Who is responsible for education in Belgium? Is it the federal government? The communes? How is higher education structured? How to get a degree in Belgium? Find the answers to these and more questions below.
Education and language communities
While the general structure of the school system remains the same across Belgium, competence for education lies with the respective language community, either French, Dutch or German. In Brussels, parents can choose between Dutch and French. It is important to keep this in mind when choosing a school for your child.
In the French Community there are two education networks
- The official network, divided into two categories:
1) Teaching organised and financed by the Federation Wallonia-Brussels.
2) Teaching organised by educational authorities such as municipalities and provinces, financed by the Federation Wallonia-Brussels. Schools in this category are organised by the federation for educational authorities, which represents their interests towards the Federation Wallonia-Brussels.
- The EQF - Board of Education for Municipalities and Provinces.
- The CPEONS - Board of authorities for neutral official subsidised education.
- The schools belonging to this network are non-denominational, and are therefore obliged to take a neutral position by offering both moral lessons and courses specific to each religion (Catholicism, Islam, Orthodoxy, etc.).
- Subsidised free schools, divided into two categories:
1) The denominational network (run by dioceses, religious congregations, etc.): Catholic schools constitute the majority of this category and are grouped under the SeGEC Federation - General Secretariat of Catholic Education.
2) The non-denominational network (run by ASBL): These schools are represented by the FELSI – a federation of independent subsidised educational institutions.
All these schools are subsidised by the Federation Wallonia-Brussels. However, there is also a small third network, the private network (unsubsidised).
For more information, please visit the official portal of education of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels.
In the Flemish Community
- The official network, divided into two categories:
1) GO! education: The official education led by the Flemish Community.
2) Subsidised public education: This includes two federations of authorities who represent the interests of different schools towards the Flemish authorities.
- The OVSG (Onderwijssecretariaat Steden van Gemeenten in the Flemish Community), responsible for municipal schools.
- The POV (Provinciaal Onderwijs Vlaanderen), responsible for provincial schools.
The schools of the network are, like the French official network, strictly non-denominational.
- Free network (Gesubsidieerd Vrij Onderwijs - GVO): These schools mainly consist of Catholic schools run by private organisations or non-profit organisations, grouped under the Federation KOV (Katholiek Onderwijs Vlaanderen). There is also a small minority of Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox and other schools. Moreover, there are also non-denominational private schools which follow alternative methods of teaching (Freinet schools, Montessori, Steiner, etc.).
- For more information, please visit the portal of education in the Flemish Community.
in the German-speaking community
For information about education in the German-speaking community, click here.
General or artistic?
In kindergarten and primary school, all students are "in the same boat”. Starting from secondary education, students have a list of different options:
- General education focuses mainly on theoretical knowledge, intended to prepare students for higher education.
- Technical education offers a range of more concrete and technical courses, without neglecting theoretical knowledge.
- Vocational education provides direct access to the professional world at the end of the cycle. It focuses on practical skills and preparation for a trade.
- Arts education has a similar set up to technical education, but offers artistic instead of practical courses.
All these branches provide access to higher education. However, in vocational education, students are required to obtain the C.E.S.S (Certificate of Secondary Higher Studies) in year seven.
International schools and the European schools
Belgium offers a wide choice of international and European schools with a multicultural and multilingual education. Students can try for the International Baccalaureate or the European Baccalaureate, internationally recognised qualifications that allow wide access to universities or colleges worldwide. Some international schools will allow your child to take the tests that apply in your country of origin, such as the British GCSE. The European schools are public institutions financed by the European Union. They usually welcome children of European officials first, but sometimes also accept other children. For a list of international and European schools in Belgium, click here.
Short or long-term higher education?
Regarding higher education, Belgium adheres to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) established at the decree of Bologna. A Bachelor (first cycle) consists of 180 credits, divided into 3 blocks of 60 credits per year. The Master (2nd cycle) consists of 60 or 120 credits distributed in one or two years. The student has the choice between two types of education:
- Short-term education: organised by a higher education institution or arts college, it helps to get a vocational bachelor's degree in three years of study, a total of 180 ECTS. This course is unique in combining theoretical classes with professional integration activities (internships).
- Long-term education: organised by a University, a higher education institution or arts college, this option gives the student a bachelor's degree in three years followed by a master with 60 ECTS (one year) or 120 ECTS (two years). This path develops a scientific foundation in the discipline of their choice, which will be specialised during the master’s degree.
If a student prefers a fast track to the professional world, it is also possible to leave school or start professional training.
- The IFAPME (Walloon Institute for Training of independent and Small and Medium Enterprises) offers a multitude of training courses in various professional fields, with programs that alternate between a classroom setting and practical training in companies.
- bruxellesformation.be: Many free courses in sectors such as construction, industry, logistics, office trades and services, languages, management and IT.
- Syntra midden Vlaanderen: A Flemish organization for professional training, offering over 200 courses, for students aged 15 and up.
- Do not hesitate to consult the following websites for more information: Forem, Actiris and vbad.