After outlining my own academic journey and having explained my move from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, I was asked what the biggest differences are between the two educational systems. And because I have been in both, I now obviously feel the ultimate expert in this topic.
Finance There is one topic that you cannot get around when it comes to education: how it’s being financed. In the Netherlands, education is much cheaper than in the UK. The average, per annum price of a regular undergraduate degree is about €1800. To be honest, when enrolling into a University College, you will pay more (3000€), because the classes are kept small on purpose to ensure a great learning experience. In the UK, the price for regular undergraduate education is about £3000. With prices rapidly rising when specialisations such as small classes, internships, practical experience and tutorials are included.
When moving into postgraduate degrees, the UK can easily charge over £12.000, per annum, which is insane. My MSc cost me (well, it cost my parents…) £20.500 (that MSc costs even more now). That is insane, but keep in mind, this was a postgrad by a business school. A postgraduate degree in the Netherlands will be around 2000€, assuming you are an EU student, participating in the program full-time. Now one thing that must be kept in mind for both countries, often, as a foreigner (non-EU) these prices will easily double. There is a very clear discriminatory pricing strategy when it comes to education in both these countries. Although the MSc in the UK was the same rate for ALL students (although very often it isn’t).
So you don’t go to the UK as a foreigner without one hell of a finance plan. Within the UK I do feel, despite the options of loans, that only some social-economic classes can actually afford to go through all the stages of education, as three years of undergraduate is £27.000, and you still need a postgrad. This might hold true for the Netherlands as well, given that what used to be a grant (280€ a month, minimum), has been turned into a loan as well. But it feels much less divisive, as we are talking about much lower amounts of money.
Ranking You could argue that a reason why education is so much more expensive in the UK compared to the Netherlands is the higher rankings. This is an argument that would have made a lot of sense years ago, but Dutch universities are massively on the rise, and are doing really well globally.
Now I’m not saying universities such as Maastricht and the UvA are on the same level as Oxbridge. The latter (two) being renowned world-wide. However, having had friends in both these institutions, I’m not too convinced it’s the overall educational experience that is driving these higher rankings. It is very likely research output and the significance of the research output driving these rankings. They could also be driven by employability. When it comes to the former, UK universities tend to be older than universities in the Netherlands, so is that a fair comparison? I don’t think so, especially as there is a stronger focus on research in the UK, when the Netherlands focusses on employability and industry to a larger extent. So, let’s look at employability. If you have a degree from Oxbridge, I’d be surprised if you struggled to find employment. But when taking a different UK university vs. a random Dutch university, I’m not too sure what degree would get you employed better, faster or more satisfactory. This might very much depend on the country and sector you are applying to.
When it comes to rankings, I would specifically look into the sector you are interested in. Both the UK and the Netherlands have universities that are frontrunners in their topics. For the neurosciences, I would not go to the UK, I would stay in the Netherlands. Whereas, I myself went to the UK for Behavioural Economics, rather than staying in the Netherlands, although this topic is definitely on the rise there. Just make sure you do your research. Getting into a globally high-ranked university is great, but it needs to reflect quality within your respective field.
Mobility If you have read the article on my academic journey, you will have realised why I left the Dutch education system: they wouldn’t have me. This is something you might incur often within this system. The Dutch bureaucracy lives for seamlessness. To get into a Behavioural Economics MSc, you need an undergraduate in Economics. When applying to an MSc in Economic Psychology, you need an undergraduate in Psychology. My strange undergraduate, mixing these two fields, was frowned upon and discarded as not having been “enough” in either of these fields.
When applying to the UK, the main focus was on my grades in my undergraduate, and any other indications of academic excellence. I also had the feeling that the emphasis on motivational statements was larger than in the Netherlands. So, the mobility in the UK is larger than in the Netherlands. If you come from your country (assuming it is non-UK, non-NL), with an engineering degree and want to do an MSc in psychology or economics, there is NO way in hell that you can do this in the Netherlands without some type of pre-master or additional training. The UK will make this process of transfer much easier or is at least more open to it.
Personally, I think the Netherlands is too rigid. We pick undergraduate degrees at an incredibly young age, having a pre-selection of topics to do exams in at age 15. It is unsurprising, that as a result not everyone ends up with the “right” topic and/or degree. The UK has a similar A-levels and GCSE-system, where pre-selection occurs quite young, and determines entrance into undergraduate degrees. As such, keeping the immaturity of most students in mind and focussing on academic excellence rather than topical knowledge, is a much better way of promoting learning.
Conclusion I have had a great experience in both educational systems. I loved my undergraduate in the Netherlands, I loved my MSc here in the UK. After starting my PhD (including the MA, 1+3), I really started to appreciate how much both of these experiences have done for me. I think I would always advice being in more than one educational system (read: country), if your situation allows you to do so. I hope this was an interesting or at least enjoyable read. Please let me know if you agree, or do not agree with my evaluation of both the Dutch and British education system, or what your experience is like if you come from a very different background!
Note: My experiences within both countries are somewhat biased. I have never really been in regular or “mass”- education. I have never sat in a lecture hall with over 120 people. I have never had seminars with more than 20. In my undergraduate the maximum number was 14, the average was 10. In my MSc, which was more lecture based, the lectures were even kept small on purpose. I feel like this is due to the specialisation I chose really early on. I have always sought out this specific type of education, because I believe it supports learning and development much better. But I am aware that I have been incredibly blessed in being able to do so, and that this does bias my judgement thoroughly. I thought it’d be important for me to be honest and let you know this, because I recognise this is not an option for everyone.