PhD Study in the Netherlands - A Guide for 2023
Written by Chris Banyard
The Netherlands has one of the most prestigious university systems in Europe. It’s also a country that has developed and shared rich traditions of artistic, cultural and scientific achievement.
PhD study abroad in the Netherlands is a popular choice for those looking to tap into this culture of open-mindedness, innovation and international exchange of ideas. The country’s multilingual population also means that most of its doctoral programmes are taught in English.
This page covers everything you’ll need to know about doctoral research in the Netherlands. It includes important up-to-date information about the Dutch university system and the structure of a typical Dutch PhD programme. We've also covered key facts on tuition fees, funding and visa requirements.
PhD opportunities in the Netherlands – what’s on offer for 2023?
Universities in the Netherlands have an impressive reputation.. The Dutch university system dates back to the 16th century and boasts many famous artists, thinkers and scientists.
Doctoral researchers are highly regarded by Dutch universities. Keen to attract talent from around the world, they offer many benefits for international students.
- Employee status – most PhD students in the Netherlands are paid a salary as university employees
- International student population – the Netherlands has a proud tradition of international exchange, with around 10% of students coming from abroad
- Historic university system – the Netherlands has several universities dating back to the 16th century
- Global recognition – Dutch universities consistently rank in the top 200 in global rankings.
In addition, Holland is the only country in which PhD students defend their thesis accompanied by ceremonial bodyguards (no, really).
PhD Study in the Netherlands - Key Details
||Leiden University (1575)
||September to August
*Most PhD researchers are paid employees and do not pay traditional tuition fees
PhD life in the Netherlands
Want to know more about what it's like to live and study abroad in the Netherlands during a PhD? Our detailed guide covers everything from living costs to culture and entertainment.
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 main academic institutions for PhD-level research. They have advanced facilities and expert faculty available to train doctoral students
- Universities of applied sciences or HBO institutions (hogescholen) specialise in practical Arts and Sciences. They do not offer PhD programmes
- Institutes for international educationare designed specifically for international students, and focus on intercultural knowledge exchange. Currently, only the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education offers a PhD programme
Although Dutch PhD programmes are offered by research universities, your study will take place in either:
- dedicated Graduate Schools (associated with an individual university) or
- Research Schools (often formed by a consortium of institutions to pursue ongoing projects and areas of investigation).
There are several cities in the Netherlands with one or more universities and large numbers of students:
Dutch university rankings
The university system in the Netherlands is highly regarded worldwide. Its universities are found in the upper reaches of the three major university world rankings, with over 10 in the top 200 for 2020/21.
Do rankings matter for PhD study?
University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.
A doctoral programme in the Netherlands is a third-cycle qualification, as defined by the Bologna process. As in the UK, Dutch doctoral research focuses on a specific topic and documented in the form of a thesis that presents the student’s original results and conclusions.
Most PhD candidates are employed as professional researchers. This means you'll be paid a salary during your doctorate. In return, you will have various duties as a researcher and will need to contribute to your institution’s academic work and operations. This is likely to involve teaching responsibilities as well as other responsibilities.
A Dutch PhD lasts for a minimum of four years. This is partly due to your employee 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.
Your research will be overseen by an expert supervisor. They will also need to approve your final thesis for submission.
Depending on the structure of your programme, your supervision may involve regular progress checks and formal review points. You may also have a co-supervisor.
Unlike in other countries, a Dutch PhD supervisor’s position is technically provisional for most of your doctorate. They are only officially appointed before the ceremonial viva defence, where they will play a key role.
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 ceremonial process and can be quite different to other PhD assessments.
All participants, including yourself, will be required to wear full academic dress and use formal titles and terms of address. The ceremony is opened and closed by an officer of the university, called the beadle (or pedel) using a ceremonial mace. You can also be accompanied by two supporters (paranimfen). Traditionally, these acted as bodyguards if things got heated! Nowadays, they are there to provide moral support and practical assistance.
During the thesis defence, you will be assessed by an appointed Doctoral Committee of at least three academics. They will determine whether your thesis is worthy of a doctorate. These may include a professor, known as a ‘most learned opponent’ (hoggeleerde opponent), or a post-doctorate academic, known as a ‘learned opponent’ (zeergeleerde opponent). You could also be asked questions by other invited individuals.
The defence process is mostly ceremonial. The committee will have already read your thesis, and most likely, come to a decision on awarding your doctorate.
PhD candidates are normally expected to have published at least a part of their thesis before submission.
Dutch PhD degrees are awarded directly by each individual university. The universities are responsible for the quality and content of your doctoral training. However, quality assurance for the PhD process is overseen by The Netherlands and Flemish Accreditation Organisation (NVAO).
Since PhD students are paid employees, many Dutch doctoral programmes do not have tuition fees. Where they are required, PhD tuition fees in the Netherlands are generally comparable to those across the rest of the EU. The fees remain the same for EU / EEA and Swiss-national students. There are also many PhD funding opportunities available for international students.
Most PhD students in the Netherlands are university employees, and receive a salary to fund their research. This means there are no traditional tuition fees for doctoral candidates or doctoral fellows.
However, there are other types of doctoral candidates that may not be considered as university employees. These are:
- contract doctoral research associates who have their research sponsored by an external source (such as a scholarship or employer)
- external doctoral candidates who are self-funded and work on their PhD research in their free time
These PhD students will usually have to pay some form of tuition fee. The specific amount can vary and depending on the research institution, the research itself, and the length of study.
Regardless of whether you have employee status or not, you may still need to pay statutory fees . These cover supplementary costs for supervision, examination, administration and university access. Amounts can vary depending on your university and discipline.
A selection of scholarships for PhD degrees are available. The following are good places to look for further information:
- Nuffic – The Dutch Organisation for Internationalisation in Education
- Study in Holland – an initiative of Nuffic
- Euraxess – an organisation that promotes academic mobility in Europe
Individual universities also offer funding options for their students. You can find what PhD funding is available on their websites.
PhD funding in the Netherlands
Our guide to PhD funding in the Netherlands has more information on scholarships and other options for international research students in Holland.
Applying for a PhD in the Netherlands
The PhD application process in the Netherlands is similar to the process in the UK but can differ in some key ways. Most applicants will either apply for an advertised PhD or propose their own project through a research proposal. You can find information on contact details by browsing PhDs in the Netherlands, or by visiting university websites directly. Because PhD candidates are employed doctoral researchers, you may also find PhD positions listed as jobs.
In the Netherlands, a standard requirement for PhD admission is holding a Masters degree in a relevant subject area.
The Netherlands is a member of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). This means it readily recognises Masters degrees from other European countries. Many equivalent foreign qualifications may also be recognised. You can check your degree equivalency at Nuffic (The Dutch Organisation for Internationalisation in Education) or at your prospective university’s website.
Additional entry requirements can vary depending on your university and discipline. Due to the status of Dutch PhD researchers 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 / or professional references.
PhD entry requirements
The general eligibility criteria for PhD applications in the Netherlands is similar to most other countries in the EU. Our guide explains entry requirements for a prospective PhD student.
Most PhD programmes in the Netherlands are taught in English. Non-native English speakers will be need satisfactory scores in English language tests. The typical scores required are below.
||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 of Dutch language tests. Even if your studies are in English, it may be helpful to learn some Dutch! This will simplify daily life and communication with fellow Dutch researchers.
The Dutch academic year runs from September to August. The application deadline for most study programmes is 1 May. However, because PhD programmes are less dependent on coursework and exams, the application deadlines are usually flexible. You should check the application for your chosen course with your university.
Some university degree applications are made through the Dutch higher education portal Studielink. This is similar to the UCAS system for UK undergraduate students. The platform can also arrange the payment of tuition fees.
However, for many PhD programmes you will need to apply directly to your prospective university. The application process can differ depending on the specific research institution. You should always check the application procedure on the university’s website.
Applying for a PhD
PhD applications in the Netherlands will require additional application documents and processes. These are similar to those in the UK. Our guide explains PhD applications for a prospective PhD student.
The Netherlands is a multicultural, cosmopolitan country that welcomes immigration applications from a range of countries. Students from elsewhere in the EU and EEA won’t normally need a visa to study at Dutch universities. Other international students will normally need to arrange entry visas and study permits.
If you do require a visa, your university will need to support your application. They should contact you to assist with this once you have enrolled. If this is not the case, you can contact your host institution’s HR department and / or international office for relevant information.
Visa information for UK students in the Netherlands
UK students will no longer be EU citizens from the 2021-22 academic year onwards. This means you may be considered an international student when studying in the Netherlands. You may be subject to different visa requirements and fee rates, unless otherwise stated.
Applying for an entry visa
If you are an EU / EEA / Swiss national, you will not require a visa for PhD study in the Netherlands. You can freely enter and leave the country and travel during your degree. Citizens of some selected other countries may also be exempt from requiring a visa. A full list is available from the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND).
Other international students will require a long-stay entry visa (MVV). Your university will usually apply for this on your behalf. You'll be able to collect it from a Dutch Embassy or Consulate in your home country before you travel. Depending on the specific conditions of your visa, you may be restricted to travel within the Netherlands, neighbouring countries (e.g. Belgium and France) or most European countries.
Applying for a residence permit
EU / EEA and Swiss citizens do not require a residence permit to study in the Netherlands, and do not need to report to the IND.
Other international students need to apply for a Provisional Residence Permit for study (VVR) from the IND. The application and its costs are usually competed by your university on your behalf. You will be able to collect it from a Dutch Embassy or Consulate in your home country before you travel. The residence permit is valid for the duration of your doctoral programme plus three months, for a maximum of five years. However, you can apply for an extension.
Registration with the local Dutch council
All foreign students, including EU nationals, must register with the local Dutch council of residence upon arrival in the country. The exact regulations can vary with different councils. You will be registered in the Personal Records Database (BRP) and given a Citizen Service Number (BSN) by the IND. You will normally need to present proof of identity (passport and certified copy of your birth certificate) and a record of your accommodation in the Netherlands.
EU / EEA / Swiss students will do this after registration with the IND by their university. Other international students will need to do so after receiving their entry visa and residence permit.
To study in the Netherlands, by law you must have health insurance for the duration of your PhD.
EU / EEA students will normally be covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to healthcare in the Netherlands.
Non-EU / EEA students will either need to be insured with a provider in their home country (that is valid in the Netherlands) or take out private international health insurance. International students from some countries may need to take a medical test for tuberculosis (TB). This must undertaken with the Area Health Authority (GGD) within three months of receiving a residence permit. More information is available from the IND.
Travel document validity
The above documentation is only valid while you're doing your PhD. If you discontinue your programme, you'll need to apply for updated documents.
The Netherlands holds the research performed by its universities in high regard. Its academics have an excellent track record in world research. As a doctoral graduate from a Dutch university you’ll be a very employable researcher.
A Dutch PhD also provides professional experience of working more formally within higher education. Receiving your PhD in the Netherlands is an impressive academic qualification and an excellent gateway into further academic research.
Many Dutch research universities also have strong links with business and industry, offering additional professional training and partnerships.
Can I work in the Netherlands after my PhD?
EU / EEA and Swiss nationals do not require a residence permit or work permit (TWV) to work in the Netherlands after doctoral study – a valid passport or ID card is sufficient. You will need to maintain your residence registration.
Other international students will 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 (BSN). There is a fee of €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.
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