Study in Belgium: Belgian higher education
If you're looking to study in Belgium, here’s a list of the main universities in Belgium.
Most student bodies in Belgian universities have a strong international contingent. Some may be students on exchange from their home universities through programmes like Erasmus, but others may be taking a further degree independently. While most Bachelor level courses in Belgian universities are taught in Dutch or French, there are plenty of courses, particularly at Master’s level and above, that are entirely taught in English. Universities often offer cheap (or free) courses in Dutch or French as well.
The university system in Belgium is fairly vast with a significant number of foreign students studying international courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.
Higher education (hoger onderwijs/enseignement superieure) in Belgium is provided by universities, university colleges (hogescholen/hautes ecoles) and government-recognised institutions, although only universities can award PhDs. The governance of the universities falls to the Flemish and French-speaking regions but many courses are taught in English. You can also find a number of language schools in Belgium if you opt to take a course in a local language. With Brussels being the hub of European business, economy and politics, it is no surprise that there are many courses offered by both Belgian and international universities that centre around business.
How to apply to study in Belgium
Each higher education institution determines admission requirements. Students holding a Belgian secondary school diploma (CESS) or international equivalent are eligible to apply, however, some faculties require an entrance exam for admission, for example, medicine, dentistry and engineering science. The university you wish to attend will supply specific information. You can find a list of higher education institutions in Flanders via www.studyinflanders.be or onderwijs.vlaanderen.be, or in the French communities via www.enseignement.be (see annuaires).
Once accepted, a student will receive an acceptance letter, which is necessary to complete registration and apply for a visa, if required. For nationals coming from outside the EU, the Belgian immigration office (dofi.ibz.be) supplies information on visa and permit requirements; you will generally need to show you have the equivalent qualifications for your course and sufficient funds to support yourself (currently around EUR 600 per month). Proof of language proficiency may also be required in the language of the course.
Qualifications and accreditation
Diplomas and certificates awarded outside the EU may need to be authenticated to be recognised in Belgium, or you can obtain the Belgian equivalent. The Belgian FPS Foreign Affairs Ministry provides information for legalisation of foreign documents (diplomatie.belgium.be), otherwise, the local authority where you plan to study will supply an equivalent. Authentication in the Flemish community is managed by the Flemish National Academic Recognition and Information Centre (NARIC-Vlaanderen, www.ond.vlaanderen.be), or you can find information on equivalence services in the French communities at www.equivalences.cfwb.be.
Study costs in Belgium
The government sets the registration fee for each establishment and reviews it annually. There are different fee levels depending on the student’s financial situation, the level of study and nationality. There are government set fees for European students (EUR 500–600), otherwise you must pay the institutional fee (which is considerably higher). There are many grants and scholarships available; search diplomatie.belgium.be for scholarship information.
Top Belgian universities
The Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven located near Brussels is the oldest existing Catholic university in the world, founded in 1425, and Belgium’s biggest university. It offers courses in 11 Belgian cities and remains an important centre of higher learning and scientific research catering to more than 55,000 students, of which around 16 percent are international.
The Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) was originally part of KU Leuven but was moved to the French-speaking area of Brussels around 1970 as a result of changes in the education system. It combines the traditional with the modern, attracting some of the most qualified students, researchers and teachers from Belgium and beyond, with almost one-fifth of the student population coming from abroad.
The Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) has one of the highest rates of foreign students in Belgium, constituting one third of the student population. It was founded in 1834 and includes several university hospitals. It also manages zones devoted to research and contributed to the education of four Nobel Prize winners, the most recent being François Englert for his part in theorising the Higgs particle, in addition to Jules Bordet for Medicine in 1919, Albert Claude for Medicine in 1974 and Ilya Prigogine for Chemistry in 1977. The university is also a founding member of the International Forum of Public Universities (IFPU) and works in partnership with the Universities of Oxford, Berkeley and Paris IV, among others.
The Ghent University, or UGent, became the first Dutch-speaking university in Belgium in 1930, and is now attended by more than 50,000 students and staff, including a sizeable international crowd that is attracted to the university’s science and engineering programs. It offers advanced degree programmes, many of them in English, and boasts several Nobel Prize winners over the course of the university’s history.
The University of Liège, founded in 1817, is the public university of the Walloon Brussels Community and is part of the Wallonia-Europe University Academy. There are some 20,000 students across nine faculties, comprising around 20 percent of foreign students. It has a large focus on facilitating mobility and its practices have received EU recognition. Honorary degrees have been awarded to individuals such as Nelson Mandela, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Salman Rushdie.
The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is the Dutch Language University in Brussels, initially formed as a part of the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) before becoming a university in its own right in 1970 when significant legislative changes heralded in a new educational era. Many courses are available in English, including Master’s and PhD degrees.
The Universiteit Antwerpen’s (UA) history is grounded in commerce and is the product of three joined institutions. With some 13 percent of more than 20,000 students coming from abroad, it offers several postgraduate courses in English across nine faculties. UA has close ties to Antwerp University Hospital (UZA), Antwerp Management School (AMS) and other higher education institutions that belong to the Antwerp University Association.
Vlerick Business School is the only Belgian school to hold triple accreditation from Equis, AMBA and the American AACSB. It is also Europe’s oldest business and management school, founded in 1953 by Professor André Vlerick. It recently added a new campus in the centre of Brussels, in addition to its Belgian campuses in Leuven and Ghent, and St Petersburg, Russia. The schools benefit from alliances with more than 40 international business schools, and host around 6,800 people in postgraduate management and executive development programmes.
International institutions in Belgium
Several international institutions have been established as part of Belgian universities and colleges or simply set up to offer their own graduate and postgraduate programmes.
The Brussels School of International Studies (BSIS) is a postgraduate school tied to the University of Kent in Brussels. Located in a newly acquired facility overlooking its partner schools, the BSIS offers postgraduate programmes in politics, international relations, law and economics.
The College of Advertising and Design is a higher education art college specialising in design, advertising, graphic and web design, interior architecture, and digital animation. It is one of the few colleges in Belgium and France to provide an English/American-style education and is attended by some 170 students.
CERIS (Centre Européen de Recherches Internationales et Stratégiques) is a postgraduate school offering a Master’s course in international politics and a Master’s in development policy, plus postgraduate certificates, which can be studied externally.
The College of Europe is a unique and innovative postgraduate institute of European studies. Founded in 1948 and located in Bruges and in Natolin (Warsaw, Poland), it is financed by the EU governments and offers one-year Master’s degrees. Graduate studies are in international relations, law, political and administrative sciences, economics, and general European studies.
For several years, the United Business Institutes have been offering a MBA programme in the heart of Brussels, alongside their BA and DBA programmes. The school is able to offer European validation by the Middlesex University London, and also facilitates the transfer of business academic credits for both incoming and outgoing students.
The University of Maryland offers undergraduate and graduate courses covering arts, science, business and management, information technology and more. In Belgium it operates from three locations and has online courses as well.
Situated in Brussels, the Vesalius College is an American-style college founded by the VUB and Boston University in 1987 to offer undergraduate education in English. The college offers three-year European Bachelor’s degree programmes in business, communications, international affairs and international and European law. Vesalius and its degree programmes are registered and accredited with the Flemish government in Belgium.
The United International Business Schools has campuses in Antwerp and Brussels, alongside several locations in Europe and Asia where students can transfer on a quarterly basis. It is an independent and accredited private institution offering flexible business, management, language and cultural studies at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The two Belgian locations are grouped under the title of the International University of Belgium.
The ICHEC Business School has more than 60 years experience, and more than 2,000 students each year. It awards Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in business management, science and engineering, with day and evening classes available. Bilingual courses encourage language skills.
The Solvay Business School offers undergraduate and postgraduate courses in economics, business engineering and management science, and is associated with the Université Libre de Bruxelles. The programmes provide training in international management skills, and students may customise their program to specialise in European or international areas, networks, internships or study abroad.
The European Institute for Public Administration (EIPA), with locations in Brussels, Luxembourg, Maastricht and Barcelona, provides courses in European affairs oriented towards the practice of lobbying and other training, plus Master’s programmes in European public affairs and legal studies.
The Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp has specialised in research and training in tropical medicine and healthcare in developing countries since 1906. They have been recognised by the World Health Organization as a reference centre for AIDS research and tropical diseases. A small body of around 500 post graduates and medical doctors study here.
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