The Dutch university system distinguishes between research universities – such as the University of Groningen – and universities of applied sciences for professional education. The research universities vary in size, with enrolments ranging from 6,000 to 30,000. Altogether they are home to some 205,000 students. Only research universities can award doctoral (PhD) degrees. Currently, the Netherlands occupies the fifth place in the world ranking of numbers of publications per capita.
All Dutch research based universities are members of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). The large majority is state-funded. Institutions should meet governmental quality requirements in order to maintain their accreditation. This also means that the Dutch system has egalitarian characteristics: overall quality differences between research universities are relatively small and mostly on the level of individual programmes.
Nine research universities – among these Groningen – are broad-based. Three institutions (Delft, Eindhoven and Twente) are universities of technology, and one (Wageningen) focuses on agriculture and life sciences.
As a result of the Bologna process that aims to create a common higher education area in Europe, the Netherlands in 2002 has introduced the three-cycle structure of bachelor (three years), master (one-two years) and doctoral education. Additionally, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) is now used at all Dutch HE institutions. One academic year represents 60 ECTS, 1 ECTS generally corresponding to 25 to 30 hours of work.
The third cycle, the doctorate, in the Netherlands takes four years. A PhD in the Netherlands mainly involves carrying out research. No ECTS credits are given during the third cycle, although approximately one semester (30 ECTS) of coursework is usually part of a doctorate. In most cases, a master’s degree is required for students to be admitted to a PhD programme, although there may be exceptions to this rule depending on the research experience of the applicant.
Consequently, most PhD students in the Netherlands work on an individual project in close collaboration with their supervisor(s), at least one of these being a full professor. In relation with Erasmus Mundus it is therefore essential that any prospective PhD student or any visiting researcher has been pre-accepted by a supervisor at the University. A letter of pre-acceptance should be enclosed with your application.
Research in the Netherlands can almost always be performed in English and international theses defences usually take place in English. Since the introduction of Bologna Dutch universities offer international English-language programmes also in the first and second cycle. Currently there are over 1500 programmes taught in English at HE institutions in the Netherlands that do not require for students to have any knowledge of the Dutch language.