Academic Work In The Netherlands: What You Need To Know

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The Netherlands can be a fantastic place for academics to work: salaries are relatively good, holidays generous, and there is a rigourous research culture, especially in science and technology. What do you need to know to take advantage of these opportunities?

The structure of Dutch higher education.

There are three different types of further and higher education institution in the Netherlands:

  • Regionaal opleidingscentrum (ROC, MBO): Vocational training centre similar to the British FE system
  • Hogeschool (HBO): university of applied sciences offering bachelors and masters degrees, comparable to the old British polytechnics.
  • Research university (WO): These offer bachelors and masters degrees; only research universities can offer a PhD.

Mobility between the MBO, HBO and WO systems is limited, but possible.

Areas of opportunity.

The greatest opportunities are for PhD candidates—PhDs in the Netherlands are fully funded so students are paid—and in STEM subjects. Science and technology programmes recruit heavily for staff overseas, and there is strong demand.

All university and most research institute jobs are advertised through a national service, Academic Transfer. This site also contains useful information for overseas applicants. Jobs at the hogeschool level may be found there or via specialist sites, such as Werken bij Hogescholen.

Applicants are expected to submit a detailed academic CV and a letter (solicitatie brief) that covers their motivation for applying and what they can offer. A form is not always provided. If you are unsure of how to proceed, a contact person is usually included in job listings.

Potential problems.

Most Dutch universities run some courses in English to attract a wider group of international students. There is a particularly large contingent of American students—often in the Netherlands for a semester or year abroad, although postgraduate programmes are also popular—as well as a growing group of students from England taking advantage of lower fees. Whilst this can expand opportunities for non-Dutch-speaking academics, most jobs still require proficiency in Dutch. If you’re lucky, you will be allowed to develop this by taking a language course in the evenings.

But beware: there is a trend towards requiring staff to demonstrate fluency by passing the national NT2 (Nederlands Tweede Taal) exam, either within 2 years of taking up a post or as a condition of employment. Passing usually requires 6-9 hours per week of intensive language instruction plus homework (and finding conversation partners willing to speak Dutch with you is harder than you might think!)

Without language proficiency, you will often find yourself locked out of staff conversations. Indeed, non-Dutch academics often cite integration as a major problem: the Dutch tend to be somewhat insular, and socialise primarily with people they have known since childhood or university. This preference extends into the workplace, and can block career progression and collegiality.

Work permits and visas.

If you are an EU citizen, no work permit is required to take up a post. However, you will need to register as a resident with your gemeente (city) office shortly after arrival, and with the tax authorities soon thereafter. All Dutch residents are also required to carry health insurance for themselves and their dependents.

Non-EU citizens hired for an academic post can expect their employer to help navigate the visa system.

Regardless of national origin, there may be a tax advantage available to you as an incoming expat. Academic employers recruiting from abroad can offer you up to 30 percent of your salary tax free—but this has to be agreed in advance.

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