Education in Belgium is delivered by local government according to the different language communities. Schooling options comprise state-run community schools, subsidised public schools (run at municipal level) and private and international schools (fee-paying). Education is compulsory for all children between the ages of six to 18 in state schools. Apart from the language of tuition, the communities (Dutch, French and German) have a unified education system with little difference in the curriculum and school policy. Primary school lasts from age six to 12, when children split off into a range of specialised secondary schools.
The academic year begins in September and ends in June (dates vary according to whether the university or college is Dutch or French-speaking). School holidays generally comprise two weeks at Easter, nine weeks in summer and two weeks at Christmas. The school day begins at 8.30am and finishes at 3.30pm, Monday to Friday.
There are six Dutch-speaking universities, seven French-speaking universities and a number of university colleges and private international institutions in Belgium. The highest ranking institution is the Dutch-speaking Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven). Responsibility for higher education is devolved to the French and Dutch-speaking communities, with both sharing responsibility for the delivery of education in the bilingual Brussels-Capital region. Students gain admission to university by acquiring a general diploma at secondary school.
Higher education is funded at community and regional level and universities manage their own budgets with little influence from government. Students are charged a comparably low annual tuition fee of around €835/£721 (EU/EEA nationals) and €835/£721 to €4,175/£3,605 (non-EU nationals), depending on the course of study.
Universities and university colleges offer a two tier system of three-year undergraduate degrees and either ‘research’ or ‘professional’ two-year Master’s degrees, with many programs taught entirely in English, particularly in the Dutch-speaking regions. PhDs are offered by research universities only and take around four to six years to complete - self-funded PhDs are rare in Belgium, most are supported by the university under a type of employment contract.
Belgium’s position at the heart of the European Union has further stimulated a strong international perspective in research across all disciplines. The private sector is the primary source of investment in research. Funding is managed at community and university level, with the two most prominent research foundations - the FWO (Research Foundation Flanders) and the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) providing grants and fellowships for EU and international students and researchers.
Primary and secondary education
In all Belgian communities, children are enrolled in primary school (lager onderwijs or enseignement primaire) at age six. At age 12 they continue to secondary school (secundair onderwijs or enseignement secondaire) which are divided into general, technical, vocational and arts. Assessment is ongoing throughout secondary education and at age 18 students receive a general diploma (for more academic subjects) which facilitates admission to higher education or a technical/vocational qualification for those who wish to enter university colleges or employment.
Attending preschool (kleuteronderwijs or enseignement maternelle) is not compulsory in Belgium, however over 90% of children are enrolled before they start school. Most state-run preschools are attached to primary schools and provide free childcare for children aged 2.5 years and above. However, state-run preschools are oversubscribed and have long waiting lists, so many parents (particularly expats) end up enrolling their children in private, fee-paying nurseries and kindergartens until they start school.