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European harmonisation

Since September 2004, higher education in Belgium has been greatly changed by the introduction of the "Bologna process". This is a European reform aiming to harmonise qualifications between different member states and to encourage the mobility of students across the European Union. 

Higher education: what has changed

Higher and university studies in the states which have approved the reform are organised in three cycles, and each year of study leads to the award of "credits".  The "credit" is a unit corresponding to the time spent by the student on a learning activity within a programme of studies in a given discipline. The study year remains the reference point and corresponds to 60 credits.

First cycle: the bachelors

The first cycle corresponds to a minimum of three years of study (180 credits) and leads to a bachelor’s degree. Higher educational studies of the short type previously leading to a ‘graduat’ qualification and the first study cycle known as the “candidature” at university have thus been replaced by the bachelors degree.

Second cycle: the masters

After obtaining a bachelors degree, the student can continue his education with a second cycle of studies. These lead to the degree of master over one year (60 credits) or two years (120 credits), or in medicine over a minimum of four years (240 credits) or in veterinary medicine after a minimum of three years (180 credits).  Finally in some branches, the masters can be completed by a supplementary masters of a minimum one year (60 credits).

Third cycle: the doctorate

This cycle only applies to university education and is accessible to students who have completed at least 300 credits.  Third cycle studies consist of doctoral training (60 credits) leading to a qualification in research and in the preparation of a doctoral thesis (at least 180 credits), leading to a doctorate degree after the thesis has been defended.

Note: the Bologna Process is a voluntary initiative by 46 participant countries. The aim is to establish some common aspects (e.g. the credit system, the structure in three cycles, cooperation to ensure the quality of higher education etc.) so as to enable all students to identify the level to which their qualification corresponds and to continue their education in another country.  Every state and community thus remains free as to the organisation and content of its teaching.

More information

Application of the Bologna decree in the French Community (in French)
Application of the Bologna decree in the Flemish Community (in Dutch)
Information from the Council of Europe on the Bologna Process