Belgium - Country Commercial Guide
Education and Training

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2022-03-25

Capital:  Brussels

Population:  11.8 million (July 2021 est.)

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $557.1 billion (2020 est., in 2017 dollars)

Currency:  Euro (EUR)

Language:  French, Dutch, and German 

 

UNESCO Student Mobility Number:


Belgium has 16,628 students studying abroad according to UNESCO.

 

CIA World Factbook:


28.42% of the population in Belgium is under 25 years old. 

 

OVERVIEW

In all tracks, education standards in Belgium are high.  Annual reports by economic organization OECD rank Belgium’s education as one of the top 10 among all evaluated countries, with students performing above average in science, mathematics, and reading.  Investment in education is also one of the highest among the 40 OECD countries.

Many schools and universities in Belgium offer courses in English.  Many programs, such as the one offered by American Field Service (AFS) Belgium, allow students to go study in the U.S. and improve their English.  Depending on the educational institution, students start studying English either in primary or secondary school (equivalent to elementary school, middle school, and high school).  English is currently spoken by one-third of the city of Brussels which is renowned for its international population: 32% of residents are not Belgian and many of them speak English.

 

Sub-Sectors

Secondary Education: Many Belgian high school students decide to study in the U.S. on an exchange program because they have dreamed of attending such schools due to popular American media.  They see the school system portrayed differently and more interesting than European schools, offering different types of classes which may not exist in Belgium (e.g., pottery class, architectural drawing, theatre) as well as a completely different sport culture (i.e. sports competitions involving different schools, different sports including American football and baseball, cheerleading). Once they have graduated from a Belgian school, some students decide to go study for one year instead of a semester in order to get an American high school diploma as well.

Higher Education: According to the Open Doors report, during the 2020/2021 academic year, there were 756 international students coming from Belgium and studying at U.S. higher education institutions, a -28.3% change compared to the previous year. This has been a direct consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, that resulted in fewer study opportunities for Belgian students seeking to enroll in U.S. education institutions. Before the pandemic, in 2018/2019, the number of Belgian students enrolled was 1,073 (representing a +34.6% change from 2020/2021). For 2019/2020, the academic year during which the pandemic started, 1,055 Belgian students were enrolled, roughly the same number as in 2018/2019. However, the data does not take into account the fact that many students, if not most, had to leave the U.S. and return to Belgium once the outbreak began around March 2020.

Undergraduate: In 2020/2021, 400 out of the 756 Belgian students studying in the U.S. were enrolled in undergraduate courses (53%), a decrease of 17.5% probably caused by the impact of COVID-19.

Community College: The Belgian equivalent of an American community college in the Dutch-speaking community would be a “hogescholen” (college). In Flanders, a university college is a school for all forms of higher education outside the university. In the French-speaking community, they have what is called “hautes écoles”. These institutions provide either a short-type education (for a professional bachelor, delivered after three years) or a long-type education (a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree). Entry requirements are the same as for universities: a Belgian high school diploma (CESS) or another diploma which is recognized by Belgium. These institutions offer a more concrete-oriented type of education, opposed to universities which have a more theoretical and abstract approach. Also, university is more expensive than hautes écoles and hogescholen, which is something Belgian students take into consideration.  

Graduate Education: In 2020/2021, 209 out of 756 Belgians studying in the United States were enrolled in graduate courses (27.6%), a decrease of 19.3% compared to 2019/2020.

Professional Training Services: During the 2020/2021 academic year, 122 out of 756 Belgian students in the United States pursued an Optional Practical Training (16%), which represents a 8.3% decrease compared to 2019/2020, where 133 out of 1,055 students enrolled for that course of studies (13%). 

Non-degree: In 2020/2021, 25 out of 756 Belgian students in the United States attended non-degree programs such as English language or short-term studies (3%), which represents an 86% decrease compared to 2019/2020, where 178 out of 1,055 students enrolled for that course of studies (17%).

 

Opportunities

Undergraduate and Graduate: Belgian students are particularly attracted to studying in the fields of humanities, intensive English, health professions, fine and applied arts, physical and life sciences, and social sciences.

The United States is one of the top five study abroad destinations for Belgian students. In Belgium, the Fulbright Commission helps Belgian students with no-cost educational advising services (https://educationusa.state.gov/), grants for graduate study (Master’s or Ph.D.), pre-doctoral and post-doctoral research or university lecturing in the United States, as well as with special programs for language teaching assistants in Dutch, French, and German and secondary school teachers of English. Anyone wishing to study in the US can visit the Commission’s website (http://www.fulbright.be/) and attend the annual Brussels College Night, Belgium’s largest U.S.-based college fair organized.  Belgian universities also have excellent exchange programs with U.S. universities in all regions of the country. Unfortunately, studying in the United States is expensive, especially when compared to the standard low-price fee of Belgian universities (provided that the student comes from either Belgium or another European country). Academic costs range from $10,000 to $55,000 per year. Scholarships are also more difficult to get than the ones that Belgian universities grant to study in Europe.

Community College: Some community colleges don’t specify a minimum high school GPA nor do they require international students to take an English language test. Furthermore, the admission process is easier for such institutions when compared to universities and tuition fees are much lower. Students should verify whether their country will accept community college credits earned in the U.S. In fact, some community colleges in the United States itself may not accept some (or all) of the credits earned through this track. Some universities in Belgium might accept credits previously earned in community colleges. However, this does not mean that one can immediately transfer to four-year colleges and universities in other countries, including the United States. To find out more, students can contact their local Fulbright Committee or U.S. embassy office.

Non-degree: Thanks to its efficient educational system and the study of foreign languages, many Belgian students are keen on practicing English and going overseas for a short period of time for professional development, personal enrichment or to transfer credits from specific courses to a Belgian educational institution. The number of Belgian students attending non-degree courses in the United States for the year 2020/2021 was 25 out of 756 (3%).

Secondary Education: AFS Belgium offers programs such as an eight-month exchange in the United States, which costs around $13,500. Many students go to the United States for a whole year or just one semester, either before getting their high school diploma (in which case they would lose a school year, since that particular year would not count once they get back to Belgium) or after (where they would get a second high school diploma in the U.S.). Most Belgian high school students prefer to study in an English-speaking country, in order to improve what they have already learned at school.

Online Programs: Classes are facilitated through a variety of methods, including websites, mobile apps, email, telephones, and more. To receive credit from a U.S. institution for distance learning, the student usually pays a tuition fee. There are options now available for online learning such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are usually tuition-free, but in most cases do not offer credit.  The U.S. Department of State also facilitates a free in-person MOOC Camp program in many countries. Belgian students taking full-time online programs are not eligible for U.S. student visas. Belgium has become very accustomed to online classes and over the course of last year, all universities recognized by the French-speaking region of Belgium switched exclusively to online classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, while going back to a mix of virtual and physical attendance once the number of cases decreased remarkably. Universities that are recognized by the Dutch-speaking community intermittently switched between online classes and in-person classes, or mostly online if the number of COVID-19 cases was too high.

Research and Development: Belgian research has focused on such areas as medicine, biochemistry, statistics (Quetelet) and astronomy. The country’s researchers have received prestigious international scientific prizes for their work in these areas. In Belgium, the Fulbright Commission helps Belgian students with no-cost educational advising services, grants for graduate study (Master’s or Ph.D.), pre-doctoral and post-doctoral research in the United States. The Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program provides grants to conduct post-doctoral research at U.S. institutions from an academic semester to a full academic year.  According to Eurostat, in 2020 Belgium devoted the highest percentage of its GDP (3.5%) to R&D.

Professional Training Services: Vocational placement and vocational training are organized by regional or Community organizations.  These public services can give information about all types of training which are available.  The following are the public services operating in each region:

FOREM (in French) in Wallonia, Bruxelles Formation (in French) which is responsible for the vocational training of French speakers in the Brussels-Capital Region. The VDAB (in Dutch) provides services for Dutch speakers living in Brussels, VDAB (in Dutch) in Flanders. For French speakers, Bruxelles Formation is the official body with responsibility for vocational training for French-speaking jobseekers and employees in the Brussels-Capital Region. CEFORA is a training center for employees of Joint Committee 218 and the efp is a training center for SMEs that runs alternating education courses and training courses leading to qualifications (FR) for candidates aged at least 15 years old.

For Dutch speakers, The VDAB is in charge of training Dutch-speaking jobseekers and workers in the Brussels-Capital Region and Syntra Brussels offers a large range of training courses for adults and businesses.

 

Digital Marketing Strategies

  • Belgian students mostly use LinkedIn, YouTube and Google.
  • The most popular social media sites are Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
  • Students often research information on any given topic through the popular search engine Google and they often acquire information from Wikipedia.
  • The platforms that Belgian students use to seek job opportunities are university platforms, university announcements, LinkedIn, Vdab, Jobat and Indeed.
  • The most popular video streaming platforms in Belgium are YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.
  • In-country schools and competitor countries use public announcements, as well as their own websites and social media accounts which include Facebook and Instagram. They also do PR through regular mail, as well as emails.
  • Parents and students in Belgium mainly receive information about educational opportunities through dedicated events called “open-house days”, where parents and students have the opportunity to see for themselves what courses, teachers, and study method a specific university has to offer. They also receive brochures and see advertisements on the internet, through both social media and email.
  • In order to attract the largest possible number of Belgian students, it is recommended for U.S. study state consortia and/or educational institutions to use social media platforms like LinkedIn in their digital outreach strategies, as well as social media, most importantly Facebook and Instagram, which students use on a regular basis.

 

Events

 

Resources

U.S. COMMERCIAL SERVICE CONTACT

Ira Bel, Senior Commercial Specialist

U.S. Commercial Service – Brussels, Belgium

Phone: +32 2 811 5116

Email: Ira.Bel@trade.gov