Consult Compendium

Belgium – Flemish Community Flag

Belgium – Flemish Community

In Belgium, education (including higher education) is the responsibility of the three communities. This part describes the situation in the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) part of the country.

Chapter 1: Higher Education System

Belgium/Flemish Community is one of the countries that signed the Bologna Declaration and has hence adapted its higher education system to the “Bologna principles” since 2003-2004.

Section 1.1: Schematic Description of the Higher Education System


Section 1.2: Description of Higher Education System

After signing the Bologna Declaration the Flemish Minister of Education started a process to reform the Flemish higher education system. The Flemish Parliament adopted a new Higher Education Act on the 4 April 2003. The degree structure based on three main cycles constitutes the core of the Act, which introduced this new structure for all programmes.

The higher educational system consists of short cycle programmes, professional Bachelor’s Degrees, academic Bachelor and Master Degrees and PhD programmes.

Short cycle programmes (90-120 credits) and professional bachelor programmes (mostly 180 credits) prepare students for specific professions. Courses are therefore practice-oriented and include periods of work placement. These degrees are only awarded by the university colleges. Some university colleges offer profession-oriented specialisation programmes for holders of a Professional Bachelor Degree. These advanced bachelor programmes cover at least 60 ECTS credits.

Academic bachelor programmes prepare students for studies at master’s level. These degrees are awarded by universities and some university colleges (in schools of arts).

Master programmes are characterised by the integration of education and research and a master’s dissertation. They cover at least 60 ECTS credits. Depending on the field of study some programmes last longer. Master degrees are awarded by universities and some university colleges (in schools of arts). Advanced master programmes are organised at universities, university colleges in the framework of an association and at postgraduate training institutions.

Doctor is the highest level of specialisation in scientific research. It is based on an original research project that takes at least two years, resulting in the public presentation of a doctoral thesis. This degree is only awarded by universities.

More information on: 

Section 1.3: Number of Higher Education Institutions

  • 6 universities
  • 16 university colleges
  • 13 other accredited institutions

Section 1.4: Number of Students in Higher Education

Enrolments  2018-2019
University college
Academic oriented bachelor
Bachelor after bachelor
Additional education in liflelong learning
Master after master
Professional oriented bachelor
Bridging programme
Specific teacher training after master
Specific teacher training after professional oriented bachelor
Preparatory programme
Academic oriented bachelor
Master after master
Master after professional oriented bachelor
Bridging programme
Specific teacher training after master
Preparatory programme
Total universities and university colleges

Section 1.5: Structure of Academic Year

The academic year starts in September. Classes take place in two semesters (September-January, February-June). Each semester ends with an examination period. There is a general second chance examination period in August-September.

Section 1.6: National Qualifications Framework (or Similar)

The Flemish Qualifications Structure has the same 8 levels as the European Qualifications Structure for Lifelong Learning.

Short cycle programmes are level 5. Bachelor programmes, including advanced bachelor programmes are level 6. (Advanced) Master programmes belong to level 7. PhD is level 8.

Flemish Qualification Structure (VKS):

Professional qualifications and educational qualifications: an overview

VKS Level
VKS level
a) Doctor
X a) Master
X a) Bachelor
X a) one or more recognised professional qualifications at level 5
X a) final objectives stage 3 of aso (general secondary education) and
specific final objectives for stage 3 of aso which are linked to one or
more areas of science

b) final objectives stage 3 of tso (technical secondary education) and
specific final objectives for stage 3 of tso which are linked to one or
more areas of science

c) final objectives stage 3 of kso (secondary education in the arts) and specific final objectives for stage 3 of kso which are linked to one or more areas of science

d) final objectives for stage 3 of tso or kso and one or more recognised professional qualifications

e) final objectives for the third year of stage 3 of bso and one or more recognised professional qualifications

f) final objectives for additional general education in adult education and one or more recognised professional qualifications

g) one or more recognised professional qualifications at level 4

h) final objectives and the specific attainment targets as determined in a), b) or c) and one or more recognised professional qualifications

X a) final objectives for the second year of stage 3 of bso and one or more recognised professional qualifications
X a) final objectives for adult basic education

b) final objectives for stage 2 of bso and one or more recognised professional qualifications

X a) final objectives for primary education

Section 1.7: Learning Outcomes in Higher Education

Higher education institutions describe subject-specific learning outcomes for each training pro¬gramme. The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) submits the recognised qualifications and the associated subject-specific learning outcomes to the Agency for Quality Assurance in Education and Training. These recognised qualifications are officially included in the Flemish Qualifications Structure at the relevant level.

Section 1.8: Admission Requirements to Higher Education

For bachelor programmes (both professional and academic) the general admission requirement is the Flemish secondary school-leaving certificate. If a foreign qualification is recognised on the basis of a Flemish decree, a Belgian law, a European directive or an international convention, the holder will have direct access to bachelor’s programmes. Admission may also be granted to students, after individual assessment of their secondary education diploma, if it gives access to higher education in the student’s country of origin. The higher education institution boards are also allowed to admit persons who cannot meet the general admission requirement.

A number of professional Bachelor degrees give access to subsequent bachelor programmes (at least 60 ECTS credits). A preliminary examination may be required. The institution board will stipulate which bachelor degrees give access to these profession-oriented specialisation programmes.

Academic bachelor degrees give direct access to master programmes. Some master degrees will give access to advanced master programmes (at least another 60 ECTS credits), in some cases after a preliminary examination. The institution board will stipulate which master degrees give access to these specialised and advanced master programmes. Professional bachelor degrees may give access to some master programmes after a bridging programme. The programme and study workload will be determined by the institution board, with due consideration for individual skills, working experience, qualifications and competences of the student after an evaluation interview. Foreign higher education degrees give access to master programmes (including the advanced master programmes) if the higher education institution boards consider the foreign higher education degree equivalent to the Flemish higher education degree giving access to the programmes concerned.

Doctoral programmes are open to graduates with a relevant master degree, in some cases after a preliminary examination (depending on the study field). Foreign higher education degrees give access to doctoral programmes if the university board considers the foreign higher education degree equivalent to a Flemish master degree. The admission may still depend on a preliminary examination. The individual admission decisions take into account:

  • Humanitarian reasons (e.g. refugees lacking the required documents).
  • Medical, psychological and social reasons.
  • The individual education level of the student assessed by the higher education institution board.

Entry examinations must be passed by any student (Flemish or other) who wants to take up studies in Dentistry, Medicine and Fine Arts.

Language requirements:
In principal Dutch is the language of instruction. However, foreign language courses, courses with foreign guest speakers and teachers, internationally oriented courses, courses in the framework of international developing cooperation, courses in the framework of international exchange programmes and courses for groups of foreign students are taught in another language. Course material may be in any language. Most institutions require proof of Dutch language proficiency for the programmes taught in Dutch and a preliminary language test for the programmes taught in another language.

Section 1.9: Grading System

  • Legal framework: The overall Grading System is imposed by law (Flemish Decree)
  • Student target group: Bachelor and Master
  • Grade range: 0 to 20; Pass grade 10; other pass grade levels 10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-20
  • Description of the grading system: There is a system of 0-20 with an interval of 1 point. No half points are given. 10 is the pass mark. No overall average is necessary. Grades lower than 8 or higher than 18 are in practice seldom or never given. The median is often around 13-14. In some cases failure points (below 10) can be condoned e.g. during deliberation, e.g. a 9 or even an 8. For such course units no credit certificate is given. Normally the grading is absolute i.e. linked to how well the learning outcomes have been reached. Score distributions do not play a role
  • Specific features: In principle the grading culture is the same everywhere, but there tend to be sometimes serious differences between professors, faculties and institutions. From the statistics, it seems that the pass mark is sometimes used as a ‘grace’ mark i.e. a professor does not want a student to fail only because of his course unit so he/she gives a 10.

Section 1.10: Tuition Fee System for International Students

Students from the European Economic Area (EU-member countries + Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland) pay the same tuition fees as Belgian students (approx. 900 euro/academic year). For other international students the higher education institution can define the tuition fee, depending on the programme and the type of degree.

Section 1.11: Graduation Requirements and/or Qualification Awarding Requirements

Not applicable.

Section 1.12: Relevant Current and Prospective Reforms in Higher Education

Not applicable.


Chapter 2: Quality Assurance in Higher Education

Section 2.1: Quality Assurance Body in Higher Education

The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO) is established as an independent accreditation organization by Treaty between Flanders and the Netherlands and ensures as public bi-national institution the quality of higher education in both regions since 2005.

The carefully established independent judgment by the NVAO strengthens higher education institutions in their quality culture. NVAO is a binational organisation and works together internationally.

Section 2.2: Quality Assurance System

6 years

Further explanation:
Every 6 years HEI’s have to go through an institutional review process in which they have to prove that they are in control themselves of the quality of their programmes. A positive result means that external quality assurance at programme level is no longer necessary. New programmes still need a prior external quality review.

On the basis of the judgments of the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO), higher education programmes are recognized and students receive a legally recognized degree.

The Register of Higher Education contains all detailed information on accredited Bachelor and Master’s Programmes offered in Flanders. If the programme has not been accredited, the programme will be removed from the Register of Higher Education and the institution will not be able to grant a recognised degree.


Chapter 3: Credit System in Higher Education

Section 3.1: Description of Credit System

Higher education institutions in Flanders operate a full-fledged credit system based on ECTS (European Credit Transfer and accumulation System). Each course counts for at least 3 credits, with a maximum of 12 courses per 60 credits. One credit represents 25 to 30 hours of a student’s workload. Courses are independent building blocks for which students may enrol according to their own preferences and timetable, with due consideration for the semester system and evaluations. They can opt for a traditional course of circa 60 ECTS credits a year, a half-time course or an individual course adjusted to their specific needs.

Link ECTS:

Section 3.2: Credit Transfer System(s)

ECTS – European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System

Section 3.3: Additional Information

Students can be exempted from a course based on credits acquired elsewhere (another programme or institution), and on competencies acquired outside a formal learning context (i.e. prior experiential learning). These competencies are assessed by the institutions.

Section 3.4: Application of Credit System in Higher Education Institutions Obligatory?


Section 3.5: Number of Credits per Academic Year/Semester

The number of credits per standard academic year is 60 ECTS (30 ECTS/semester).

Section 3.6: Number of Credits per Higher Education Cycle

Short cycle programmes (level 5) are 90-120 credits. Most Bachelor programmes (level 6) are 180 credits. The number of credits for a Master programme (level 7) is minimum 60 credits and ranges between 60 and 180 credits. Advanced Bachelor and Master programmes are at least 60 credits. No credits are used for PhD (level 8).

Section 3.7: Description of Credit Unit

1 ECTS-credit equals 25-30 hours (of 60 minutes) of student workload. Workload (ECTS-definition) is an estimation of the time the individual typically needs to complete all learning activities such as lectures, seminars, projects, practical work, work placements and individual study required to achieve the defined learning outcomes in formal learning environments. 

A student is awarded credits upon achievement of the defined learning outcomes related to the educational unit/course. Learning outcomes (ECTS-definition) are statements of what the individual knows, understands and is able to do on completion of a learning process. The achievement of learning outcomes has to be assessed through procedures based on clear and transparent criteria.

Learning outcomes are attributed to individual educational components and to programmes as a whole. They are also used in European and national qualifications frameworks to describe the level of the individual qualification.

Last updated in 2020 
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