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PhD Study in Belgium - A Guide for 2019

A PhD in Belgium gives you the chance to study in the political heart of modern Europe. You’ll have easy access to neighbouring countries and benefit from a liberal and welcoming host nation as you get the quintessential European postgraduate experience during a Belgian doctorate.

This guide explains everything you’ll need to know PhD study in Belgium. It includes information about the two Belgian university systems (don’t worry, we’ve made it simple), their PhD structure, fees and funding, PhD applications and visa requirements.

PhD opportunities in Belgium – what’s on offer for 2019?

Few countries are more cosmopolitan than Belgium. As the administrative centre of Europe, you can expect to experience the best of Western Europe during a Belgian PhD.

Belgium is also famous for its art and literature – from the Flemish Masters to Tintin and The Smurfs – as well as its medieval towns and cities, with their plentiful cafés, restaurants, bars and museums.

Here are some of the best reasons to consider a PhD in Belgium in 2019:

  • Multi-cultural and multi-lingual society – Belgium’s population speaks a mixture of French, Flemish / Dutch, German (and English)
  • Historic universities – Belgian universities are some of the oldest in the world, dating back to the 15th century
  • Studying in the heart of Europe – the capital of Brussels is also the economic and administrative centre for the European Union, so it's no surprise that Belgium hosts many multi-national organisations and has strong links to the rest of Europe
  • High quality education – the universities of Belgium consistently perform well in international ranking tables
  • Affordable tuition fees – without traditional annual tuition fees, enrolling at Belgian university for your PhD can be relatively affordable

Plus, the traditional Belgian chocolate, waffles, chips and beer make great study snacks (actually, probably best to leave the beer for later).


PhD Study in Belgium - Key Details
Flanders Wallonia
Universities 5 6
Nobel Prizes 11
Oldest University KU Leuven (1425)
International Students 61,102
Course Length 4 years 4-6 years
Representative Fees* €930 985
Academic Year September to July September to August

*More detail can be found in the section on fees and funding, below.

PhD life in Belgium

Want to know more about what it's like to live and study abroad in Belgium during a PhD? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation and living costs to culture and entertainment.

Belgian universities

There are two distinct regions in Belgium: Flanders, in the north, is home to the Dutch-speaking Flemish people; Wallonia, in the south, is home to the French-speaking Walloon people. The Brussels-capital region is geographically part of Flanders, but is administratively separate.

Flanders and Wallonia administer their own university systems and there are some slight differences between the two. We’ve covered them where relevant in this guide.

University types

Universities Flanders and Wallonia are structured in several different ways and can be public or private.

  • Research universities – these carry out high-quality teaching and research at Bachelors, Masters and PhD level. Smaller university colleges are often associated with research universities, but do not offer doctoral programmes.
  • Hautes Écoles and Hogescholen – similar to French Grandes Écoles, these institutions usually offer more specialist and professionally-focussed postgraduate degrees. Most Hautes Écoles are located in Wallonia.
  • Art colleges – also known as Écoles Supérieures des Arts, these offer practical degrees across many Art disciplines.
  • Foreign institutions – Belgium's international and cosmopolitan culture has made it a good fit for overseas universities establishing branch campuses. Examples include Boston University and the University of Kent. There is also the Transnational University Limburg registered between Flanders and the Netherlands.
  • Other higher education institutions – a number of other higher education institutions operate in Belgium, including the College of Europe, the Flanders Business School, and Vesalius College. These tend to offer courses in very specific subject areas.

In general, most Belgian PhDs will be undertaken at standard research universities, but you may find interesting research options at more specialised institutions.

Belgian university cities

There are several cities in Belgium with one or more universities and large numbers of students:

Belgian university rankings

Despite only having a small number of universities, Belgian higher education institutions are consistently recognised for their world-leading teaching and research.


Top Belgian Universities in 2019
University THE 2019 QS 2019 ARWU 2018
KU Leuven 48 81 86
Université Catholique de Louvain =128 165 151-200
University of Ghent =143 138 61
University of Antwerp 201-250 =223 201-300
Université Libre de Bruxelles 201-250 =239 151-200
Vrije Universiteit Brussel 251-300 188 201-300
University of Liège 301-350 =319 301-400
Hasselt University 401-500 - -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

PhD structure

The content and organisation of Belgian PhD programmes can vary slightly depending on whether you are studying at a Flanders or Wallonia institution.

However, all research institutions in Belgium follow the guidelines set by the Bologna process, and therefore all Belgian PhDs are third-cycle degrees adhering to the same standards and receiving the same international recognition.

PhD length

At Belgian universities, PhD programmes usually last around 4 years. However, there is a slight distinction between Flemish and Walloon doctoral programmes; in Flanders the maximum length of a PhD is usually 4 years, in Wallonia students often register for 4-6 years.

Supervision

The supervision of Belgian PhD students is usually the same regardless of which region you are based in.

You will have at least one supervisor, or thesis director, responsible for overseeing your research, guiding your professional development, and approving your final thesis. You may also have additional supervisory figures to guide your doctoral development.

Belgian PhD programmes and students are often organised by doctoral colleges or schools belonging to the university. These determine the content of your PhD, including any doctoral teaching and training, and help support you during and after your studies.

Employed assistant status

As a PhD student in Belgium, you will often be recognised as a research or teaching assistent rather than a standard student. This is equivalent to being an employee of the university. As such you may receive a salary and employment rights but will also have certain teaching and administrative responsibilities.

Assessment and examination

As with most PhD programmes, in Belgium you will be assessed based on your written thesis. Additionally, you will be examined in a public défense. This will be conducted by experts in your research field and may include your supervisor and academics external to your research institution.

Fees and funding

PhD degrees in Belgium are generally affordable with low tuition fees. However, this can increase substantially for some international students and for some areas of research. Thankfully, there are many sources of funding for your PhD in Belgium.

Belgian PhD fees

Most Belgian universities do not charge typical annual PhD tuition fees.

Flemish universities charge two tuition fee payments of around €461 for the first year (the enrolment fee) and the final year (the défense fee).

Walloon universities usually charge an initial registration fee (minerval) of €835, followed by annual registration fees of around €50 for subsequent years.

In both cases, fees increase for non-EU / EEA students. These international fees can be as much as double those for EU / EEA citizens, but the exact amount varies between individual Belgian universities and their PhD programmes.

Belgian PhD funding

There are several sources of funding available for your Belgian PhD. Some examples include:

  • Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) – offers 10-month bursaries to students studying in AUF member countries
  • Belgian Development Cooperation – funds scholarships in several ways for programmes in non-governmental and scientific cooperation
  • FRS-FNRS – funds scientific researchers through grants, mostly limited to the French-speaking Wallonia region
  • Innoviris – the Brussels research and innovation system provides several programmes with a variety of specific objectives

There may also be funding opportunities available from your home country (e.g. Fulbright Scholarships for US students).

Funding from Belgian universities

Most universities in Belgium offer their own doctoral scholarships, grants and fee reductions / waivers for their PhD students. More information about these are available from your prospective university.

Applying for a PhD in Belgium

Applications for PhD programmes in Belgium are typically similar to the process in the UK. Each individual university sets their own admission requirements and may have their own application process. You can find more information by browsing PhDs in Belgium or visiting your prospective university’s website.

Application process

In Belgium, you will be expected to contact your potential thesis supervisor before starting the registration process. You must have formed a well-defined research project and discussed the feasibility and finances with your potential supervisor. This will then be set out in a research proposal, which is assessed by your supervisor, other members of the support committee, and the doctoral college.

As part of the application process, you may also be required to submit additional documents such as your personal statement, CV and references. You may also need to attend a PhD interview.

You should find your potential supervisor by browsing current PhD opportunities or searching individual university websites. Here, you will also find the doctoral application regulations specific to each institution.

Applying for a PhD

PhD applications in Belgium will require additional application documents and processes. These are similar to those in the UK. Our guides explain typical PhD application materials and requirements.

Admission requirements

In order to enrol on a Belgian PhD programme, you will need a relevant Masters degree. Most European Masters that follow the Bologna process are accepted. The equivalency of other degrees must be authenticated in order to be recognised.

Additionally, some institutions may require you to take a preliminary examination, but this depends on the individual institution and the research field.

More specific admission requirements can be found on your prospective university’s website.

PhD entry requirements

The general eligibility criteria for PhD applications in Belgium is similar to most other countries in the Europe. Our guide explains entry requirements for a prospective PhD student.

Language requirements

In general, English is well-spoken at many Belgian universities and many PhD programmes will use English as the language of instruction. If this is the case, non-native English speakers may need to submit a score from an English language test.

However, most doctoral programmes are taught in either French or Dutch, depending on your university’s location within Belgium:

  • In Flanders, PhDs often use Dutch as the language of instruction and you may be required to complete a Dutch language test
  • In Wallonia, the official language is French, and admission may require passing a French language test

Student visas

As an EU member state, the immigration procedures required to study in Belgium are fairly straightforward. The process will vary depending on your country of origin.

Applying for a study visa

EU, EEA and Swiss students do not require a visa to enter and study in Belgium.

Other international students will require a long-stay Type-D visa. This should be applied for in person at a Belgian embassy or consulate in your home country before travelling to Belgium. Visa applications usually require the following:

  • Proof of university enrolment
  • Your Masters degree certificate / transcript
  • Proof of financial support (either monetary funds, scholarship/s or employment)
  • A medical certificate
  • A police certificate demonstrating no previous criminal convictions
  • A €180 handling fee and €200 administrative fee

This process should be started with sufficient time before moving to Belgium. Your university's international office and the Belgian embassy you apply to should be able to provide advice.

Residence registration

All PhD students must register at the local town hall (a gemeente in Flanders or a commune in Wallonia) within eight days of arriving in Belgium. You will usually require:

  • Two passport-style photos
  • A valid passport
  • A valid visa (for non-EU, EEA or Swiss students)
  • Details of your address
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Proof of university enrolment
  • An application fee (usually around €20)

The local police will then visit your address to verify your residence and complete your registration. After this, you can obtain a foreigner’s identity card (carte d’identité d’étranger) from your local office des étrangers.

Health insurance

All PhD students in Belgium require a form of health insurance during their studies. This will allow you to access a mutuelle health insurance company to cover medical expenses.

EU, EEA and Swiss students will usually be covered by holding the European Healthcare Insurance Card (EHIC).

Other international students must have private medical insurance. This can be set up in your home country or secured through your university for a fee.

Work permits

If you are a non-EU / EEA / Swiss student and have the status of an employed research or teaching assistant during your PhD, you may also need to obtain a work permit. See our guide to living in Belgium during a PhD for more information.

Next steps

The renowned quality of teaching and research and the multi-national environment of the Belgian university systems make both Flanders and Wallonia strong choices for your PhD studies. Needless to say, Belgium is also an excellent place to learn a foreign language.

As the centre of European government and administration, Belgium (and more specifically Brussels) hosts many international organisations and industries that could provide post-PhD employment opportunities.

Can I work in Belgium after my PhD?

EU, EEA and Swiss students do not require a permit to work in Belgium after your PhD. A valid passport or ID card and an updated residence registration is sufficient.

Other international students will need a valid work permit – this is granted by your regional Department of Economic Migration, and applications should be made in person or by telephone. Applications are free and required a completed application form, information sheet and a valid residence permit. the work permit is valid for a fixed amount of time and may need to be renewed later.

You may also be able to apply for a European Blue Card and receive full EU employment and residence rights for a specified period of time.

Your university will also provide employment services to assist with your job search and any employment procedures.

Find a PhD in Belgium

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Belgium? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad.

Last updated 07/01/2019

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