Belgian universities occupy an important place in the European education system, successfully combining modern standards and centuries-old traditions. The quality and popularity of Belgian education are confirmed by the fact that as many as eight Belgian universities compete with the best universities in the world in international rankings. Each of them is a large educational center with a developed scientific community and a network of international partnerships.

List of the best universities in Belgium

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Advantages of Belgian universities

  • Areas of study. The most popular areas of study in Belgium are the humanities and social sciences, journalism and computer science. Recently, interest in the field of healthcare and medicine has also increased. Today, more than 30% of all bachelors graduate in the medical field (in other European countries this number is about 15%)[1].
  • Flexible system. In the universities of Flanders, educational programs often have only a nominal division into years of study. Instead, a student needs to earn a certain amount of credits to graduate. Such a system has many advantages, the main of which is the ability to effectively combine work and study.
  • Low cost. Despite the fact that Belgium has an additional payment system for students from countries outside the EU, tuition fees at Belgian universities remain fairly affordable: about 919 USD for EU/EEA/Swiss nationals and 4,323 USD/year for students from other countries. The international THE ranking in 2018 put Belgium in 6th place in the list of countries with the lowest education prices[2].
  • Employment opportunities. The unemployment rate in Belgium is quite low. Of the entire adult population of Belgium aged 24 to 60, only 5.7% remain unoccupied, which is lower than the European average of 6.9%[3]. Another interesting fact is that Belgium is part of a narrow circle of European countries where the personal income of women on average exceeds the personal income of men. And the employment rates for women after doctoral studies are higher than in other European countries[4].

Disadvantages of Belgian universities

  • Financial support. In matters of educational costs, Belgium is somewhere in the middle: on the one hand, tuition prices are quite low, and on the other, the government practically does not provide students with material support. Less than 45% of students receive additional funding, and it is mostly thanks to external scholarships and grants[4].
  • Dates of study. A flexible education system, despite all its advantages, has negative side effects. Less than 30% of students fit into the expected period of study — three years for undergraduate and two for graduate studies[4].
  • Commitment to study. Belgium has one of the highest student enrollment rates in Europe, which cannot be said for graduation figures. On average, about 40% of applicants graduate from European universities. In Belgium, the number of graduates is only 35%. Also, after the first year of study, the drop out rate is about 20%, which is higher than the average for Europe[5].
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Requirements for admission to universities in Belgium

ProgramMin. ageDurationMin. cost/yearAvg. cost/yearMin. level languageExams
Preparation for university18+1 year1,395 USD3,242 USDUpper-Intermediate (B2)IELTS/TOEFL
College18+3-4 year252 USD540 USDUpper-Intermediate (B2)CNaVT/IELTS/FLE
Bachelor’s18+3 years486 USD3,136 USDUpper-Intermediate (B2)CNaVT/IELTS/FLE
MBA21+1-2 years32,424 USD38,044 USDAdvanced (C1)CNaVT/IELTS/FLE
Master's21+1-2 years757 USD4,585 USDAdvanced (C1)CNaVT/IELTS/FLE
Doctoral22+4-6 years498 USD3,242 USDAdvanced (C1)CNaVT/IELTS/FLE

It should be mentioned that non-EU/EEA nationals applying to Belgian universities are subject to the additional payment system. Those vary greatly depending on the program, type of institution, and region in which a certain college or university is located.

Upon admission to various universities in Belgium, requirements may differ. When applying to the Walloon Universities, you must provide a confirmation of previous diploma — Équivalence. It is issued by a special organization Équivalence service located in Brussels.

Documents for Équivalence service
  • Original certificate of previous education and a transcript with grades;
  • Original birth certificate;
  • Motivation letter or application form;
  • Original document of admission to a Belgian university;
  • Certificate of payment (on average, a certificate of certification costs 162-216 USD);

The certificate and birth certificate must also have a notarized translation and certified in the Brussels tribunal.

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Types of Belgium educational institutions

OrganizationDegreeCycleContinue ThCredits
CollegeProfessional Bachelor'sFirst3180
CollegeAcademic Bachelor'sFirst3-4180-240
UniversityAcademic Bachelor'sFirst3180-240
UniversityDoctoral / PhDThird4-6240-360

Each community in Belgium has its own higher education structure.

The Flemish and Walloon communities divide all educational institutions into universities (universiteiten, universités) and colleges (hogescholen, hautes écoles). In addition, the French separate art schools from colleges (Écoles supérieures des Arts), as they are allowed to organize their own entrance exams.

In the German-speaking community there is only one college (Autonome Hochschule in der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft), which provides training in education and health.

Belgian universities by region

Universities of the Flemish region

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Universities of the French region

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Universities of the Flemish region

On average universities of Flanders show better academic results than universities in Wallonia. They occupy higher places in world rankings (5 out of 8 Belgian universities in the top 500 are in the Flemish region), and their students have higher academic performance (according to PISA 2015)[6]. Universities teach a diverse range of specialities, ranging from healthcare to IT.

All higher educational institutions of the Flemish region can be divided into the following groups:

  • universities (universiteiten);
  • university colleges (hogescholen);
  • art schools;
  • highly specialized educational institutions.

Universities have undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. A major part in the educational process is the student’s academic and scientific achievements, especially if he is going to continue studies.

University colleges also have undergraduate and graduate programs, but are not related to scientific activities and have a much more practical orientation, allowing students to find work as soon as possible.

Art schools are considered universities and university colleges, at least 80% of the educational programs of which are conducted in areas related to the visual or performing arts, music and media. The largest Flemish art schools are LUCA School of Arts, Royal Institute for Theatre, Cinema and Sound (RITCS) and two Royal Academies of Fine Arts in Brussels and Antwerp.

Highly specialized educational institutions include Maritime Academy in Antwerp (Hogere Zeevaartschool Antwerpen), Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp (Instituut voor Tropische Geneeskunde), the private University of Protestant Theology in Brussels (Faculteit voor Protestantse Godgeleerdheid) and the private Evangelical Theological University in Leuven (Evangelischee Theolog).

Universities of the French region

Universities of Wallonia, despite placing lower in world rankings, can offer their students an excellent education. The top 500 universities in the world include three French-speaking universities — Catholic University of Louvain (Université Catholique de Louvain), University of Liege (Université de Liège) and Free University of Brussels (Université libre de Bruxelles).

Higher education in the French region is represented by three groups of educational institutions:

  • universities (universités);
  • general colleges (hautes écoles);
  • art schools (écoles supérieures des Arts).

All educational institutions are subordinate to one governing body — the Academy for Research and Higher Education — ARES (Académie de Recherche et d'Enseignement Supérieur). The Academy oversees the activities of 6 universities, 19 general colleges and 16 art schools in Wallonia and Brussels.

Universities offer three levels of education (bachelor, master, and doctorate) in five standard areas: philosophy and human sciences, natural and applied sciences, law, and medicine. Additionally, each university has various schools, faculties, and units that specialize in other fields of study (for example, criminology, agriculture, archeology, art history, etc.).

Colleges, like in the Flemish region, provide training in specialized professional areas.

Walloon art schools have the right to conduct their entrance examinations. The largest art schools in the French-speaking region are two Brussels schools — the French Royal Academy of Fine Arts (ARBA ESA) and the National School of Visual Arts La Cambre (L'École nationalale supérieure des arts visuels de La Cambre).

The University of the German-speaking region

Autonomous University in the German-speaking Community (Die Autonome Hochschule in der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft) is the only higher educational institution in the German-speaking community of Belgium. Here, education is offered in three main areas — healthcare, education, and accounting. Submission of documents is possible only in person at the university study committee, and the admission process itself consists of a test that evaluates the basic mathematical and linguistic abilities of the applicant and an interview. To enter the Autonomous University, you must have a TestDaF result of at least TDN 3 (B2).

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University colleges of Belgium

University colleges in Belgium are higher education institutions offering specialized professional education. While universities are more interested in research activities, college classes focus solely on practice.

University colleges have their undergraduate and graduate programs. The undergraduate program is divided into two main types — "professional" and “academic” programs. A professional bachelor's degree lasts three academic years and involves subsequent employment. An academic bachelor’s lasts about 4 years but makes it possible to enter a master's program at a university college or, through an annual preparatory program, to a university master's program. In addition, many colleges offer undergraduate special annual programs for continuing education.

In total, five educational areas are taught at university colleges: humanities and social sciences (political science, sociology, communications, law, economics and management, psychology and pedagogy), healthcare (biomedicine, pharmaceuticals, nursing), science and technology (engineering, architecture, applied science, mathematics and IT), art (visual and applied).

Compulsory internship at the workplace has an important place in the educational program: colleges enter into agreements with potential employers, allowing their students to immediately apply their knowledge in practice. Many colleges also provide international work experience, sending students abroad for up to a full year of study.

Top Belgian university colleges

  • PXL University College — Hogeschool PXL. PXL is considered the best university college in Belgium. The letters in the name are deciphered as professionalism (professionalism) and perfection (excellency). The central X is associated with the X-factor — an elusive quality that only true masters of their craft possess. Here is a fairly wide range of areas: business, IT, education, art, medicine, journalism, and tourism. In addition to undergraduate and graduate programs, PXL offers evening and distance education, as well as specialized professional courses after undergraduate studies.
  • Gent University College - Hogeschool Gent. Ghent includes four main divisions: Education, Health and Social Work, Social Work and Business, Languages and Applied Information Technology, and one School of Arts. The Ghent School of Art consists of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which is one of the oldest art schools in Belgium, and the Royal Conservatory. More than 30 programs of various artistic directions allow you to go from an applicant to a doctor of arts. Among the teachers are prominent artists who have received many international prizes and awards during their work. These include, for example, Raul Serve (film director, animator, member of the Royal Academy of Belgium, nominee, and laureate of 20 national and international awards) and Karl de Kaiser (photographer, member of Magnum Photos).
  • Catholic School of Limburg — Hogeschool Leuven-Limburg. This university college came about through the merger of the Catholic College of Limburg with the Leuven Catholic University. Here students can study in the fields of healthcare, education, business and IT. In total, the college offers 18 professional undergraduate programs and 13 continuing education programs, most of which are taught in Dutch.
  • West Flanders University College — Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen. West Flanders College provides training in three main areas: business and management, education and healthcare, design and IT. Students can choose from undergraduate and graduate programs, short courses for continuing education and specialized programs for continuing education.
  • Artesis Plantijn University College — Artesis Plantijn Hogeschool Antwerpen (AP). AP offers students over 40 undergraduate and graduate programs. The main language of instruction is Dutch. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal Conservatoire are also part of it. Currently, the Academy conducts training in two main areas — art and design, as well as a teacher training program. At one time, such outstanding personalities as Vincent Van Gogh, Henry van Herwegen (better known under the creative pseudonym Panamarenko) and Jan Fabre called the Antwerp Academy of Arts their alma mater.

State and private universities in Belgium

Of the six major universities in Belgium, only two are considered state universities — Liege and Ghent, two more are funded by the Catholic Church — Leuven and Louvain, the rest are independent of the state or the church — Free Universities of Brussels (Dutch and French).

Most universities in Belgium are funded by the state. Private universities are created primarily to "fill in the gaps" and meet the needs of the labor market. In this regard, most private universities in Belgium offer training in business, tourism and IT.

In Flanders, the Dutch organization NVAO assesses universities’ compliance with accepted educational standards (Nederlands-Vlaamse accreditatieorganisatie). To date, of all Flemish private universities just two are accredited — Vesalius College and the Brussels School of International Studies. In Wallonia, this is done by AEQES (l'Agence pour l'Evaluation de la Qualité de l'Enseignement Supérieur), which currently does not recognize any private French-speaking university.

In addition, non-governmental non-profit organizations are involved in university accreditation. The most famous are Qfor (a Belgian private school certification company), ACBSP (International Council for Business Schools and Programs) and ECBE (European Council for Business Education).

During the accreditation, the structure and content of educational programs, the condition of buildings, the qualifications of employees are evaluated, some companies even conduct interviews with students or university graduates. In case of positive verification results, a certificate is issued to the university. However, the availability of such a certificate does not mean that a private university diploma will be recognized in another public educational institution.

Since private universities do not receive funding from the state, the price of training in them is quite high: on average, it is about 16,212 USD per year. Therefore, private universities often give their students the opportunity to receive scholarships or defer payments. The advantages of private universities include the English language (almost all the programs of private universities are taught in it) and greater flexibility of training (many universities offer their students a choice of programs lasting one, two or three years).

Groups and associations of educational institutions in Belgium

Structuurdecreet document, that officially approved the structure of bachelor’s and master’s programs, quality standards for higher education and their assessment system, was adopted in Belgium in 2003. Also, this order allowed universities and university colleges to collaborate within non-profit associations. The educational institutions within the association are connected by a facilitated transfer or admission from one university to another, exchange programs, general areas of scientific research and teaching methods.

There are five of them in Flanders today:

Wallonia universities cooperate in the framework of the three associations:

  • The Louvain Academy (Académie Louvain) consists of Louvain Catholic University (Université Catholique de Louvain), the Catholic University of Mons (Facultés universitaires catholique de Mons), Namur University (Universitéde Namur) and the University of St. Louis in Brussels (Université Saint-Louis — Bruxelles).
  • The Academy of Wallonia-Brussels (Académie Wallonie-Bruxelles) includes the French-speaking Free University of Brussels (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and the University of Mons (Université de Mons).
  • The Academy of Wallonia-Europe (Académie Wallonie-Europe) combines the University of Liege (Université de Liège) and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of Gembloux (Faculté Universitaire des Sciences Agronomiques de Gembloux).
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Free universities in Belgium

Tuition in Belgium is free for EU/EEA/Swiss nationals studying in the universities of the French community. However, even there students have to pay registration fees. In certain cases universities issue need-based grants or reduce the fees depending on a student’s financial situation.

There are also scholarships and exchange programs available for international students. The most widespread are:

  • Master Minds. This scholarship is issued to students who are only entering the master’s program of one of the universities of Flanders. The main requirements are high academic performance and a good result of the language exam (IELTS above 7.0 or TOEFL above 94). The scholarship winner receives up to 8,646 USD per year and pays less for tuition (119 USD according to 2019-2020 data). Thus, with some planning, the scholarship can provide, if not completely free, but education with minimal cost[7].
  • Erasmus+ and Erasmus Mundus. Universities of Belgium support academic mobility programs that allow students from other countries to spend a semester here or to complete a master's program. Grants cover part or the full cost of tuition, flight, and accommodation in Belgium.

Interesting facts about Belgian Universities

  • Leuven Catholic University owns the world's largest collection of banana genes, which includes both edible and inedible species. The collection is used in breeding works to develop new bananas that are more resistant to environmental factors and insects. The University has already distributed over 17,000 samples to various scientific organizations and farms in more than 100 countries.
  • Georges Lemaitre studied and taught at the Leuven Catholic University for many years. Here he began the work that allowed him to make a huge contribution to the development of the Big Bang theory.
  • Ghent University became the first Dutch-language university during one of the most tragic chapters in the history of Belgium. During World War I, the Germans occupying Belgium conducted a special Flamenpolitik (German: Flemish politics) in order to provoke a conflict between the French and Dutch communities. The reorganization of the University of Ghent was one of the points of this policy.
  • The collection of the Ghent Library includes about three million books. Among the many unique instances, Papyrus 30 stands out — the surviving parts of the early Greek translation of the New Testament.
  • After the opening of the Royal Antwerp Academy of Fine Arts in 1663, as a special order, three paintings were made that still adorn the university hall: portraits of Rubens, Van Dyck and the unique central painting “Antwerp, the cradle of artists” by Theodor Buermans.
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