MBO studies in English: educational flagship Initiative by Eindhoven Municipality and Brainport

Photo credit: Willy Ickenroth

The Netherlands is a top study destination in Europe for international students. The reasons are many. One of the most talked about is it’s being one of the first non- English speaking countries to offer educational degrees in English. But that is mainly in Dutch universities. 

What are the options available for expat children in the Netherlands who have preferably studied in the International schools, or for the international students who have done their secondary education in English in their country of origin, but would like to pursue further studies in Holland?

For a very long time students who had completed VMBO-T (pre-vocational education combined with theoretical education in languages, mathematics, sciences, art and history) and HAVO both in the Dutch or the bi-lingual stream, there were no options available in English. As a result, these students after finishing their final year in Secondary education had to continue studying MBO (middle-level applied education, 4 years)  in Dutch before they could go for an HBO (higher professional education) study. At HBO level there were a good number of course choices which are given in English in the Dutch ‘hogescholen’ (universities of applied sciences.).

Sensing this gap existing in the Dutch Education system especially for expat students or for those who would like to follow an MBO education in English, Summa College in Eindhoven started MBO degree courses entirely taught in English in the year 2017. This degree project is part of the Eindhoven Municipality and the Brainport Region’s educational flagship initiative. Eindhoven News talked in detail with Mw. Mr Willy Ickenroth (director of Summa Engineering en Laboratory), Drs. Linda van Steenhoven (Director Business, Marketing & entrepreneurship) and Ed Urlings (Project leader Summa International) to learn more about the 3 international MBO degree courses that are now being offered by Summa College covering different sectors.

We are offering 3 International MBO courses at the moment,’ says Ed Urlings. ‘These are Summa International Engineering, Summa International Business & Summa International fashion. In the coming years, our aim is to offer at least six international MBO degree courses covering different sectors. There was a tremendous demand for international vocational courses from the city, from the total region itself, a segment of people stated that although there were several international courses available at higher levels & in the universities, there was none available in the vocational level to train the students. There was a question if this gap that existed could be filled. That is the reason behind starting off with this project of offering 6 international courses within 4 years. We started with Engineering and Business, we are now going, to begin with, International Fashion in September 2019 to be followed by courses in International Metal Factory and International Automotive Engineering.’ 



‘These international programmes prepare you for a vast range of responsibilities,’ explains Willy Ickenroth, the director of Summa Engineering and Laboratorium. ‘The students who complete our 4-year international MBO programs may join the Dutch ‘hogescholen’ like for example Fontys school of Applied sciences and continue with their Bachelors and thereafter they can move on to the University. In some cases, they can also choose for a shortened course of HBO or the Bachelor’s study, since they have already covered much in this 4-year MBO program. The courses are specially designed to get access to HBO. Our target group is also students from International schools. In our Engineering program, we also have students not only from other cities like Amsterdam, Maastricht but also from China.’

So how are these international students enrolled? ‘For such international students, their educational credentials done in their own countries, need to be evaluated by some government bodies to determine where exactly they fit in within the Dutch education system, because that we cannot do on our own,’ states Ed Urlings. 

‘In fact that sometimes also happens to students who are following their studies in the International schools,’ elaborates Drs. Linda van Steenhoven. She is the director of Summa Business,  Marketing & entrepreneurship and is very enthusiastic about the Summa International Business program that she is spearheading which has already become a very popular choice amongst students. ‘ These students are unable to finalize their decision on their next step in education. Also following a whole range of subjects can sometimes be challenging for them. If such students can for example only focus on let’s say Engineering or only in Business or Fashion, they can truly train themselves in a lot better way. For example, four students would be joining us from the International school Eindhoven after finishing their studies at year 4 of their Middle year program (MP4). Specifically for International Business course, we have a special collaboration with EBBD (European Business Baccalaureate Diploma) and after the students finish the courses from our institution, they are allowed to apply within Europe and to universities all over the world.” 

This is very welcoming news for the expat parents since this alternative was something that was hugely missing in the education system. Drs. Linda van Steenhoven understands fully that the IB curriculum is different than the Dutch education system and does not recognise the various layers of VMBO-T/HAVO/VWO as in the Dutch education system. ‘We are in touch with the IB, with other International schools in Holland to find some equivalent stages. We are trying to set up a structure where the students from International schools can follow part of their studies  at first with our school and partly at the International schools.’ 

Eindhoven News wanted to know about the requirements needed to apply for these courses & also the number of seats available. ‘From this year there are no such seat limits for the International Engineering course, so all are welcome to apply,’ smiles Willy Ickenroth. ‘but of course, we have some requirements. ‘Mathematics is a hard requirement to enrol oneself in this course. One needs to have studied Mathematics (Level VMBO-T) at the previous level of education. We will not compromise on this. This course requires a lot of focus on Mathematics and Physics along with technical studies. So if these are not your strong areas, I would not advise you to go for this course. Besides, from the very beginning they are expected to do a lot of group work, projects and presentations in English, sometimes in front of the people from various companies. So they need to be quite comfortable in English. Dutch is also a mandatory subject for all our courses offered, the students need to pass in Dutch in order to get the diploma. They can take Dutch at a lower level, if necessary, and we do provide extra help to those students who have no prior knowledge of Dutch.’ 

For enrolling in one of the International courses one of the criteria is also the level of fluency in English. They are required to take a test in English. ‘ Not only English but having soft skills is also very important,’ explains Ed Urlings. ‘While Internationalization is a key aspect of education at Summa colleges, developing intercultural skills also finds a focus in our approach. During intake sessions, we try to simulate our program for a day and note whether a student has collaborative skills, communication proficiency, cultural diversity. After the intake the students get an advice letter from us, informing them about our decision and advice on the course they have opted for based on their performance at the intake.”

Sitting: Willy Ickenroth.
Ed Urlings, Linda van Steenhoven.
Standing: Chaitali, Beena Arunraj

“Even for the International Engineering course, if we think after the intake sessions that the skills of the students are more suited for other types of courses, we do mention that in our advice letter,’ explains Willy Ickenroth.’ Because at the end of the day we do not want the students to fail.’  

The programmes are entirely in English and working on projects at an internationally oriented company in the Netherlands is an integral part of this unique educational programme. ‘Yes, half of our students after finishing our programs look for work; the other half go further with their studies in HBO.  The students do assignments from real (international) companies, combined with teaching material from disciplines such as mechatronics, mechanical engineering and product development. The focus is on technical and methodical design,’ Says Willy Ickenroth. She explains about a group of first-year students who made a very successful project for a renowned company HERAS hekwerk. The project requirements included designing, material handling, cost analysis. Product presentation. ‘The demand for graduates possessing international degree is always very high in this region and by following our courses the students will be able to contribute in an array of areas, starting from technical to product designing in these High-tech companies.’ 

‘Previously we provided education first in the classrooms and later the students applied what they had learnt in their field of work,’ Ed Urlings elaborates more on this project based methodology.’ But now, the kind of education we are offering is hugely different. Now the students begin with real time projects. They visit the companies and they get their projects from the engineers in the companies. From that point on the students then need to think as to which skills would they need to bring the project to a success. After 10 weeks they again go back to the companies and present their results, their designs, and that creates a huge impact on the motivation of the students.’


Summa International is the second school in the Netherlands to be offering this kind of International programs, the other one is in The Hague.

Written by: Chaitali Sengupta

Interview: Beena Arunraj & Chaitali Sengupta

Eindhoven News

Picture Courtesy: Willy Ickenroth


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  1. for many reasons such as safety etc , i have choosen eindhoven as my preference as a state and where i would like to finish a course in electrical engenering ,the first motive i have is because i live in aruba but i did not have an acceptable level of education in the dutch language but i can do it in english of course.
    that’s why i would like you to send me in the right direction what so ever about an MBO education in electrical engenering, it would be much appreciated.


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