Educational System

Is it your dream to become a physiotherapist or a musician? A lawyer or a historian? All four dreams can be realized in Groningen, but require a different path. The fact that Groningen offers a lot of programs makes it so attractive, and the presence of two institutions of higher education give it a distinct student city-feel. It also means that you have a choice to make: between the University of Groningen (UG) and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences (Hanze UAS).

The Dutch educational system is more specialized than that of many other countries. It already makes a distinction at the high school-stage between three levels of education and groups students based on their intellectual abilities and interests. Higher education is divided into two levels built upon this initial division, between research universities (WO) and universities of applied sciences (HBO). The UG falls into the first category, while the Hanze University of Applied Sciences is in the latter. Both offer excellent preparation for a successful entry into the job market, but the desired career paths they cater to differ significantly. A completed first year or propaedeutic exam at a university of applied sciences also gives access to a research university, so the difference between the two is predominantly in method. Here’s what you need to know before making a decision:


The central question around which programs are organized is different. Universities of applied sciences will help you answer the ‘how’-question: how does this sensor application system work? How can this company best organize its human resources department? How can I assemble this? This involves a lot of practical experience, often with hands-on job training. Research universities focus on the ‘why’-question: why are social media so important now? Why do some people develop diabetes? Why do we make certain choices while avoiding others? This means that you’ll delve into the library for research, but often entails some work in a laboratory or hospital as well depending on your program of study.


HBO programs generally have more so-called ‘contact hours’. This means that you’ll have more scheduled classes and interaction with other students and teachers. It also includes group work. This means that you’ll be a superb communicator and colleague at the end of your studies, and that you’ll have a lot of personal contact and advice from your professors. At the RUG this differs per program; medicine can have over thirty hours per week, while English only has twelve. This means that WO students generally have more self-study to do: reading, preparing for classes, working on presentations. Many WO students nevertheless decide to study in groups, the more the merrier!


HBO programs often prepare you for a specific job, whereas WO programs focus more on research and transferable skills, so skills that’ll come in handy in every area of professional life. In other words, whereas the Hanze UAS focuses on professional skills, the RUG awards most attention to research and scientific skills. When you study nursing at the Hanze UAS, it’s clear that you want to become a nurse, and you will have the practical knowledge and theoretical framework to become a great one. When you study American Studies at the RUG, you can end up in a variety of fields: journalism, public relations, PhD programs, etc.


Related to the previous points is the level of practical experience that universities of applied sciences incorporate into their program. Universities of applied sciences will have you write a marketing plan, whereas research universities will teach you the theories behind them. This is also reflected in internships. Internships are often integral to the HBO programs, and coursework often involves a practical component. After all, if your later job involves engineering electrical appliances, you will need to know how to do it. Research universities generally have optional internships, often in the form of research.

An informed decision is always the best one, so read up on the programs you’re interested in to see if you are better off at a university of applied sciences or a research university. No better place to live your dream than Groningen!

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