The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a nation of 13,000 square miles on the northwestern coast of Europe with a population of more than 15 million. It is a predominantly urban country with deep water ports and inland waterways that help to make commerce
and industry the basis of the economic infrastructure. Agriculture, however, still plays an important role in the economy, owing to careful planning, ample space between the cities and towns and the country's relatively moderate sea climate.
As early as the middle of the nineteenth century, education in the Netherlands was centrally controlled, and today, all educational funding is at the national level for all public and private institutions that meet the nation's legal requirements. The
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap, (formerly the
Ministry of Education and Science), is in charge of the implementation of the laws affecting all educational levels and sectors, except agriculture and health education which fall under the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, Management and Fisheries
and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Culture, respectively. Primary and secondary education are regulated by the cities and provinces. Higher education institutions, although funded by the government, enjoy a high degree of autonomy.
The last 30 years of the 20th century saw a number of very important legislative acts that helped reshape The Netherlands' educational system at all levels. Perhaps the most innovative is the Higher Education and Research Act of 1993, Wet op het Hoger Onderwijs en Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek.
For the first time, legislation governing vocational/professional higher education Hoger Beroepsonderwijs (HBO), university education and Open University was combined into one act. But the most dramatic changes to higher education in The Netherlands
and other European countries followed the June 1999 meeting of the Ministers of Education of 28 European countries in Bologna, Italy. The chief goal of the resulting Bologna Declaration is to promote internationalization and mobility and articulation
among European institutions of higher education.
The Netherlands was one of 29 original countries to sign the Bologna Declaration. The Bologna Declaration's main objective is the construction of a “European area of Higher Education” with a uniform two-cycle system based on the Anglo-Saxon
model. Since September 2002, the new system, known in the Netherlands as the “Bachelor-Master Structure,” has replaced the “Two-Phase Structure” that went into effect in the fall of 1982. Bachelor's degrees are now being awarded
by both universities and universities of professional education (HBO) with the term bacheloropleiding defining HBO education and wetenschappelijke bachelor- en masteropleiding applied to university education.
At the tertiary level, the present Dutch system of education was implemented for the 2002-2003 academic year, and consists of the bachelor, master, and doctorate degrees familiar to the United States. But the former doctoraal degrees continued
to be awarded until 2009.
The traditional Dutch “binary system” continues with university education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, wo) offered by the universiteiten (universiteiten) and with higher professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs, hbo) offered by the universities of professional education (hogescholen). The universities award a three-year Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree after six years of secondary education, while the universities of professional education award
a four-year Bachelors degree in an academic field (i.e. Bachelor of Nursing, Bachelor of Engineering) after five years of secondary education. These Bachelor's degrees are legally equivalent to one another in the Netherlands, but serve different functions
in higher education.
The Masters degrees awarded by both universities and hogescholen are similar in that they are either one year or two years in length depending upon the field of study. Universities award either the Master of Arts or the Master of Science degree
while the universities of professional education award the Masters degree in an academic field (i.e. Master of Education). Masters degrees are also awarded by the Institutes for International Education, which are now becoming affiliated with universities,
and these degree holders are eligible to apply to doctorate programs at the universities. All these master degrees are considered equivalent to one another.
International education has been an integral part of The Netherlands' higher educational system since the early 1950s, and by the 1980s, most universities and universities of professional education offered degree programs and courses; especially in the
fields of business and technology. Today, higher education institutions offer approximately 1,000 international study programs and courses in English.