Hogeschool vs. Universiteit – “A Clash” Inside The Dutch Higher Education System

Fontys Hogeschool Eindhoven

“Why did you go to study in a “Hogeschool”? Isn’t that like a second class higher education?”

When I heard the words being spoken to me by a fellow Huygens Scholarship recipient during the scholarship acceptance ceremony in Den Haag, it took all that I had to not punch him in the face right then and there.

Granted, he did study at one of the highest-ranked Technische Universiteit in Europe and was on his way to earn his second Master degree. (Though it still didn’t erase the fact that the both of us were qualified to receive the same freaking scholarship.) It could also be that he was just showcasing the notorious frankness of the Dutch. Nevertheless, insulting as it was, I can sort of see the base of his reasoning.

Literally translated to English, Hogeschool means “high school”, but the proper translation of Hogeschool is actually University of “Applied Sciences”.

Universiteit is translated into University in English, but I personally think that the proper translation should be “Research” University. Both Hogeschool and Universiteit, in this regard, should be referred to as the institutes for higher education.

The difference, as the name implied, is that Universiteit focuses more on academic research, while Hogeschool focuses more on practical knowledge that can be applied directly in the workplace.

To graduate from an Universiteit (note that I put “an” before Universiteit, as the Dutch pronunciation of “Universiteit” is “oo-nee-ver-sitite, thus it begins with a vocal “oo”), you need to write a thesis (scriptie) based on a research topic, while in Hogeschool, you will need to complete a graduation project during an internship period — usually for one semester — at a company. Other names for Hogeschool and Universiteit are HBO (Hoger Beroepsonderwijs, translated into English as Higher Professional Education) and WO (Wetenschappelijk Onderwijs, translated into English as Scientific Education), respectively.

In Hogeschool, only Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses are offered. If you want to get a PhD, you need to study at an Universiteit.

If you want to be a scientist or have a career in academia, then technically you need to have a diploma from an Universiteit. There is also Technische Universiteit (Technical University / Institute of Technology), which is another type of Universiteit that offers courses almost exclusively in technical and engineering studies. Conservatoriums and schools of art and design in the Netherlands, on the other hand, are all categorized as Hogeschool.

Vertigo Building, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven

I guess, in a way, you can see Hogeschool as the equivalent of Sekolah Tinggi in Indonesia.

If you start your Bachelor study at a Hogeschool and want to switch to study Bachelor’s degree courses at a Universiteit, it is possible to do so after you get your Propedeuse Certificate. The Certificate is given to Bachelor’s degree students in Hogeschool and Universiteit that complete all the courses given to them in their first year of study with sufficient marks. Thus, after you have acquired a Propedeuse Certificate from a Hogeschool, you can directly continue your study at an Universiteit without having to do the Universiteit’s first year’s courses.

However, if you graduate from a Hogeschool and want to continue with studying courses at the level of Master’s degree in an Universiteit, most likely you will be required to do a Pre-Master course for one or two semesters. This is to catch up with the theory lessons given in Bachelor’s degree level at an Universiteit but not at Hogeschool.

You see, although a Bachelor degree in Hogeschool requires four years of study and three years in Universiteit, there is a difference in the way that the courses are composed in both institutions. Courses in Universiteit are given much like in various universities in Indonesia: you choose the courses relevant to your study and you would collect your credits by passing them.

In Hogeschool, you need to collect credits by passing a fixed set of courses for four or five semesters, then by passing a minor and/or specialization course for one semester, and then by going through two internships each for one semester. Thus, while in Universiteit you get theory lessons for the whole six semesters, in Hogeschool you technically “study” for only five or even four semesters. This is why the Pre-Master is needed.

So, does that mean that it would indeed have been better for me if I had been studying at an Universiteit? Well, prior to writing this article, I looked back at this question over and over again and realized that my answer is: well, it depends …!

When I first decided to study Information and Communication Technology in Fontys Hogeschool Eindhoven, I was largely convinced by my mother who supported the idea of me doing internship for two semesters. She studied and works in Human Resources herself, and thought that the hands-on experience that I will get during my internships will benefit me greatly to look for and get a job in the Netherlands. Besides, many Hogescholen (note: Hogescholen is the plural form of Hogeschool in Dutch) in the Netherlands nowadays offer courses in English, while very few English courses are offered at Bachelor level in Universiteit.

When I did my first internship, it was on the fourth semester of my study, and I took an internship position in a big software company in Germany. Meanwhile, for my graduation internship, I did a project at a Dutch subsidiary of a German engineering company. As I waded through these the two internships, I soon found myself working in two very different work types and environments.

In my first internship, I was working directly in the headquarter office with international (but largely German-speaking) colleagues, while in my second internship I was working in a much smaller office with almost all Dutch colleagues. In my first internship, I was working completely around and about software programming, while in my second internship, my work was more closely related to engineering and technology.

In both internships, I got to see different perspectives and working cultures, which have really opened my eyes about the professional world in the Netherlands (and Germany), and helped me a lot in deciding what I wanted to do after graduation.

Do I want to work as a developer or as a consultant? Do I want to specialize in .NET or Java? Do I want to work in a small or big team? In a headquarter office or a smaller one? What kind of Master’s degree that is more useful for me to take later on?

These questions inevitably popped up as my graduation day approached closer and closer, and by comparing the experiences from my two internships, I managed to get the answer to all of them. Afterwards, it was easier for me to look for (and eventually get) a job shortly before the end of my second or graduation internship, because I have basically figured out “what I want and don’t want to be doing”, as well as “what to expect and is expected from me” during the job hunting.

Suffice to say, I am grateful with the chance of doing internships during my study in Hogeschool. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do an internship if you study in Universiteit, of course you can, but in Universiteit, doing an internship — much less two of them — is not mandatory, at least at a Bachelor’s level. I could imagine that if I had studied at an Universiteit, I probably would have missed out on all the knowledge that I got from my two internships and perhaps even failed to find a job in the Netherlands.

So, the following summary perhaps could settle the “clash” of our understanding of the Dutch higher education system: that the higher education in the Netherlands is divided into Hogeschool / HBO and Universiteit / WO. If you want to get an education with more focus on practical knowledge, you go to Hogeschool, but if you want a deeper understanding in theories and scientific research (and perhaps more prestige), you go to Universiteit. The two of them are different, but it doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. It all depends on what type of student you are and what you aspire to do! :)