The difference between a university of applied sciences and a research university

There are two types of higher education in the Netherlands: a university of applied sciences and a research university. Both offer Bachelor’s programmes as well as Master’s programmes. But which programme is right for you? Taking a look at the differences between the two types of education can help you to decide which programme you should choose.

The information on this page is intended specifically for prospective international students. For Dutch vwo students, we have more information about the difference between a university of applied sciences (HBO) and a research university (WO) on the Dutch side of this page.

In this dual system, higher professional education (HBO) is offered by universities of applied sciences (hogescholen), while research-oriented education is traditionally offered by research universities, such as Radboud University.

In general, for admission to a (WO) Master’s programme at Radboud University your previous education is required to be equivalent to the WO Bachelor's level.

The main difference at a glance

University of applied sciences (HBO)

Research university (WO), like Radboud University

Focus on concrete and practical skills.Focus on abstract, analytical skills and critical thinking.
More contact hours (e.g. lectures / tutorials) in a classroom setting.Fewer contact hours and more emphasis on independent study.
A Bachelor's degree generally takes four years of study (240 credits) towards obtaining a degree indicating the field of study (for example, Bachelor of Engineering, B Eng, or Bachelor of Nursing, B Nursing).A Bachelor's degree generally takes three years of study (180 credits) towards obtaining the degree of Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Laws (BA/BSc/LLB), depending on the discipline.
Less focus on theory, more focus on applying theory to projects. 1 internship and 1 internship/thesis project account for a large part of credits. At least 1 internship is obligatory.More in-depth focus on theory at a fast pace, applying theory to case studies. Internships more common in Science related programmes, less common in other programmes, but often still optional.
Trains students to apply their knowledge in a solution-oriented way and prepares them for particular professions within the chosen field.Prepares students to undertake independent research. They will be able to find work in the fields of research, management, administration and policy, and it is possible to pursue a PhD degree.

You can find more information about the Dutch education system on the Study in NL website or you can watch this video from Nuffic, the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education.