Amsterdam (©EV - Onisep)Over the past few years, the Netherlands have underscored lifelong vocational education and training (VET) as being a priority on the political agenda.

Unlike other European countries, such as France and Sweden, the Netherlands have not attempted to integrate mainstream education and VET. First and foremost, they have developed a new educational approach, set up several levels of qualification and defined the skills required for each of these levels.

This clearly drawn-up system offers the advantage of being easy to update on a regular basis and has become an efficient tool for the education sector and labour market alike.

Raising quality is also a core aim of the ‘teacher 2020’ action plan launched by the Education Ministry and the VET sector, which encourages VET teachers to obtain a master degree and offer them flexible opportunities to do so.

Another challenge is to increase VET efficiency by moving towards an all-embracing streamlined qualification system for medium-level vocations and corresponding upper secondary VET programmes. Moreover, guaranteeing the VET system’s accessibility was high on the VET policy agenda until 2010; since then, efficiency and quality have been receiving more attention.

The Dutch education system – 2014


Dutch system (© Onisep / Elise Veteau)




The vocational pathway in the Netherlands


In the Netherlands, pupils are obliged to follow full-time education until the year they are 16 and part-time education, i.e. 2 days per week, until they are 17.


Secondary education

The system is based on 2 main pathways:

  • the mainstream education pathway, which extends from primary school to higher education, going through upper secondary mainstream education (HAVO) and pre-university secondary education (VWO).
  • the VET pathway, which corresponds to preparatory senior VET (Voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs – VMBO), senior VET (Middelbaar beroepsonderwijs – MBO) and higher VET (Hoger beroepsonderwijs – HBO):

Preparatory senior VET (Voorbereidend middelbaar beroepsonderwijs – VMBO) prepares pupils for the MBO over 4 years. The curriculum is made up of general subjects and, during the last 2 years, vocational subjects, which can be followed in 4 fields (technology, social care and services, economics, agriculture).

These fields of training correspond to 4 pathways:

  1. the theoretical learning pathway, which, upon successful completion, allows pupils to access the MBO (long or short cycle), or to enrol in the 4th year of the HAVO;
  2. the mixed learning pathway, similar to the theoretical pathway, while laying more emphasis on vocational subjects;
  3. the vocational-oriented learning pathway preparing pupils for the long-cycle MBO;
  4. the vocational-oriented learning pathway preparing pupils for the short-cycle MBO.


Senior VET (Middelbaar beroepsonderwijs – MBO) is divided into 2 pathways:

1. The work-study pathway (Beroepsbegeleidende leerweg – BBL) consists of classes at school with a minimum of 60% of training being conducted in the workplace. The young people sign a contract with the enterprise with which they are conducting their practical training.

2. The theoretically oriented VET pathway (Beroepsopleidende leerweg – BOL). Here, practical training (Beroepspraktijkvorming – BPV) represents between 20 and 60% of the total volume of training hours.
MBO training programmes are offered in the fields of technology, commerce and management, health care services and agriculture.

The national vocational qualification framework (Kwalificatiestructuur beroepsonderwijs – KSB) is made up of the following levels:

  • level I training (Assistentenopleiding – « assistant training »), lasts for 1 year and prepares pupils to conduct simple tasks.
  • Level II training (Basisberoepsopleiding – « basic vocational training »), lasting 2 or 3 years and preparing pupils to carry out more complex tasks.
  • Level III training (Vakopleiding – « vocational training »), lasting 2 to 4 years, preparing pupils to perform tasks completely independently.
  • Level IV training (Middenkaderopleiding – « middle-management training »), usually lasting 4 years and preparing pupils to perform specialised tasks independently. This course opens the door to higher vocational training.
  • Specialist training (Specialistenopleiding), lasting 1 or 2 years, trains students who have completed Level III in how to transmit their know-how to others.

Informations from CEDEFOP 

Higher education

Higher vocational education and training (Hoger beroepsonderwijs – HBO) is provided by VET colleges (Hogescholen). It is geared towards training students in a specific trade in the frame of theoretical and practical studies lasting 4 years. Dual work-study courses are set up during the last years to ensure a smooth transfer between the HBO and professional practice.



Like Germany, the Netherlands has a dual training system, for example at the MBO described above. Young people work 4 days in enterprise and 1 day at a training centre. According to the Ministry of Education, nearly 35% of young people enrolled in an MBO course in 2010 were studying under the dual system.


Key figures

  • In 2013, the proportion of 18 to 24 year-olds who had left the education system at an early age stood at 9.2% in theNetherlandsagainst 11,9% in the European Union. (Eurostat – 2014)
  • 78,2% of young people aged between 20 and 24 in the Netherlandssuccessfully completed their upper secondary school studies in 2013. (Eurostat – 2014)
  • A relatively high percentage of those aged 20 to 34 graduating from the VET stream at medium education level are likely to be in employment (85.5% compared with 78.1% in the EU). (CEDEFOP – 2017)

Last update : 19/03/2017