University Education

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University education in Belgium is the responsibility of the French and Flemish Communities. Among the larger Belgian universities, two are “official” or governmental institutions: the French-language Université de Liège, founded in 1816; and the Dutch-language Universiteit Gent, 1817. The remaining four major universities are private, but very heavily subsidized institutions. The first, the Catholic University of Louvain, founded in 1425, split into two universities in May, 1970. The French-speaking Université Catholique de Louvain, which has approximately 17,000 students, is located in the town of Louvain-la-Neuve; the Dutch-speaking Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, in the Flemish city of Leuven, has about 22,500 students. The University of Brussels, founded in 1834 on the principle of “libre examen”, also became two universities in the spring of 1970: the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles, with some 12,500 students; and the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel, with approximately 6,000 students.

There are quite a few other universities, having one or more “Facultés/Faculteiten”, corresponding to American schools or departments. There are also university-level professional and technical schools, as well as academies of art and music offering higher, non-university education of the short or long type.

University departments are as follows:

Medicine & PharmacyMédecine & PharmacieGeneeskunde & Farmacie
Philosophy & LettersPhilosophie & LettresLetteren & Wijsbegeerte
Pure ScienceSciencesWetenschappen
Applied ScienceSciences AppliquéesToegepaste Wetenschappen
Economic, Social
& Political Science
Sciences Sociales
Politiques et Economiques
Economische, Sociale &
Politieke Wetenschappen

Special institutes and schools are attached to “Facultés/Faculteiten”.

The courses included in the program of each “Faculté/Faculteit” are prescribed by Belgian law. Information on the courses available at each Belgian university may be obtained from the individual university website. (See below.)

Classes usually last 50 minutes, ending on the hour, but are irregularly scheduled. Professors have been known to give a year’s course in repeated sessions during 3 months, etc. If these procedures seem off-hand by American standards, Americans may expect to find strict rules and customs governing other aspects of university life.

For instance, classroom etiquette is based on well-defined traditions. A professor has a great deal of social prestige and still maintains a certain distance between himself and his students. Students do not interrupt a lecture to request explanations; they call on professors by appointment only. In seminars there is greater freedom and give-and-take discussion, but participants should take care not to undermine the professor’s authority and dignity by too direct a challenge in discussion.

Examinations are far from casual: they make or break the student’s academic career. Examinations are given in January and February and between June 15 and July 15, at the professor’s discretion. Six weeks before, students register for those they will take. Classes end several weeks before the examination period begins, but students begin to study intensively (“blocquer/blokken”) with “syllabus” long before that time.

The university grading system is likewise rigidly established. All grades are considered absolute, i.e., there is no helpful “curve”. Each student receives one mark for the year: an average of the results of his various examinations. There are fine points, but for the moment it may be sufficient to have the following general summary of university grades:

Grande distinctionGrote onderscheiding80-90%16-17.99/20
La plus grande disctinctionGrootste onderscheiding90-100%18-20/20

If a Belgian student doesn’t average “satisfaction/voldoening,” he/she either repeats his/her year or drops out; the highest grade is rarely given.


Degrees and diplomas are defined by law and are the following: bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees.

For official equivalency evaluation please contact NARIC:

French speaking community:

Flemish speaking community:

Belgium has recently adopted the BOLOGNA system of education and thus it now offers a three- year Bachelor Degree which is then followed by a one or two year Masters and then a Doctorate (this can vary in length but has a time limit). The diplomas issued from 2006 onwards are to be accompanied by a diploma supplement which explains the student outcomes and grading system. The Bologna diplomas and supplements are designed to create more mobility and transparency among systems within the Bologna framework. Belgium and Luxembourg are part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and they have adopted the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS).

Additional information can be found at the following websites:

Below a link to the ECTS Users’ Guide with its chapter on the ECTS Grading Scale:

Degrees and diplomas are defined by law and are the following:

“Candidat/Kandidaat”: The first cycle of study, completed by successfully passing at the end of each year approximately 10 examinations covering 380 hours of classwork. Not a terminal diploma. Represents two years of study (three in medicine and veterinary medicine).

“Licence/Licentiaat”: The second cycle of university study and the basic Belgian university degree: requires, first, the successful completion of the “candidature/kandidatuur” or its equivalent, and second, the passing of approximately 10 examinations at the end of each year covering about 380 hours of class-work. Duration: two years in most fields (three in dentistry, law, psychology, engineering, and veterinary medicine; four in medicine).

“Doctorat/Doctoraat“: Represents 3 or 4 additional years of research and presentation of a thesis. Other third cycle programs, such as a “Licence spéciale/bijzondere licentie) may last 1 or 2 years.

“Agrégation/Aggregatie“: Represents at least 3 years after the “doctorat” and presentation of a more important thesis.

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Video presentations of Belgian universities and university colleges:


Study in French-speaking Belgium (in Wallonia and Brussels):