Academic Life in the Netherlands

Academic life in the Netherlands is quite different than it is here in the US, so we’re going to talk about some of the common aspects of the educational experience throughout the country.

Slide 1: All About Netherlands – Lesson 4: Academic Life

Welcome to Lesson Four: Academic Life. Academic life in the Netherlands is quite different than it is here in the US, so we're going to talk about some of the common aspects of the educational experience throughout the country. 

Slide 2: ECTS

  • Credit System
  • Based on hours you will spend on class in and outside of the classroom
  • 30 per semester is full time

First thing is something called ECTS. No matter where you go to school in Europe, your credits are calculated differently than they do at most universities in the US. In the US, your credit hours speak to how many hours you're in the classroom each week. So if you're taking a course load of 12 hours, that means that class time, you're in the class for 12 hours a week. That's in the US. In Europe, ECTS are calculated to speak to how many hours per week you'll spend in that class in total. So a full course load is 30 ECTS per semester, which means that you can expect to spend 30 hours per week combined in the classroom, doing group work, readings, and other assignments or preparations for the classes. 

Slide 3: Grading

So grading, I have to tell you something, I don't care how studious you are, you're not going to get perfect grades. And I think that this quote here puts it really well. They see high grades as singling out absolute perfection. So let's look at this quote where it says, “This tradition is different from what is customary in the US where high grades are awarded to reward and encourage rather than single out absolute perfection. Statistics show that North American educators have always been more generous in awarding of grades A's than their European counterparts. The danger in this practice is that it may lead to grade inflation, which in fact has become a trend in American higher education over the past 30 years. Grade inflation may well be linked to a more competitive attitude in American higher education, where it is far more common for students to compete for scholarships, and where admission to the best universities depends on having the best grades. By contrast, university admission in the Netherlands, as in most continental European countries, is not so based on high grades, as on having the right school leaving certificate. The type of secondary school attended and the type of examination subjects taken are accorded more importance than the individual grades obtained. 

So this is from Nuffic, which is the Dutch kind of Ministry of Education. And so, it's speaking to the fact that grades kind of don't matter as much, or high grades don't matter as much. And again, that it’s not about, hey, you have an A because you did a good job. It's there, that you have an A because it's absolutely perfect. There was one administrator in a different country, actually, in France, where there's a similar philosophy, who said that if you expect an A, it's like saying you know as much as the professor knows. So that's sort of the baseline that they have there. 

Slide 4: 10 Point Grading Scale

  • 1-3 (lowest) and 9-10 highest are rare
  • 6-8 is common
  • 7.5-8 is like an A
  • 8.5 is like an A+

So they don't do A's really. It's a 10 point grading scale; 1 to 3 is the worst, 9 to 10 is the best. Any of those scores are really, really rare. Most grades given are from 6 to 8, and 8 is seen as an excellent grade. So sort of a 7.5 to 8 are what we would think of as an A, and an 8.5 would be like an A+. So going into it again, work hard, but even your best work will probably not get a 9 or 10. 

Slide 5: Binding Study Advice

  • Have to pass a certain number of courses during the 1st year to get a certain number of ECTS to be invited to 2nd year
  • Usually around 45 ECTS
  • Passing – not a certain GPA
  • Does not apply after 1st year

So Binding Study Advice we talk about in admissions more in depth, but you know, suffice it to say that it's less competitive to get into a Dutch university. There's a set of admission requirements. And if you meet them, you're admitted. But the thing is, what you then have to do is prove that you have what it takes to succeed the first year. And this is through something called Binding Study Advice. So as a full time student, you'll be taking a total of 60 ECTS, your first year. In order to be allowed to return to your second year of study, you have to pass a certain number of your classes, which is always – almost always, it's like a 3 or 4, three fourths of your classes, which is 45 ECTS. So note that it's not that you have to have a certain grade, but that you have to pass. So passing grades are set at the university level, but it's somewhere around usually 5.5 and above. If you remember, we talked about how 6 to 8 is what's usually given. So a 5.5, it doesn't sound like, is really difficult to get if you are trying. 

So this is something that they're watching for all first year students at the program level. And if they see that a student is in danger, or sort of that gray area, they will work with you to help – you know, that second semester – and help you get where you need to be to be invited back the second year. Because in January, you get non-binding study advice. And so, this basically lets you know officially if you're on track, or if you're in danger, and then you get the binding advice at the end of the year. So if you don't have the credits needed, you can't return the next year.The other thing I want to make sure you know, so you don’t get too freaked out about this, is that courses have resits for the final exams. So if you don’t pass the course, you have another chance at the exam before you are issued negative non study advice And you can't apply again for a certain period of time, which is defined by the school. So this doesn't happen every year. It's just the first year. After the first year, if you make it to the second year, you don't have to worry about binding study advice anymore. 

Slide 6: Values Impacting the Educational Environment

  • Flat hierarchy
  • Direct communication
  • Debate/Critical thought
  • Individualism

So the Dutch flat hierarchy is absolutely found in the classroom in a variety of ways. Students are encouraged – and actually, they're really expected to bring their opinions to discussions even if – actually, maybe even especially if they're different than the stance of the professor. Debates are a common aspect of classroom discussion, and it's encouraged to have these debates. Also due to the flat hierarchy, professors are known to be really accessible to students academically, and even socially. One student I know organized a pub quiz night involving students and professors. I think they competed against each other, actually. There's another Dutch school that has a D&D Club, Dungeons and Dragons, which have members from the student body, and also the faculty. And academically, professors often serve as the academic advisors, helping students plan their courses and their future. The other thing that's really valued in the Netherlands is being direct and direct communication, along with individualism and critical thinking. 

Slide 7: Problem-based Learning

  1. Discuss the case
  2. Identify questions that need to be answered
  3. Brainstorm
  4. Analyze the Problem
  5. Determine what information is needed to solve the problem
  6. Self-study
  7. Report findings to the group

So there are certain types of educational philosophies and approaches.Problem based learning is used school wide at Maastricht and other universities use it for specific programs. It’s pretty cool, so I do want to highlight it here for a second.. So this model has small groups of students, usually around 12 students or so with a facilitator or teacher. And they have a problem related to the curriculum that has to be solved through this process. So it's a seven step process, which is outlined here. And what's really cool about it, is that it gives a context and a meaning to the knowledge, and also really enhances critical thought. Even when it's not formally used, you're going to find elements of it at most Dutch universities.

Slide 8: Other common features

  • Seminar/discussion component to most classes
  • Project and group work
  • Different structure of school year

So usually, a class will have a lecture and a seminar component. Discussion is highly valued. And you really have to stay on top of your readings for this. It can't be done, you know, through cramming at the end of the semester. There's usually projects and group work. Again, the difference at the universities of applied science, you're going to have an emphasis on the knowledge you'll need in the workplace. So a lot of the above is the same, but you're also going to find more hands-on work, more project work, more internships. Their programs are created based on business feedback. And so, they really want to give students the skills that employers are saying are needed. 

So the structure of how an academic year looks also varies from school to school. Some have semesters, like we might be used to here. Some have block schedules, and others organize their course structure around a certain theme. The websites in the Netherlands are great, so you can really look at the programs and how they're structured, and whether you think that would be a good fit to you. 

Slide 9: Academic Opportunities

  • Honor’s College
  • Internships
  • Study Abroad
  • Thesis/Graduation Project

So there are a number of academic opportunities at universities in the Netherlands. But one thing I'm going to say is that you have to be on top of looking into them, and make sure you meet the deadlines and such. You know, it's not going to be kind of spoon fed to you. You definitely need to be independent and proactive about these things. Most universities have an honor college program. And this allows students to study classes outside of their own program, or within, or both. You can usually choose. And also, to be in a community of extra motivated students. You can generally apply after your first semester or first year, and they're usually an extra 30 to 45 extra credits throughout your entire course of studies. And they had these at a number of universities of applied sciences as well. 

So the other thing, internships are usually mandatory for at least a semester at universities of applied science. And then also, they have study abroad, which includes a minor. So what's great about the built-in internship is that it can lead to employment since it's often during the final year. And again, the level of support varies for the internships. Almost all schools that require internships have a directory of opportunities. Some offer a higher level of support. But again, remember these programs are developed in collaboration with businesses. So these relationships provide a lot of opportunities. 

At research universities, there's usually a semester set aside that can be used for a minor, and either internships or a semester abroad. Again, the internship varies based on the program, and is almost never a required part of the program. You'll more often see a required semester abroad, particularly for programs that have some sort of international focus, be it international business, international relations and things like that. 

 Let's talk about the thesis or graduation project. At a university of applied science, it's more practical. So it might include acting as a junior consultant working on an issue for an organization where they have to come up with a solution to a communication problem. At research, you're going to have a more straightforward research thesis. Some programs combine practical too. Like the International Studies program at Leiden has a course that students take the same semester that they're doing their thesis. 

And this is called the PRINCE course, and they compete in teams to solve real cases presented by organizations like Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Space Education, Unilever. So they do get that practical side too, but their thesis is definitely more research-focused. Remember, it's not that one is better than the other, it's just that one is preparing you for the workplace, and their work will be related to that. And the other is preparing you for a research-related master's. And the work in that program will be preparing you for that. You're not pigeon-holed with either one. You can still pursue a master's if you get a bachelor’s from a university of applied science, either at a university of applied science in the Netherlands, a university elsewhere like the US, or you can do the bridge courses, and do a research university in the Netherlands. Remember that the US doesn't have this split into research and practical, so most US universities won't have the requirements for research classes that those in the Netherlands do. And that's why the bridge here is needed if you stay in the Netherlands. 

You can also go to work after getting a research bachelor's, but you're going to need to be more proactive about getting the support and resources to help you with this path. But it's totally doable. Remember that a master's is just one year and might help prepare you more for that route. Since the one year master’s are preparing students for the workplace more. So often, even though it takes three years to get a bachelor's at a research university, you kind of think of it as a four year program because you have that one year master's on there as well. 

So that is academic life in the Netherlands. The next thing we're going to talk about in the next lesson is student life. See you then.