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The Netherlands is one of the prestigious destinations for all international students for higher education. It has some of the well-known and top-ranked universities in Europe. It is a country that has developed rich traditions of artistic, cultural and scientific achievement. This blog covers everything you need to know about pursuing a PhD in the Netherlands as an international student.
PhD study in the Netherlands is a popular choice for many students looking to tap into this culture of open-mindedness, innovation and international exchange of ideas. The country’s multicultural and multilingual population also means that most of its doctoral programmes are taught in English.
Course highlights – PhD
Here are some critical details about the PhD program of this country:
|Oldest University||Leiden University (1575)|
|PhD Length||Four years|
|Academic Year||September to August|
There are three main types of higher education institution in the Netherlands. As a PhD student, you’re most likely to be studying at a Dutch research university, but the three categories are as follows:
- Research universities are the leading academic institutions for PhD-level research, with advanced facilities and expert faculty available to train doctoral students.
- Universities of applied sciences or HBO institutions specialise in practical Arts and Sciences but do not offer PhD programmes.
- Institutes for international education – are a smaller sector of higher education designed particularly for international students focusing on intercultural knowledge exchange; currently, only the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education offers a PhD programme.
University Ranking – The Netherlands
The Netherlands’ universities are globally recognised and renowned, which is reflected in international university league tables.
Dutch universities are found in the upper reaches of the three major university world rankings, with over 10 in the top 200 for 2020/21.
|University||QS 2021||ARWU 2020|
|Wageningen University and Research||115||151-200|
|University of Amsterdam||61||101-150|
|Erasmus University Rotterdam||197||80|
|Delft University of Technology||57||151-200|
|University of Groningen||128||69|
|Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam||236||101-150|
|Radboud University Nijmegen||124||101-150|
A doctoral programme in the Netherlands is a research-focused third-cycle qualification, as defined by the Bologna process. Like in the UK, Dutch doctoral research is carried out on a specific topic and documented in a thesis that presents the student’s actual results and conclusions.
A Dutch PhD lasts for a minimum of four years. This is partly due to your employment status as a doctoral researcher and the additional teaching and administrative responsibilities that this entails.
Doctoral researchers that are not formally associated with a university (i.e. external doctoral candidates) may take longer to complete their studies.
PhD defence ceremony
A unique aspect of the Dutch PhD is the ceremonial thesis defence. This serves a similar purpose to the UK viva voce examination. However, it is a much more formal process and can be quite different from other PhD assessments.
All participants, including yourself, will be required to wear a full academic dress and use formal specific titles and terms of address. The ceremony is opened and closed by an officer of the university, called the beadle, who uses a ceremonial mace. You will also be allowed to be accompanied by two supporters who traditionally acted as bodyguards if things got heated, but in modern times provide moral support and practical assistance.
During the thesis defence, you will be assessed by an appointed Doctoral Committee of at least three academics (if more, still an odd number) to determine whether your thesis is worthy of awarding a doctorate. These may be made up of a professor, or ‘most learned opponent’ or a post-doctorate academic, or ‘learned opponent’. Other invited individuals could also ask you questions.
The Doctoral Committee must give their decision within five weeks of receiving your thesis. Therefore, the committee will usually have already decided, and the thesis defence process is primarily ceremonial.
PhD candidates usually are expected to have published at least a part of their thesis before submission and examination.
In the Netherlands, a standard requirement for PhD admission is holding a Masters’ degree in a relevant subject area.
As a member of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), the Netherlands will readily recognise a Master’s degree from other European countries. Many equivalent foreign qualifications may also be recognised.
Your prospective university will set any other admission criteria and vary depending on the specific institution and research discipline. Due to Dutch PhD researchers’ status as university employees, you may also be required to undergo additional application processes and submit more application documents than a typical PhD student. These could include a personal statement, CV, and strong academic and professional references.
Most PhD programmes in the Netherlands are taught in English, and non-native English speakers will be required to present satisfactory English language tests scores. The typical scores required are below.
|IELTS||Minimum of 6.5|
It is also possible to study a PhD programme taught in Dutch. In this case, you may be required to present satisfactory scores on Dutch language tests.
Even if your studies are in English, it may be beneficial to learn some Dutch to simplify daily life and communication with fellow Dutch researchers.
Here, we have answered some questions that might be helpful to you.
Q1. Can I work in the Netherlands after my PhD?
Ans. International students need to apply for an Orientation Year residence permit. To do so, you must be registered in the Personal Records Database (BRP), have a Citizen Service Number (CSN), and pay €174. To remain in the country for more than one year, you can apply for a longer-term residence with the Netherlands’ Highly Skilled Migrant Permit.
Q2. Is health insurance compulsory to study in The Netherlands?
Ans. To study in the Netherlands, by law, you must have health insurance for your PhD duration. International students need to be insured with a health insurer of their home country (valid in the Netherlands) or take out private international health insurance.
Q3. Is PhD free in the Netherlands?
Ans. Most PhD students in the Netherlands are considered university employees and therefore receive a salary to fund their research. Therefore, there are no standard tuition fees for doctoral candidates or doctoral fellows.
This was our complete guide on pursuing a PhD from The Netherlands. We truly hope we were able to resolve any queries you might have had.