Digital Discovery Day

The differences between a university of applied sciences and a research university

While orientating for your next educational step, you might consider starting a study abroad. At Saxion University of Applied Sciences, we have an international student population of 3500 students with 74 different nationalities. The higher education system in the Netherlands might be slightly different in comparison to your national education system. Therefore, you might ask yourself what the differences are between a university of applied sciences versus a research university.

The education system in the Netherlands

The educational system is based upon a distinction between professional higher education institutions, the university of applied sciences, and research universities. Universities of applied sciences are mostly practical and profession-orientated whereas research universities are academical orientated. 

After completing a study programme at a university of applied sciences, you obtain a bachelor degree within 4 years (or depending on your previous education, you can apply for a short degree programme. At a research university, you first pursue a Bachelor degree within 3 years. After obtaining your Bachelor degree, you can start a Master’s programme which usually takes 1 till 2 years (depending on the type of Master programme you will follow).

The way of teaching

At a university of applied sciences, the teaching style is focused on figuring out the ‘how’ of subjects. The obtained knowledge by this teaching style in concrete and practical. This type of teaching prepares you as a student for a specific profession, learning how at apply your obtained knowledge in a solution-oriented way.

On the other hand, the teaching style at a research university is based upon answering the ‘why’ of certain fields. This teaching style has a heavily theoretical focus and learns students to analytical and critically analyse certain fields.


The contact between students and lecturers is more intensive at a university of applied sciences. There are more compulsory contact hours, including work groups and lecturers.

Students at a research university mostly rely on their own initiative, operating independently and need to be self-disciplined. There are small-projects and tutorials, as well as large group lectures.

Experiencing the working field

Placements or internships are common at a university of applied sciences. Usually, students do multiple placements or internships during their study programme in order to obtain experience in the working field.

A placement or internship at a research university is less common. However, students do get the opportunity to finish their study programme with a research project or placement.

Career prospects

A study programme at a university of applied sciences educates and prepares you as a student for a specific profession within a certain field. Some of our students end up working for the company they completed their placement or internship at, or others discover their future workplace during their study programme such as former Saxion students Steffi and Dorian.

As for students at a research university, their professions are less clear in advance. These students find jobs in fields where an academic style of thinking is required, such as management, research, administration or policy-making.

Future studies

It is possible to enrol for a Master degree programme after obtaining your bachelor at Saxion. You can pursue a master programme at Saxion or you can enrol for a Master’s programme at a research university.


Student experience from a University of Applied Sciences to a Research University

Former Saxion student Yifei Yu obtained his Bachelor at Saxion and continued studying at the University of Twente. Read his story and thoughts on the differences between both.

Read more