Pilot doctoral programme for hbo launched at HU

This spring, the pilot programme for the professional doctorate (PD) will commence in the higher vocational education (hbo). The HU (University of Applied Sciences Utrecht) has been involved in the development of this new doctoral programme for hbo from an early stage. "As one of the larger universities of applied sciences, you have a societal duty to pioneer within the field," says Gerrita van der Veen, professor at the HU and chair of the national Graduate Committee for the PD in the domain of Technology & Digitization.

"After the bachelor's, master's, and associate degree, in my view, the professional doctorate completes the picture of hbo as a university of applied sciences. It enables us as a university of applied sciences to better fulfil our societal role in research, education, and professional practice," says Van der Veen.

Four years in development

The PD is a professional education programme at level eight, equivalent to the university counterpart, the PhD. The pilot programme was initiated by the Association of Universities of Applied Sciences in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). Approximately twenty universities of applied sciences are participating. "About four years ago, there was first mention of the introduction of a professional doctorate. The HU was one of the first universities of applied sciences to start considering the implementation of this programme. From there, we drafted a document outlining our ideas about the PD. Subsequently, the HU worked on elaborating that document with other universities of applied sciences," explains Van der Veen.

"With the PD, we will deliver bright minds who can directly intervene in professional practice"

Extra funding from OCW

Daan Andriessen, professor at the HU, further developed the profile for the PD as the chair of the national programme team. "In the spring of 2021, we received the first signals that the ministry had enthusiastically received the proposal regarding the PD. This resulted in additional financial support from the minister in early 2022," says Andriessen. "Subsequently, we started working on the programme proposal for the seven domains in which we will launch the pilots: Education,  Health & Well-being, Energy & Sustainability, Technology & Digitization, Art & Creative, Leisure, Tourism & Hospitality and Maritime. The programme proposal for each domain has already been approved."

The HU participates in the pilot within four domains: Education, Health & Well-being, Energy & Sustainability, and Technology & Digitization.

Candidates from professional practice

"With the major societal challenges we have to address, there is a great need for bright minds who can directly intervene in practice. The PD fills this gap. Over the next four years, this pilot will provide us with the opportunity to demonstrate that professional practice requires PDs," explains Andriessen.

"The PD differs significantly from the PhD. The focus is not on writing scientific articles but on establishing connections with professional practice. Those who pursue a PD education directly engage in practical work, learning along the way. This enables them to generate much-needed knowledge that can be immediately applied. At the end of the programme, they are not assessed based on a final thesis but on a portfolio they develop progressively through projects," adds Van der Veen. "However, it's not just professional practice that benefits from a PD. It is also incredibly valuable for a research group to have a researcher at the PD level among their ranks."


Applications for the PD pilots are now open, and initial interviews with PD candidates have been scheduled. It is expected that the first PD candidates will begin their education in early 2024.

Within the pilot, the HU has 13 spots available for PD candidates, divided between the four domains. You can find more information about the PD pilot at the HU here.

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