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Belgium: Structural reforms underway for Flemish higher education

In recent years, the higher education system of Flanders has been the subject of several reforms, a process which is still very much underway today. In the latest step, the Flemish parliament set up an ad hoc commission to contemplate the future and structure of higher education in Flanders, inviting all social partners and stakeholders to share their views and opinions. ACA members VLIR (Flemish Interuniversity Council) and VLHORA (Flemish Council of Hogescholen) participated in these sessions, which were held between March and June of this year. Just recently the outcome of these discussions has been complied into a new policy note, which was adopted by the parliament and the Ministry of Education.

One of the most notable motions put forward in the policy note was that the academic Bachelor’s degrees currently provided by the hogescholen be integrated into the universities. This will have a profound impact on the landscape of tertiary education in Flanders, not to mention the challenge in technical implementation that such an overhaul presents. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education foresees that this new structure will be in place by the academic year 2013/14. The new policy also called for the establishment of 'schools of arts' within a new institutional structure and formed by a special statute.

The policy on foreign-language provision was a topic that could not be overlooked in this new debate. In the current system, equivalency rules: should a higher education institution wish to provide a programme in another language, they must also offer an equivalent programme in Dutch. For many years, universities and other stakeholders have pled for more flexibility, drawing attention to the changing landscape of global education and the increased internationalisation of academic curricula. These appeals were reiterated yet again during the sessions presided over by the Flemish commission, but resistance to the changes proved too strong. Even though some extra lenience at the Bachelor level was secured (maximum 30 ECTS in a foreign language-taught programme per year), the equivalency policy remains at the Master level. The new policy note does foresee, however, that upon advice from a specially-formed Recognition Committee, institutions may deviate from the rule.

As for their stance on internationalisation in general, the policy note calls for the promotion of international mobility of students and academics, as well as underwrites the EU2020 ambitions. An action plan for the financial support of mobility schemes is expected by the end of 2010.

Vlaams Parlement (in Dutch)