Often referred to as the heart of Europe, Belgium is the perfect place to broaden your academic and cultural horizons…
The country may be famous for its beer, chocolates and waffles but that's not all it has to offer. Students with a desire to study abroad should know that Belgium is home to world-renowned universities and the headquarters of international organisations such as the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Belgium is also home to low tuition fees, making it more affordable than neighbouring France and Germany. Being at the heart of Europe has its advantages, as well as being well connected to cities such as Paris and Cologne, Amsterdam and London are also just a short train journey away.
Those with ambitions to learn a second language will have plenty of opportunities to do so. This multilingual country has three official languages - Dutch, French and German. However, English-speakers needn't panic - the majority of people in Belgium can communicate in English and a selection of institutions offer English taught courses.
In your study-free hours you'll be able to soak up Belgium's rich history in cities such as Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels and Ghent and enjoy peaceful countryside settings.
Universities in Belgium
The higher education system in Belgium is split into two groups, Flemish (Dutch) and French, based on the country's main languages.
Both of these communities house universities and university colleges, which work on a similar structure to those in the UK. Universities provide Bachelors, Masters and PhD programmes, but university colleges don't offer PhDs. While Dutch and French are the standard teaching languages in each of these communities a variety of programmes are also taught in English. The country's German speaking students tend to study in the French community, or travel to Germany to study there.
Belgium has five Dutch universities:
- KU Leuven
- Universiteit Antwerpen
- Universiteit Gent
- Universiteit Hasselt
- Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
And six French universities in the Wallonia-Brussels region:
- Université Catholique de Louvain
- Université Saint-Louis, Bruxelles
- Université de Namur
- Université libre de Bruxelles
- Université de Mons
- Université de Liège.
All universities are publicly funded. Seven of the country's institutions feature within the global top 350 according to QS World University Rankings 2018.
Students currently attending a UK university can take part in the EU's education, training and youth support programme, Erasmus+. The scheme offers study, training, work experience and voluntary placements to many young people, with opportunities lasting from three months to one academic year.
Financial support is available through the Erasmus+ initiative, for any UK public, private or not-for-profit organisation that is actively involved in education and training. However, your university must have a formal agreement with a partner university in another EU country, of which Belgium is one. Speak to your institution for information on how to apply.
This information is still valid following the UK's decision to leave the European Union and will be updated if changes happen.
Middlesex University London and Swansea University are just two UK institutions with links to Belgian universities, enabling students to participate in exchange programmes. Check with your UK university to see what opportunities are on offer.
Degree courses in Belgium
Undergraduate courses in the country are typically split into two types:
- professional Bachelors
- academic Bachelors.
Professional undergraduate degrees are more vocational in nature and prepare students for the world of work; they can be studied at university colleges. The academic Bachelors prepare students for further study and are usually studied at universities.
Bachelors courses take three years to complete and can be studied in a range of subjects.
Applicants must hold a recognised secondary school leaving certificate.
Like Bachelors courses Masters programmes can be categorised into two groups:
- Advanced Masters.
Full-time Masters courses last two years - though programmes in some subjects, such as law, medicine, psychology and engineering may take longer. Courses usually combine teaching with research, and culminate in a dissertation.
Advanced Masters are aimed at those who already hold a postgraduate qualification or equivalent and take one year to complete.
The majority of courses are taught in either Dutch or French (depending on where you study), and to be accepted onto a course you'll need to demonstrate your language proficiency. However, an increasing number of programmes are taught in English but if you choose to learn in English your subject and institution options may be restricted.
The academic year is September to July, although some programmes do begin in January.
Applicants typically require a Bachelors degree in a closely related field, but admissions tutors may also consider non-graduates with significant professional experience. Many Masters graduates in Belgium progress onto PhD study.
Only awarded by universities, Doctoral programmes are the highest level of qualification available. Courses typically last between four and six years and can be studied in number of academic fields.
Programmes are based on original research and culminate in a thesis, which you will need to defend publicly.
Applicants must have a Bachelors and Masters degree, submit a draft thesis and find a supervising tutor before completing the university's official enrolment process.
Tuition fees vary depending on where you study, what you study and if you're eligible for financial aid. On the whole, Belgian course fees are usually quite reasonable for EU students, certainly lower than in other European countries such as France, Germany and the UK.
On average EU students can expect to pay €835 per year, with international students paying considerably more. Postgraduate students in Belgium also need to pay an application fee. For exact costs, contact individual institutions.
Students must also prove that they can afford living costs, which average at €850 to €950 per month. This includes accommodation, food, course equipment and travel expenses.
Funding to study in Belgium
The number and type of scholarships and bursaries on offer differs between each community.
In the Flemish (Dutch) region a select number of international students can benefit from the Master Mind Scholarship in 2018/19. Foreign, EU students can also apply for a scholarship or grant if:
- a parent has worked in Belgium for at least twelve months in the past two years
- you have worked in Belgium for at least twelve months, within any given period of two consecutive years in the past
- you have been living in Belgium for the past five consecutive years.
A range of scholarships and grants are available in the French community, to see what you might be eligible for see studyinbelgium.be - scholarship opportunities.
Individual institutions may provide sources of funding for international students, check with your university to see what your options are.
For non-EU students, a scholarship from your own country is your most likely option - especially since, unlike EU students, you cannot do part-time work without a work permit.
The Belgian Development Cooperation also funds scholarships through several channels. For more information, see the Belgian Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation website.
How to apply
Each university and course has different entry requirements, though all applications are submitted individually to each institution online, in the course's language of instruction.
You'll usually provide photocopies of your passport, passport photo, academic qualifications and academic transcripts, a translation of these documents into Dutch or French, proof of your language proficiency, recommendation letters and a motivation letter. You'll also need to include your CV.
A small application fee is usually payable, and you should aim to apply at least six months in advance.
After the admissions team analyse your application, they may ask for additional documents and/or send it to the individual department that you're applying to. Passing an entrance examination may be required for courses in the arts, medicine, dentistry, management and engineering. Tuition fees are paid before your course begins.
If successful, you should receive a letter of acceptance, which you will need when applying for a visa, applying for a scholarship or when enrolling/registering for your course.
Contact the institution that you're interested in to find out more about the application process.
The language of instruction depends largely on whether the institution is within the Flemish or French community. Programmes delivered in these languages may require you to pass a proficiency test; thankfully, higher education institutions often organise courses during the holidays or throughout the term, and many have a dedicated language centre.
Despite this, there are a number of courses - particularly postgraduate degrees in law, economics, social science, political science, management, arts, applied science and health science - that are taught entirely in English. Such programmes are particularly common in Brussels. If English isn't your first language, you must pass, or have already passed, an accepted English language test.
EU citizens are permitted to live in any EU country while studying, as long as you:
- are enrolled at an approved university/other educational institution
- have sufficient income (from any source) to live without needing income support
- have comprehensive health insurance cover.
EU nationals may also have health and social security coverage transferred to their host country, and can apply for permanent residency after living in Belgium for three years. For more information and to check what conditions and restrictions apply, see the European Commission.
Non-EU nationals usually always need a visa to study in Belgium. To find out more, contact the Belgian embassy or consulate in your country, details of which can be found at Addresses of Belgian Embassies and Consulates Abroad.
Finally, all visitors must inform their local authority of their presence in Belgium within eight days of arrival. If you're staying for longer than three months, you must apply for a registration certificate.
This visa information is still valid following the UK's decision to leave the European Union and will be updated if changes happen.
Comparison to UK qualifications
Thanks to the Bologna Process, undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications are directly comparable to the UK. You therefore won't need to prove the equivalence of your UK qualification, but some institutions may ask that you submit an application to obtain recognition of your high-school certificate.