Headquarters of the European Union (EU), the multicultural country of Belgium is the perfect place to develop skills in one, two or maybe even three languages
Belgium is famous for its beers, waffles and chocolates - but its rich history, quality of life, education system and low tuition fees are equally impressive. The country is also at the heart of Europe; Paris, Amsterdam and London are just a short train journey away.
Universities in Belgium
There are two main communities in Belgium: Flemish and French. Each has separate governments, parliaments and higher education systems. There's a third German community of around 77,000 citizens, but its students usually study in Germany or within the French community.
The Flemish and French communities both include universities and university colleges, work to a structure similar to the UK, and offer programmes in English. Universities provide Bachelors, Masters and PhD programmes, but university colleges don't offer PhDs.
Four Flemish Community universities are in the QS World University Rankings 2015/16 - the University of Leuven (82nd); Ghent University (124th); Vrije Universiteit Brussel (194th); and the University of Antwerp (208th). The other key institution in the Flemish Community is the University of Hasselt.
Three French Community universities are in the QS World University Rankings 2015/16 - Université Catholique de Louvain (149th); Université Libre de Bruxelles (207th); and the University of Liège (265th). The three remaining universities are the University of Mons, University of Namur and Saint-Louis University, Brussels.
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.
Degree courses in Belgium
Bachelors degrees take three years to complete and are split into two categories: the academic Bachelor, which often leads to Masters study, and the professional Bachelor, which is more vocational, has finality and usually leads to the workplace. The academic year is September to July, although some programmes do begin in January.
Applicants must hold a recognised secondary school leaving certificate.
Full-time Masters courses last for one or two years - though programmes in some subjects, such as law and medicine, will take longer. Courses usually combine teaching with research, and culminate in a dissertation. 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 degree graduates in Belgium progress onto PhD study.
Doctoral degrees are based on original research and available in widespread academic fields. They take four to six years to complete, and culminate in a thesis. The academic year is September to July.
Applicants must have a Masters degree, and submit a draft thesis and find a supervising tutor before completing the university's official enrolment process.
Tuition fees vary by community, and depend on your eligibility for financial aid. However, Belgian and EU students can expect to pay between €80 and €830 per year, with international students paying between €2,000 and €4,000.
Students must also prove that they can afford living costs, which average at €850 per month.
Funding to study in Belgium
Scholarships and bursaries of up to €5,000 per year are assigned according to individual circumstances. EU students are eligible for financial aid if required, though you may have had to have lived in Belgium for at least two years.
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, academic qualifications and academic transcripts, plus proof of your language proficiency, a passport photo, a motivation letter and your CV. A small application fee is also 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.
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 studying for more than three months;
- 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. A handling fee of €180 is applied upon application. To find out whether you require a visa, 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.