How to get a degree in Belgium


Higher education in Belgium is provided through two types of institutions: universities and professional schools (hautes écoles/hogescholen).

Professional schools

These schools focus on practical training designed to prepare students for a profession requiring advanced study, such as law, medicine, engineering, architecture or agriculture.

Non-university higher education normally consists of either ‘short-cycle’ or ‘long-cycle’ programmes. Short-cycle programmes run for three years and lead to qualifications in industry, commerce, agriculture, teaching, etc. Long-cycle courses run for at least four years and lead to diplomas or degrees. They may be divided into shorter cycles with intermediate certificates or qualifications.


Universities are devoted to theoretical training in a subject area, and degrees or diplomas normally lead to teaching or doing ‘pure’ research in a university setting, although a few Belgian and Dutch universities have business, medical or law schools offering ‘practical’ degrees.

Universities offer four cycles of study. The first cycle (candidature/kandidaat) covers a broad, multi-disciplinary field of studies and takes two or three years to complete. In the second cycle, students focus on a single subject or area of study for a period of at least two or three years. This second cycle can result in the award of a licence/licentiaat or a professional title such as pharmacist, medical doctor or veterinarian. The third cycle is usually that of a doctorate (doctorat/doctor), which requires five or six additional years of study and research in a specific discipline. At the end of this period, the candidate prepares a doctoral level thesis, which he must formally defend in a public presentation. The fourth cycle consists of an examination open only to students with a doctorate giving them a special qualification to teach at higher education level, although a doctorate is sufficient. (There’s also a teaching certification curriculum, which is limited to local nationals.)

French and Flemish universities

The French and Flemish communities each operate their own system of higher education, the primary difference being linguistic. Institutions in the French-speaking part of Belgium conduct all classes in French, while those in Flemish-speaking areas may offer classes in either Dutch or English. Enrolment in most courses is open to all holders of the appropriate secondary school certificate, but certain areas of study, e.g. specialise medical courses and some civil engineering subjects, are subject to competitive entrance examinations. Foreign students must have the equivalent of the CESS (Certificat d’Enseignement Secondaire Supérieur) and may be required to pass an entrance examination, as well as demonstrating adequate knowledge of French or Dutch.

Admission to some form of higher education is guaranteed to all holders of the appropriate school leaving certificate. Belgium adheres to the European conventions regarding higher education qualifications and will admit students with British A-level or International Baccalaureate certificates. American students generally require one year of US college or university study before admission to a European higher education programme.

Most universities organise summer language classes for foreign students before the start of the academic year. Belgian students pay annual tuition fees. Foreign students may have to pay higher fees, and may be required to provide proof of adequate financial resources while they’re studying in Belgium.

Higher education in Belgium is broad and inclusive. A 2018 report on education by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked Belgium as third-best among the 35 member countries based on parameters such as literacy and equal access to higher education.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in in Holland, Belgium & Luxembourg from Survival Books.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: