Higher Education in Belgium

The following description of higher education in Flanders is based on the one provided by the NVAO and Association KU Leuven.

General information

Belgium is subdivided in three communities: one for each official language (Dutch, French and German). Each of these has its own government, and the responsibility for education lies with the communities. Thomas More is situated in Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking community of Belgium.
Higher education in Flanders is largely shaped by the European developments in the framework of the Bologna Process.  In the last decade the Flemish Government implemented the bachelor-master-structure, the ECTS-system and the European Qualification Framework.

The Bachelor-Master structure is one of the most visible results of the Bologna Process. The higher education degree system actually consists of three cycles. The first cycle are the Bachelor's programmes, the second cycle are the Master's programmes and the third cycle are the Doctorate or PhD programmes.

In general, there are two main types of higher education institutions: universities and university colleges.  Only universities can award the degree of doctor while only university colleges can offer Bachelor's programmes with a professional orientation. Thomas More is a university college in Flanders, offering professional Bachelor’s programmes. Universities and university colleges cooperate intensively, especially in the field of research, in so-called "Associations". These are formed by one university and at least one university college.

Structure of Flemish higher education in a nutshell

Since the Bologna Process and the following restructuring of higher education (Decree of April 4, 2003), there are three general types of degrees in Flanders: Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD degrees. This structure was chosen to facilitate mobility within the European Higher Education Area.

Bachelor’s degrees

Bachelor’s programmes in Flanders have a professional or an academic orientation. Both require a study programme of at least 180 ECTS credits and take on average three academic years to complete. The difference lies in the general goal of the degrees: professional bachelor’s (e.g. office management, education, nursing) are practice-oriented and focus on the competences necessary for certain professions, whereas academic bachelor’s (e.g. law, psychology, engineering) are aimed at providing the learner with theoretic knowledge for further studies at a master’s level.

Prepatory programmes

Academic bachelor's degrees always grant admission to at least one related master's programme. In some cases, however, academic students may wish to enroll in a master's programme not directly related to their obtained degree. These students can gain admission through a preparatory programme.

Preparatory programmes also allow students with a professional degree to enroll in a master’s programme, by helping these students to acquire the necessary academic skills and background knowledge for advanced studies. 
Preparatory programmes range from 10 to 90 ECTS credits, though in most cases they consist of about 60 ECTS credits.

Master’s degrees

Master’s degrees are always academically oriented. These mostly consist of 60 or 120 ECTS credits, depending on the field of study, and therefore take one or two academic years to complete. These programmes aim at bringing the student to an advanced level of knowledge and competences in a specific field of study.

PhD degrees

PhD programmes (also ‘doctoral programmes’) lead to the degree of doctor, after succesful completion of independent scientific research and presentation thereof in a doctoral thesis. Enrollment to doctoral programmes degrees is based on several conditions, among which holding a master’s degree. The degree of doctor can only be awarded by universities.

Post-initial degrees

Post-initial degrees exist on a bachelor and a master level.

  • Advanced bachelor’s programmes are professional post-initial courses for specialisation. Prerequisite is a bachelor’s degree.
  • Advanced master’s programmes are academic further studies in which students can enroll after obtaining a master’s degree. These aim to deepen the knowledge and/or competences in the specific field of study.

Both advanced programmes require at least 60 ECTS credits and mostly take one academic year to complete.