The Dutch Masters: a golden age of opportunity

Are you thinking about doing a Masters degree or PhD in a European country? There’s no need to learn a foreign language if the Netherlands is your choice.

More than half of the Masters programmes are taught in English, and there’s a wide range of subjects to cover almost every interest. For example, Erasmus University offers an MSc in supply chain management and an MA in media and journalism, while the Intercultural Open University has a Masters in Buddhist studies and an MA in mentoring. The University of Amsterdam goes through the alphabet from astronomy to urban geographies.

There are two main kinds of universities offering Masters degrees in the Netherlands – research universities, of which there are 14, and around 40 universities of applied science. The research universities have a one and two year Masters degree programmes requiring no thesis, and a two year Masters focused on research leading to a thesis. This is for students aiming for a scientific career as a PhD student or researcher. The programme takes at least four years, and the high quality of research and published dissertations has earned the Netherlands a place in the top international rankings.

It leads continental Europe in international scientific research, and ranks second in the world in terms of publications per researcher.

Meanwhile, the universities of applied science put a vocational focus on their teaching and research. The University of Rotterdam, for example, is well placed in a city with the largest international harbour in Europe and able to offer its graduates plenty of job opportunities with locally based international companies. All the courses are taught in English, with Masters students coming from Asian countries such as China, Indonesia and Thailand, as well as South America, the US and UK. “Some students need to improve their English in order to take full advantage of the programme,” says Roland Brouwer, marketing and recruitment officer, “so we offer a six- or 12-month pre-course to concentrate on the research methodology and competency in English.”

Saleem Chatoor was drawn to the Masters degree at Rotterdam University partly due to its duration. “My first degree was marketing, but I’d become keen to do a Masters in finance and accounting and this was the only establishment offering a one-year programme,” he explains. “I’d considered doing a Masters in Sweden, but I wanted to get back into a job quickly, even though doing the programme in Rotterdam rather than Sweden cost me €7,000 in fees.”

Rotterdam has a strong offering of arts-based Masters, including a Master of fine art, held at the Piet Zwart Institute, which is based on an understanding of contemporary art in culture, social and political practices. The Masters in interior architecture and retail design, encourages experimenting with new technologies and design techniques, while the Master of media design and lens-based communication stimulates innovation in moving and still images.

The most popular Masters programme at the University of Amsterdam, where half of classes are taught in English, is business studies. But Linda de Haan, account manager for International programmes, observes that the choice of subjects varies among nationalities.

“Asian students go for subjects to further their career, often in the science faculty, while Western students choose a topic that interests them, the most popular being social sciences and the humanities.”

Among the more unusual courses are mysticism and Western esotericism, as well as Dutch golden age studies.

De Haan claims that students choose to do their Masters at Amsterdam because of the reputation of the institution, its location – and also because it offers good value with fees of €1,700 per year.

Tom Marshall, who did his first degree in psychology at Cardiff University, was attracted to study for a Masters in brain and cognitive science at the University of Amsterdam by the reasonable fees. He was also impressed that the majority of students go on to do a PhD “which shows that the teaching standard is high”. He is now doing a PhD at Radboud University in the east of the Netherlands.

Dutch universities expect an increase in applications from British students who are facing much higher tuition fees in the UK. Rotterdam School of Management offers world-class Bachelors and Masters programmes in business education taught in English. Professor Eric Waarts, dean of pre-experience programmes at the school, says: “The programmes are publicly funded by the government, which makes them excellent value for UK students.”

The school has triple accreditation by the major bodies, and last year was ranked third for its international course experience by the Financial Times in its top 50 of Masters in management courses. It’s the only school in the world offering a Masters in global business and stakeholder management, while the MSc in Chinese economy and business, in partnership with Leiden University, which has a world-renowned Sinology department, is described by Professor Waarts as “a new area of expertise for a new business era”.

Leiden University, founded in 1575, is the oldest university in the Netherlands and has been associated with freedom of belief and religion from the start. Among distinguished alumni who developed their ideas at Leiden are Descartes, Spinoza and Einstein, and the establishment enjoys a tradition of innovation. The diverse programmes range from archaeology to air and space law and Islamic theology.

Maria Angelica Nancheno practised law in her native Ecuador, but moved to the Netherlands to do a Masters in international law. “Leiden is well placed near the Hague, where the international courts and offices are located, so it was an easy decision to apply to do a Masters here.” Nancheno appreciates the way her professors have guided her through the process of research. “This was new to me, as in Latin America you do little research for yourself.”

Nyenrode Business University is the only private university in the Netherlands, founded in 1946 by top executives from international Dutch companies such as KLM, Shell and Unilever.

The university is divided into the business school and the school of accountancy and controlling. Part of its attraction lies in the strong links it maintains with industry, according to Dr Kitty Koelemeijer, head of faculty at Nyenrode Business School. “We put a major effort into building a strong network of alumni who help each other and support our curriculum work.”

The business school’s primary focus is on its Master of business administration (MBA) and Masters in management courses. The full- and part-time MBA programmes include a twoweek module at the US Kellogg School of Management.

Dutch universities offer the opportunity to do a highly regarded Masters or PhD programme in a wide range of subjects at reasonable cost in a country in the heart of Europe. It’s little surprise that applications for Masters degrees in the Netherlands are on the increase – what’s not to like?

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