Five things you always wanted to know about universities of applied sciences

Publication date: 01/04/2019
When preparing to study in Europe, you may run into the term ‘university of applied sciences’ from time to time.

You may even wonder what it means, as not many countries in the world have this type of institution. Indeed, a university of applied sciences is different from research universities and vocational education. It may however be the perfect fit for you. This article will explain more about this type of institution.

What is a university of applied sciences?

Universities of applied sciences offer mostly bachelors, but also masters programmes, combining the teaching of practical skills and theoretical expertise. They are sometimes referred to as vocational universities, as they share similarities with vocational education, but at a higher level. Universities of applied sciences differ from the research universities mostly because of the emphasis on teaching practical skills, where research universities may concentrate more on theory and conceptual knowledge.

Which countries in Europe have universities of applied sciences?

You can find this type of higher education in many European countries. They are most common in: Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. In general, the institutions offer a wide array of programmes, from communication to nursing or from pedagogy to civil engineering. In France, there exist some universities of applied sciences that offer technology oriented programmes and are therefore more specialised.
Though the set-up of the institutions and the programmes that are taught may differ per country, the one similarity is that study programmes combine both classes and internships.

How do they teach practical skills?

There are multiple ways in which a university of applied sciences can teach you practical skills. It largely depends on the subject that is taught. Firstly, with programmes that are practical on itself, there are classes dedicated to improving your skills. You can think of computer programming or hotel management: you will have a class in which you actually do the programming, or where you’re setting the tables and making the beds, while receiving guidance and feedback by a teacher. For more general, conceptual programmes, these practical classes have a different approach. For instance programmes like marketing or international business. In classes for these programmes, teachers work with examples from the field a lot. Sometimes companies request that a class works with one of their problems as a case study. Universities of applied sciences are close to the market: in many cases teachers both work in their field of expertise and teach, bringing real life cases to class and allowing the students to apply their theoretical knowledge in a practical way.
Finally, internships are an important part of the study programmes. This allows students to apply their knowledge of the theory in real life. These internships can vary in length: the first year it may be only a few weeks, whereas in the third or fourth year the internships will be longer and may even be a full year.

What are the institutions and classes like?

Universities of applied sciences can come in every size and shape. They can be small and specialized in programmes in a certain field.  Or they can be large and offering a broad choice of programmes. Whatever the size of the institution, all give students excellent guidance when choosing their subjects or finding their internships. Often there is extra support available for international students to make sure that they feel at home. Picture the institution and the classes as a (small) community. You will know the staff and the staff will know you and help you where needed. In classes, there is much group work, allowing students to tackle problems together, developing great social skills as well as practical skills. Classes are often small and diverse. Many international students find their way to the universities of applied sciences as these become increasingly more international. Lastly, your classmates will become your friends, as you see them almost every day and work together closely.

What is the future perspective?

After you’ve finished with your studies, you will have relevant theoretical knowledge, practical skills and work experience in your field. Because of your internships, you will also have a relevant network. So after graduation, you will hold the papers to launch your career – anywhere in the world. You can look into continuing your studies at a research university, by applying to a (pre-)masters programme. Or connect to your network and apply for your first job. There is a world of possibilities out there.

Preview image: © iStock/florin1961, 2015.