In the Netherlands, education is very important. For many occupations, you are only considered if you have obtained specific diplomas. On this page, a short explanation is given of the Dutch education system. The government wants everyone to obtain a diploma (basic qualification). If you do not have work and apply for a benefit, you can be obliged to obtain a diploma until the age of 27. There are also various training opportunities for asylum seekers. Children have no choice: they must go to school, whatever their residence status.

Please note: the information on this page may not (fully) apply to refugees from Ukraine. The most recent information for refugees from Ukraine can be found on our platform RefugeeHelp >>

In the Netherlands, education is compulsory for children up to 16 years of age and sometimes even 18 years of age; only if they are ill, they do not have to go to school. It is also possible to ask leave in advance, for example, for a marriage, a funeral or a religious commitment.


Primary School

Children aged 4 to 12 go to primary school. The primary school has eight groups. Groups 1 and 2 are the kindergarten classes (kleuterklassen). From group 3 the children learn to read, write and count. In group 8, all students have to take a final test. The result gives an indication of the level at which a student can follow further education. The teacher also gives advice on this. This advice is often followed by the new school during admission.

Secondary school

After primary school, the Netherlands has four levels of education in secondary school:

  • Employment-oriented training;
  • Preparatory secondary vocational education (vmbo): this diploma gives entry to senior secondary vocational education (mbo);
  • Senior general secondary education (havo): this diploma gives entry to higher professional education (hbo);
  • Pre-university education (vwo): this diploma gives entry to a university or to higher professional education.

Children who have just arrived in the Netherlands usually first go to an international preparatory class (ISK) to learn Dutch. After approximately one year, they go to an ordinary class in secondary school. Unfortunately, not all children succeed in going to an ordinary class before they turn 18 years old. They must often continue through the lowest form of senior secondary vocational education to obtain a diploma.


If you or your child are going to attend the ISK (international transition class) and you would like to know more about it and what you can do afterwards, watch the following videos.

  • Introduction, how does the ISK fit into the Dutch education system and what do you learn at the ISK.
  • Learning route 1, which outflow does the pupil work towards in route 1.
  • Learning route 2, which follow-up schools does the pupil work towards in route 2.
  • Learning route 3, which further education is possible with route 3.


School fees for primary school and secondary school are for the greater part paid for by the government, but some school stuff and, for example, school trips must be paid for by the parents. For the lowest incomes, educational institutions sometimes have a discount scheme or remission is even granted.

Senior secondary vocational education (mbo)

If you want to attend an mbo course, but you do not have a Dutch secondary school diploma, you must first pass the State Examination NT2-1. An mbo course (usually provided by a Regional Training Centre (ROC), prepares you for an occupation in no more than four years. Most mbo courses are a combination of lessons and work or traineeship. It is sometimes also possible to combine your mbo course with an integration course.

Higher professional education (hbo) and university

You can obtain a bachelor or master degree at an hbo course or university. HBO is aimed, in particular, at learning a specific profession, while university is a more theoretical course. When you want to study at hbo or university, the following is important to you:

  • Do you not have a Dutch diploma? You must pass the State Examination NT2-II for all Dutch-language studies. You must pass an IELTS or TOEFL examination for English-language studies.
  • Your previous education must be sufficient. If you have obtained a diploma in your country of origin, you can have it evaluated by International Credential Evaluation (IDW). On the basis of this evaluation, the educational institutes determine whether your previous education is sufficient and whether you may even be granted an exemption for all or part of the course. If you do not have a diploma and/or your previous education is insufficient, you must sit for an entrance examination: the 21+ admission test. Ask the institution where you wish to attend your course for more information about this.
  • A transition year is a course in which you prepare yourself for an hbo or university course. You will improve your Dutch language skills and take subjects that are important to your study. You will also get other subjects, such as study skills, informatics, and social orientation. A transition year is also a good opportunity to get used to the Dutch educational culture. Ask the institution or the Foundation for Refugee Students (UAF) whether you are eligible for a transition year.
  • NB: If you were not following a course when you turned 18, or if you did not finish it, you are often obliged to still pass your Civic Integration Examination or State Examination NT2.

Study finance and study costs allowance

Are you following a course or will you start a course next study year? Do you have an asylum residence permit or a permanent regular permit? Are you between 18 and 30 years of age? In that case you can usually apply for a study costs allowance (for secondary school or mbo) or study finance (for mbo, hbo, and university) at DUO (Education Executive Agency). The study finance is partially a gift (supplementary grant) and partially a loan you have to pay back after your study; the study costs allowance is partially a gift. Visit the DUO site to find out whether you qualify.

When you are older than 30 years and younger than 55 years of age, you can borrow money at DUO for tuition fees or school fees on certain conditions. (See DUO)

UAF, Foundation for Refugee Students

The UAF provides guidance to refugees on their study and finding a job. Also if you do not have a residence permit or if you are not eligible for study finance, you may get financial support for the study you will be undertaking, for example tuition fees, language courses, books, and travel expenses. The UAF can also also help you choosing a study and provide guidance during your study and on finding a job. For this purpose, you must register with the UAF as a client. Read more about the selection procedure and about UAF.

More information

Informatiecentrum Diplomawaardering - IDW

If you want to have your foreign diploma evaluated, you can do it at the IDW.

MBO-desk (Universitair Asiel Fonds) – UAF 

The UAF supports refugees with their studies and work. - OCW helps future MBO students to choose a suitable study program. – SBB shows what companies in the area have room for an internship or apprenticeship.

Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs - DUO

On this website you will find information about student loans.

Study in Holland - Nuffic

Refugees who are looking for secondary vocational education or higher education will find all the information in one place: in the Pathfinder for refugee students.

Studiekeuze 123 – Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap

Studiekeuze123 is the official website with reliable and independent information about study choice in Dutch higher education system.

Incluusion - Universiteit Utrecht

Refugees and asylum seekers with an academic background and a good knowledge of the English language can follow free courses from the regular bachelor's program at Utrecht University through Incluusion.

Wurth-while-Universiteit Wageningen - WUR

WURth-while offers refugees the opportunity to take individual courses at the university while awaiting a residence permit or with a temporary residence permit.