Many nations claim to be “the heart of Europe”, but Belgium may be closest to the truth: The small, cosmopolitan nation played an important role in shaping the Europe we know today, and its capital, Brussels, is the seat of the European Union government. With many study options available, Belgium is also an exciting destination for international students.
Belgium as a whole does not have as much of a common national identity as many other countries because it is divided into two distinct areas, Flanders and Wallonia. The Flemish are the inhabitants of Flanders and they speak Dutch; Wallonia, on the other hand, is predominantly French speaking. Because of this, there is no national television or newspaper that caters for everyone, and each region keeps pretty much to themselves, including within the field of education. You will find that whichever university you choose, it will be either Flemish or Walloon, and although there are many courses taught in English, the other main language will always be either Dutch or French but rarely both.
This is not to say there is any animosity between the two sides, more that there is less integration when the languages are so different and the regions are so distinct. Brussels is slightly different in that it lies between the two, with a mix of both Dutch and French spoken, as well as English and a host of other languages, as it is the governmental center of the European Union.
If you want to study in Belgium in English, there is a large number of universities to choose from - many of which are highly reputed, top-ranked institutions.
KU Leuven is Belgium’s largest university and one of the oldest in Europe as it was founded almost 600 years ago. It has a stunning reputation for research and is often ranked in the top 50 universities worldwide. The philosopher Erasmus was part of the university for many years as was the cartographer Gerardus Mercator, who created the Mercator map projection which became the standard particularly for nautical purposes.
Founded in 1817, Ghent University is younger by far but also well-regarded in the world rankings, coming in the top 100. Covering 11 campuses, international students generally number about 10% of the 41,000 student population. All bachelor programmes are taught in Dutch here, but many of the Masters and postgraduate courses can be pursued in English.
Another university founded in 1817, the University of Liège is the only public university for French speakers from Brussels. More than half of its budget is spent on research, with much inter-disciplinary research undertaken by its faculty.
The Free University of Brussels was founded in 1834, but split into two in 1969. The two different universities are known as the Free Brussels Universities and continue to collaborate today. They are ULB, which is French-speaking, and VUB, which is predominantly Dutch; together, more than 20% of their student intake is international.
Whether you choose Wallonia, Flanders, or Brussels for your further education, you will experience a fantastic quality of life with a cosmopolitan feel. Because Brussels houses the European Parliament, it has many international opportunities for post-degree employment and even just networking. The student facilities are excellent, and the universities are also very keen on helping students with a huge range of guidance and support opportunities.