ancient culture. The subject that they choose, although technically compulsory, is subtracted from their free space requirement.

VWO-plus, also known as atheneum-plus, VWO+ or lyceum, offers extra subjects like philosophy, additional foreign languages and courses to introduce students to scholarly research.

Some schools offer bilingual VWO (Tweetalig VWO, or TVWO), where the majority of the lessons are taught in English. In some schools near the Dutch-German border, pupils may choose a form of TVWO that offers 50% of the lessons in German and 50% in Dutch.

VAVO (Voortgezet algemeen volwassenen onderwijs; literally, "extended general adult education") is an adult school, which teaches VMBO/MAVO, HAVO or VWO, for students who in the past were unable to receive their diploma, who want to receive certificates for certain subjects only, or who for example received their diploma for HAVO but want to receive their VWO-diploma within one or two years.

International education
As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC) listed the Netherlands as having 152 international schools. ISC defines an 'international school' in the following terms "ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country's national curriculum and is international in its orientation." This definition is used by publications including The Economist.

The MBO (middelbaar beroepsonderwijs; literally, "middle-level applied education") is oriented towards vocational training. Many pupils with a VMBO-diploma attend MBO. The MBO lasts one to four years, depending of the level. There are 4 levels offered to student.:
MBO level 1: Assistant training. It lasts 1 year maximum. It is focused on simple executive tasks. If the student graduates, he/she can apply to MBO level 2.
MBO level 2: Basic vocational education. The programme lasts 2 to 3 years and is focused on executive tasks.
MBO level 3: The programme lasts 3 to 4 years. Students are taught to achieve their tasks independently.
MBO level 4: Middle Management VET. It lasts 3 to 4 years and prepares for jobs with higher responsibility. It also opens the gates to Higher education.

At all levels, MBO offers 2 possible pathways: a school-based education, where Training within a company takes between 20 and 59% of the curriculum, or an apprenticeship education, where this training represents more than 60% of the study time. Both paths lead to the same certification. Students in MBO are mostly between 16 and 35. Students of the "apprenticeship" path are overall older (25+). After MBO (4 years), pupils can enroll in HBO or enter the job market. A multitude of MBO studies is typically offered at a regionaal opleidingen centrum (ROC; literally, "regional education center"). Most ROCs are concentrated on one or several locations in larger cities. Exceptions include schools offering specialized MBO studies such as agriculture, and schools adapted to pupils with a learning disability that require training in small groups or at an individual level. Tertiary education

Higher education
Higher education in the Netherlands is offered at two types of institutions: universities of applied sciences (hogescholen; HBO), open to graduates of HAVO and VWO, and research universities (universiteiten; WO), open only to VWO-graduates. The former comprise general institutions and institutions specialising in a particular field, such as agriculture, fine and performing arts, or educational training, while the latter comprise twelve general universities as well as three technical universities.

Since September 2002, the higher education system in the Netherlands has been organised around a three-cycle system consisting of bachelor's, master's and PhD degrees, to conform and standardize the teaching in both the HBO and the WO according to the Bologna process. At the same time, the ECTS credit system was adopted as a way of quantifying a student's workload (both contact hours, and hours spent studying and preparing assignments). Under Dutch law, one credit represents 28 hours of work and 60 credits represents one year of full-time study. Both systems have been adopted to improve international recognition and compliance.

Despite these changes, the binary system with a distinction between research-oriented education and professional higher education remains in use. These three types of degree programmes differ in terms of the number of credits required to complete the programme and the degree that is awarded. A WO bachelor's programme requires the completion of 180 credits (3 years) and graduates obtain the degree of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Laws degree (B.A./B.Sc./LL.B.), depending on the discipline. An HBO bachelor's programme requires the completion of 240 credits (4 years), and graduates obtain a degree indicating their field of study, for example Bachelor of Engineering (B. Eng.) or Bachelor of Nursing (B. Nursing). The old title appropriate to the discipline in question (bc., ing.) may still be used.

Master's programmes at the WO level mostly require the completion of 60 or 120 credits (1 or 2 years). Some programmes require 90 (1.5 years) or more than 120 credits. In engineering, agriculture, mathematics, and the natural sciences, 120 credits are always required, while in (veterinary) medicine or pharmacy the master's phase requires 180 credits (3 years). Other studies that usually have 60-credit "theoretical master's programmes" sometimes offer 120-credit technical or research masters. Graduates obtain the degree of Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Laws or the not legally recognized degree Master of Philosophy (M.A./M.Sc./LL.M./M.Phil.), depending on the discipline. The old title appropriate to the discipline in question (drs., mr., ir.) may still be used. Master's programmes at the HBO level require the completion of 60 to 120 credits, and graduates obtain a degree indicating the field of study, for example Master of Social Work (MSW).

The third cycle of higher education is offered only by research universities, which are entitled to award the country's highest academic degree, the doctorate, which entitles a person to use the title Doctor (Dr.). The process by which a doctorate is obtained is referred to as "promotion" (promotie). The doctorate is primarily a research degree, for which a dissertation based on original research must be written and publicly defended. This research is typically conducted while working at a university as a promovendus (research assistant).

Requirements for admission
To enroll in a WO bachelor's programme, a student is required to hold a VWO diploma or to have completed the first year (60 credits) of an HBO programme resulting in a propaedeuse. The minimum admission requirement for HBO is either a HAVO school diploma or a level-4 (highest) MBO diploma. In some cases, pupils are required to have completed a specific subject cluster. A quota (numerus fixus) applies to admission to certain programmes, primarily in the medical sciences, and places are allocated using a weighted lottery. Applicants older than 21 years who do not possess one of these qualifications can qualify for admission to higher education on the basis of an entrance examination and assessment.

For admission to all master's programmes, a bachelor's degree in one or more specified disciplines is required, in some cases in combination with other requirements. Graduates with an HBO bachelor's may have to complete additional requirements for admission to a WO master's programme. A pre-master programme may provide admission to a master's programme in a different discipline than that of the bachelor's degree.

Accreditation and quality assurance
A guaranteed standard of higher education is maintained through a national system of legal regulation and quality assurance.

The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science is responsible for legislation pertaining to education. A system of accreditation was introduced in 2002. Since then, the new Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) has been responsible for accreditation. According to the section of the Dutch Higher Education Act that deals with the accreditation of higher education (2002), degree programmes offered by research universities and universities of professional education will be evaluated according to established criteria, and programmes that meet those criteria will be accredited, that is, recognised for a period of six years. Only accredited programmes are eligible for government funding, and students receive financial aid only when enrolled in an accredited programme. Only accredited programmes issue legally recognised degrees. Accredited programmes are listed in the publicly accessible Central Register of Higher Education Study Programmes (CROHO). Institutions are autonomous in their decision to offer non-accredited programmes, subject to internal quality assessment. These programmes do not receive government funding.

The HBO (Hoger beroepsonderwijs; literally, "higher professional education") is oriented towards higher learning and professional training. After HBO (typically 4-6 years), pupils can enroll in a (professional) master's program (1-2 years) or enter the job market. In some situations, students with an MBO or a VWO diploma receive exemptions for certain courses, so the student can do HBO in three years. The HBO is taught in vocational universities (hogescholen), of which there are over 60 in the Netherlands, each of which offers a broad variety of programs, with the exception of some that specialize in arts or agriculture. Note that the hogescholen are not allowed to name themselves university in Dutch. This also stretches to English and therefore HBO institutions are known as universities of applied sciences.

The WO (wetenschappelijk onderwijs; literally, "scientific education") is only taught at research universities. It is oriented towards higher learning in the arts or sciences. After the bachelor's programme (typically 3 years), students can enrol in a master's programme (typically 1, 2 or 3 years) or enter the job market. After gaining a master, a student can apply for a 3 or 4 year PhD candidate position at a university (NB a master's degree is the mandatory entry level for the Dutch PhD program). There are three technical universities, an Open University, six general universities and four universities with unique specializations in the Netherlands, although the specialized universities have increasingly added more general studies to their curriculum.

Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
Although not a university, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences has many links with Dutch universities. Its mission is to be the forum, conscience and representative of Dutch science.