Dutch education

Flexibility, variety and some confusion
Education in the Netherlands is characterized by variety and flexibility. The Dutch education is structured in a way that the final degree can be reached by several different study routes. This means that pupils and students always have the possibility to switch from one level to another.


ith a literacy rate of around 99%, the netherlands has an education system that has a long tradition and a trustworthy reputation. Education in the netherlands is characterized by variety and flexibility. It is oriented toward the needs and background of the pupil. the Dutch education is structured in a way that the final degree can be reached by several different study routes. this means that pupils and students always have the possibility to switch from one level to another. the Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks the education in the netherlands as the 9th best in the world, being significantly higher than the OECD average. the Dutch educational system consists of the following kinds of education: Primary education, Secondary education (VMBO, HAVO, VWO), Intermediate vocational education (MBO), Higher vocational education (HBO) and Scientific education (University).

this is for standard students. there are different types of education for children with special needs or children with behavioural problems. Let us focus on the standard system.

Primary education
In the netherlands, education is compulsory for children aged 5-16, although parents can send their children to school, when the child is 4 years of age. the first steps into the system are made in primary school. the first two years can be compared to kindergarten. In the third grade, children start to learn how to read and write, as well as start to learn the basics of math. After the third grade, five more years in primary school follow, in which the children further expand, among others, their reading, writing and math skills. In
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the last (8th) grade of primary school, children take a national test (called the CItO-test) in school abilities. the score on this test is an indication for the level of secondary education the child will be able to manage after primary school. Besides this score, the teacher gives an advice on which level is appropriate for child.

Secondary education
Roughly speaking there are three levels of secondary education. they differ in length, amount of practical work and possibilities for further education. the levels in Dutch secondary education are: VMBO, pre-vocational secondary education, HAVO higher general secondary education and VWO pre-university education. A student can “hop” from one level in the same year to a higher level, after he/she

The Dutch educational system


has finished his/her exams. the content of the exams are different for each level, but the same for all schools within a level. Schools can consist of only one level (e.g. only VMBO), but there are also many schools who teach all or most of the levels. Let us take a closer look at the various levels. Students who finished the HAVO level can continue their education in higher vocational education (HBO), but also in intermediate vocational education (MBO). In case the student wants to go to university, the student first has to complete the VWO, pre-university education. continue the secondary education at the VWO level. Coming from the fifth year of HAVO, he had to cross-over to the fifth year of the VWO level. this looked like a step back, but at the VWO level, they start to prepare in the fifth year for their exams in the sixth year. So Bob was happy that he had two more years to prepare himself for the VWO exam. the first time he went up for his VWO exam, unfortunately he failed in the exam. So, he had to do the sixth year over again. the second time he finished his VWO exam with good results, but still didnot know what he wanted to become. He decided to take some time off, do some small jobs and see what he wanted to do next. After that year, he decided to study psychology. With his VWO level diploma, he was allowed to enter the university. this is where he is now.

VMBO, pre-vocational secondary education
this level takes 4 years to complete. In the first two years, all students follow the same courses. this is called “basic curriculum”. After these two years, the students are split into different levels within the VMBO level. the highest level is the theoretical pathway, formerly known as MAVO - lower general secondary education. When students finish the theoretical pathway, they can continue their education in intermediate and higher vocational education (MBO and HBO). the other levels of VMBO connect only to the intermediate vocational education (MBO). In practice, when students come from VMBO, they hardly ever go straight to higher vocational education (HBO). Often they take the route via intermediate vocational education (MBO), or via the HAVO level.

VWO, pre-university education
this level takes six years to complete. the first three years consist of the “basic curriculum” after which the “Second Phase” follows. this is the same as in the HAVO level. Also, in VWO, the “studiehuis” method is used. the VWO level consists of two types: VWO Gymnasium, and VWO Atheneum. In VWO Gymnasium, students are being prepared for higher vocational education or university and follow classes in Greek and Latin. Students have to graduate in one of these languages to attain a VWO Gymnasium diploma. In VWO Atheneum students are also being prepared for higher vocational education or university, but they don’t follow Greek and Latin. there are some schools which offer “VWO Atheneum plus” classes in which the students can follow Greek or Latin voluntarily.

Jenny started primary school when she was 4 years old. Her teacher and her CItO-test score showed she was capable for the VWO level of secondary education. She finished secondary education after 6 years with good grades. She knew she wanted to go to the university to study Science and that is where she is now. With the two examples I hope to have shown that there is no “correct” path to follow through the Dutch educational system. It depends on the choices the student makes and on the capabilities the student has. For some all these may seem very much confusing, I can tell you, even for the Dutch, it is confusing sometimes. In the past 20 years, especially in secondary education, many reforms have been implemented. this has been confusing for teachers, policy-makers and parents as well. We expect more changes in the coming years too. Esther Canrinus
The author is a Ph.D., scholar, working on research in the field of education, at Netherlands.

HAVO, higher general secondary education
this level takes five years to complete. the “basic curriculum” lasts three years. After this, the “Second Phase” starts in which students have to choose between certain “profiles”. they contain three parts: a collective part, a profile specific part and a free part. there are four profiles to choose from: Culture and Society, Economy and Society, Science and technology and Science and Health. Students in HAVO level are taught via a method called “studiehuis”. this means there are no tight school timetables, teachers teach less in front of the class, but spend more time on guiding the students individually and in small groups, and student work independently and at their own pace.

Two examples
Let me introduce you to two students, Bob ( 24) and Jenny ( 20). Both are currently studying in the university. Bob is a second year student in psychology and Jenny is a second year student in Science. the routes they took to get there are quite different, as you can partly tell by their age. Let me start by telling you the route that Bob followed.

Bob started out in primary school, when he was five. In the last grade of primary school, his CItO-test score and the advice of his teacher showed he was capable of going to the HAVO level. He did as he was told and after five years of HAVO, he had to decide what he wanted to do next. He wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do, but he did pretty well on his HAVO exams, so he decided to
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ustralia has become a cherished destination for all who like to combine education with ease and relaxation. Education in Australia is primarily the responsibility of states and territories. Generally, education in Australia follows the three-tier model which includes primary education (primary schools), followed by secondary education (secondary schools/high schools) and tertiary education universities and/or TAFE (Technical and Further Education Colleges). The Australian education system is one of the best in the world, ranking 8th on a worldwide scale. The Education System in Australia consists of a total of 12 years. Primary schools and high schools are based on the age of the student, so that every room has the same age group, with a student hardly having to repeat a year. The students with problems in their studies may be put into special classes to help with academic deficits. The majority of the children start in the primary school with the age of 5 years (year 1) and the child studies in the primary school until they are around 12 years old ( year 7). Primary, Secondary and High Schools of Australia - There are many types of education for children up to 5 years, but the main ones are the “Child Care” regulated centres or families in registered residences who take care of the kids in a system called “Family Day Care”. The student goes for secondary school with 12/13 years (year 8), and is he/she is only compulsorily required to stay to year 10, receiving a junior high school certificate but not a high school certificate. The year 11 (15/16 YO) and 12 (16/17 YO), are optional but are required to be successfully completed to attain a high school diploma. Some of the options for those students leaving the school in year 10 include training – apprenticeship, to enter the work force or to study in any vocational course. Year 11 and 12 - The results of the last two years of high school are the 10

Educational System in Australia
Quality and Affordability are the hallmark of Australian education.
most important ones, as they are the ones to be evaluated for entry levels in Universities. The results which you achieve for each subject (compared to the rest of the students) will then give you a rank. The board of secondary studies than calculates an “OP” score (overall position) using a formula of your high school results and a test called “QCS” (in Queensland) which is taken by every year 12 in the state, which is used to compare students (schools) of the same year level between schools. The last 2 years is where students begin to guide their education towards their chosen professions. The student will choose what to study depending on the career in which they intend to follow. For example, a student who wants to do Engineering in University should choose subjects such as physics, and high level mathematics instead of subjects such as history, or biology. For international students there are options with easier level subjects
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inside the curriculum. There is the easy level English, the easy mathematics etc; and they are the options for the students not going to apply for a academic career in an university course. In general the subjects are divided in letters such as Maths type A, B, C or names such as Board English (harder one) and English Communication (easier one). School Year Calendar - Australia is in the South Hemisphere; therefore the academic year coincides with calendar year, starting in the end of January and finishing in December. The summer vacations are the biggest school holidays (period of 6/7 weeks), and during the school year there are also small breaks usually of about 10-14 days between “terms” (2 terms per semester). Not all states go all holidays at the same time, for example the vacations of Queensland generally begins 1 week before NSW which begins 1 week before the State of Victoria. This difference is most likely

in place so to maximize holiday and tourist places, which would then extend for further. The timetable for school vacations are in general in April, July and September. The beginning of the Holidays in public schools also differ by around I week from private schools. The difference between private and public schools in Australia - There are Private and Public schools. Private Schools in general are related to a religion and usually they offer more options in music and sports. In both all students have to use of uniforms but in the private schools the rules are more restricted about the use of a complete uniform. The educational courses and standards of all high schools are very similar and all prepare students for the same national, recognized qualifications in the country. Some schools also offer in the years 11 and 12 professional qualifications level for Certificate 2 and 3. Technical Courses in Australia - The Certificates and Diplomas of Vocational Courses allow the students to enter and leave different levels of academic studies. The unify system of education allows the student to register for Certificate course which then after completion may give credits to Diploma courses or Degrees, in case the student continues in a University. Professional experience may also be recognised. The technical courses are often considered a “bridge” to enter in an Australian University. Universities in Australia - Australia has both government and private Universities that offer two programmes called “Under Graduate”, and after graduation courses called “Graduate Programmes or Post Graduate”. In general the time of duration of the Graduate Certificates 6 months, Master 1 year, Master Honour 1.5 year, Doctorate 2 years. However these degrees are not measured by time but by subjects/ courses taken, therefore depending on how may subjects/courses you are doing per semester, it may impact the time it takes to complete them. Most of these post graduate courses, however, do have a time limit

The Australian education system is one of the best in the world, ranking 8th on a worldwide scale.

preferred one for Australian institutions to measure the level of English of international students in Australia, but the TOEFL (more popular in U.S.A.) is also accepted. Requirement study in a University in Australia - The criteria for enrolment in a University vary depending on the institution. But generally besides the official translated documents, you will need to show: • Evidence of English knowledge/level (all institutions will require). • Evidence of study, for example, If High School was not done in Australia need to show similar qualification, recognized by NOOSR, (Australian department for recognition of foreign aptitudes). • Have already done at least 1 year in a university. If a person has not done a previous year in a University than an Australian course called Foundation during 6 months up to 1 year will guarantee entry in the University. Another way to be admitted in an Australian University is through an evaluation of the Curriculum and letters of recommendation. The evaluation is based on the educational qualifications, life experience and work experience. This option is known as “RPL” (“Recognition of prior learning”, or recognition of the completed studies). This evaluation is made in the Australian NOOSR (report of National Department the Recognition of Foreign Aptitudes) and the Embassy can supply the contacts. Duration of the Degree in Australia A Bachelor degree generally takes three years, and can also be done in only two years in some universities (such as Bond) with fewer days holiday. The majority of the structures offer the opportunity to combine two qualifications. In that you will be able to finish a University with a two qualifications or a “Double Degree” by studying one more year. Rajesh Kumar 11

to complete. For all Australian citizens, the government provides a interest free loan called “HECS”, which only needs to be paid once that person is earning above a certain level ($28,000 p.a). Australia provides the world’s most rigorous protection for international students through the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000. Tuition and financial assurance for international students is also provided under the Act, so that if an institution is not able to meet its commitments, the student will receive an alternative placement or a refund. It ensures a nationally consistent approach to provide registration and enables the Australian Government to monitor education providers. Breaches of the Act are treated very seriously and the penalties can be significant, including losing the right to enrol students. English Tests for Universities and Foundation - The test IELTS is the
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ducation in Canada is provided, funded and overseen by federal, provincial, and local governments. Education is within provincial jurisdiction and the curriculum is overseen by the province. Education in Canada is generally divided into Elementary (Primary School, Public School), followed by Secondary (High School) and Post Secondary (University, College). Within the provinces under the ministry of education, there are district school boards administering the educational programmes. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18. Canada generally has 190 school days in the year, officially starting from September (after Labour Day) to the end of June (usually the last Friday of the month, Wednesday in some Ontario schools). Elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education in Canada is a provincial responsibility and there are many variations between the provinces. Starting at grade one, at age six or seven, there is universal publicly funded access up to grade twelve (or equivalent). Dependent on the province the age of mandatory entry is at 4-7 years. Children are required to attend school until the age of sixteen. Canada spends about 7% of its GDP on education. Since the adoption of section 23 of the Constitution Act, 1982, education in both English and French has been available in most places across Canada. Divisions by religion and language Originally all the provinces had educational systems divided by religion, but most provinces have abolished these. Ontario, Alberta, and certain cities in Saskatchewan are exceptions to this, as they still maintain publicly funded Separate district school boards (usually Catholic but occasionally Protestant). In Quebec, the Catholic Protestant divide was replaced with a French/English one in 1998. Québécois must attend a French School up until the end of high school unless one of their parents previously 10

Educational System in Canada
Liberal, Flexible and Full of Exceptions
attended an English-language school somewhere in Canada. Length of study Most Canadian education systems continue up to grade twelve. In Quebec, the typical high school term ends after Secondary V, the same as to grade eleven (age sixteen to seventeen); following this, students who wish to pursue their studies to the university level have to attend CEGEP. Pre-university In Canada, secondary schooling, known as high school, “école secondaire” or secondary school, differs depending
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on the province in which one resides. Additionally, grade structure may vary within a province and even within a school division. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in every province in Canada, except for Ontario and New Brunswick (where the compulsory ages are 18). Post-secondary education Post-secondary education in Canada is also the responsibility of the individual provinces and territories. Those governments provide the majority of funding to their public post-secondary institutions, with the remainder of funding coming from tuition fees, the federal government, and research grants.

Compared to other countries in the past, Canada has had the highest tertiary school enrollment as a percentage of their graduating population. Nearly all post-secondary institutions in Canada have the authority to grant academic credentials (i.e., diplomas or degrees). Generally speaking, universities grant degrees while colleges, which typically offer vocationally-oriented programmes, grant diplomas and certificates. However, some colleges offer applied arts degrees that lead to or are equivalent to degrees from a university. When Ontario had five years of high school, a three-year bachelor’s degree was common, but these degrees are being phased out in favour of the fouryear degree. Private schools In Canada there is no obligation for parents to place their children in the public school system, and about 8% of students are in the private system. A minority of these are elite private schools. These schools are attended by only a small fraction of students, but do have a great deal of prestige and prominence. It is not unusual for the wealthy and prominent in Canada to send their children to public schools, especially in the lower grades. A far larger portion of private schools are religious based institutions. Private Schools are also used to study outside the country. For example CCI has an Ontario curriculum, but the students study in Italy. Private Universities At present, all private universities in Canada maintain a religious history or foundation. British Columbia’s Quest University will become the first privately funded liberal arts university without a denominational affiliation (although it is not the first private liberal arts university). Many provinces, including Ontario and Alberta, have passed legislation allowing private degree-granting institutions (not necessarily universities) to operate there. Many Canadians remain polarized on the issue of permitting private universities into the Canadian market. On the one hand, Canada’s top universities find it difficult to compete with the private American powerhouses because of funding, but on the other hand, the fact that the price of private universities tends to exclude those who cannot pay that much for their education could prevent a significant portion of Canada’s population from being able to attend these schools. Religious schools The role of religion in Canadian education has been controversial for centuries. At the time religious study was considered an integral part of education, but Protestants and Catholics were deeply divided over how this education should be delivered. Each province deals differently with private religious schools. In Ontario the Catholic system continues to be fully publicly funded, but other faiths receive no such funding. Ontario has several private Jewish, Muslim, and Christian schools, but all are funded through tuition fees. Since the Catholic schools system is entrenched in the constitution, the Supreme Court has ruled that this system is not unconstitutional. In other provinces privately operated religious schools are funded. These schools have to follow the provincial curriculum and meet all standards, but are given considerable freedom in other areas. In all other provinces private religious schools receive some funding, but not as much as the public system. Residential School System The Canadian residential school system consisted of a number of schools for Aboriginal children, operated during the 20th century by churches of various denominations and funded under the Indian Act by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a branch of the federal government. The schools’ purpose was, according to the Indian Act, to “civilize” aboriginals, teach them English or French, convert them to Christianity, and end their traditional ways of life. Thus education in Canada is liberal, flexible and so fall of exception that almost any kind of study for any number of years is possible. Rodrigues
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Levels in education ( outside Quebec)
Pre-School or Nursery School up to the age 5. this consists of junior Kindergarten and Kindergarten. elementary school: refers to grades 1 through 6, but may also include grades 7 and 8. Grade 1-6 ( 6-12) junior high school: also called “middle school” or “intermediate school”. Grade 7 (12-13), Grade 8 (13-14), Grade 9 (14-15) High school College: two to three years leading to a diploma. university: in Ontario and the atlantic Provinces, university normally consists of three years leading to a Bachelor’s degree; four years leading to an advanced major degree, a double degree or (in Ontario) an Honours Bachelor’s degree (the latter is in Ontario usually required for Graduate school). in Western Canada, university normally consists of four years leading to a Bachelor’s degree (whether Honours, With distinction, or otherwise), and five years for a double major or for a Bachelor’s degree in certain specific fields. However, at many universities in Western Canada students are permitted to take up to ten years to complete a Bachelor’s degree part-time. Graduate school : One or two years leading to a master’s degree, depending on programme requirements. Four years leading to a doctoral degree.



Education in Belgium
in spite of three Linguistically grouped syllabus patterns, education in Belgium offers simplicity and uniformity in the educational process.

and basic mathematics, but also touches already a very broad range of topics like biology, music, religion, history etc., While morning lessons often concentrate on reading, writing and basic mathematics, lessons in the afternoon are usually about other topics like biology, music, religion, history or “do it yourself” activities. Flemish schools in Brussels and some municipalities near the language border, must offer French lessons starting from the first or the second year. Most other Flemish school offer French education in the third cycle. Primary schools in the French Community must teach a foreign language, which is generally Dutch or English, depending on the school. Primary schools in the German Community have obliged French lessons. There are also some private schools set up to serve various international communities in Belgium (e.g. children of seafarers or European diplomats), mainly around the larger cities.


ducation in Belgium is regulated and for the larger part financed by one of the three communities namely the Flemish, French and the German. All the three communities have a unified school system, with small differences between the different communities. The schools can be divided into three groups: 1. Schools owned by the communities like Flemish, French and German 2. Subsidized public schools, organized by provinces and municipalities and 3. Subsidized free schools, mainly organized by an organization affiliated to the Catholic church. The latter is the largest group, both in number of schools and in number of pupils. Education in Belgium is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 18. Private home education is possible, and the numbers are rising slowly.

While morning lessons often concentrate on reading, writing and basic mathematics, lessons in the afternoon are usually about other topics like biology, music, religion, history or “do it yourself” activities. Primary school
Primary school consists of six years and the subjects given are generally the same at all schools. Primary schooling is free and age is the only entrance requirement. Primary education is divided into three cycles: 1. First cycle (year 1 and 2) 2. Second cycle (year 3 and 4) and 3. Third cycle (year 5 and 6) Education in primary schools is rather traditional. It concentrates on reading, writing

secondary school

When graduating from primary school around the age of 12, students enter secondary education. Here they have to choose a direction that they want to follow, depending on their skill level and interests. Secondary education consists of three cycles: 1. First cycle (year 1 and 2), 2. Second cycle (year 3 and 4) and Third cycle (year 5 and 6) The first cycle provides a broad general basis, with only a few options to choose from

stages of education

The different stages of education are the same in all communities. Basic education consists of Pre-school - 6 years, Primary school: 6-12 years and Secondary school : 12-18 years. The Higher education consists of University and Polytechnic/Vocational university


Free pre-primary schooling is provided to every child from the age of 2 years 6 months. In most schools the children can start in school as soon as they reach this age, so class size for the youngest children grows during the year. The aim of the pre-school is to develop, in a playful way, children’s cognitive skills, their capacity to express themselves and communicate, their creativity and independence. There are no formal lessons or assessments, and everything is taught through playful way methods. Most pre-schools are attached to a particular primary school and often share buildings and other facilities. Some schools offer special pre-primary education for children with disabilities or other special needs.


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(e.g. Latin, additional mathematics, technology). This should enable students to choose from the different directions available in the second and third stages. The second and third cycle are much more specific in each of the possible directions. Usually the level of choice available to the pupils grows with their age. While the youngest pupils may choose at the most two or four hours per week, the oldest pupils have the opportunity to choose between different “menus”, like Math-Science, Sociology-Languages or LatinGreek. They are then able to shape the largest part of the time they spend at school. However some core lessons are compulsory like e.g. mother-tongue course, sport, etc... This mix between compulsory and optional lessons grouped in menus make it possible to keep class structures even for the oldest students. • Vocational Secondary Education (BSO): Very practical and very job specific education. Afterwards, several directions offer seventh, sometimes eighth, specialisation years. BSO is the only type of secondary education that does not qualify students to pursue higher education. If the student chooses to follow the optional 7th (and sometimes 8th) year, he/she will receive a diploma of the same level as a TSO diploma, which does allow him/her to pursue higher education. • Art Secondary Education: These schools link general and broad secondary education development with active art practice, ranging from performing arts to display arts. Depending on the direction, several subjects might be purely theoretical, preparing for higher education. Directions include dancing, acting, and several graphical and musical arts. Many students graduating from these schools go to music conservatories, higher ballet or acting schools or art colleges to further develop their art. Students with disabilities can follow Special Secondary Education of different types. organized by the government. Arts entrance exams to arts programmes, which are mainly of a practical nature, are organized by the colleges individually. Engineering Sciences lead to the degree of Master of Science, these faculties had a long standing tradition of requiring an entrance exam. The registration fee for any university or college is fixed by the government, and indexed yearly. Depending on whether the student is eligible and applies for financial aid, there are three prices: Bursary-student is one who is eligible and has applied for financial aid. (registration fee approximately €80). Almost-bursary student is a student who is not eligible for financial aid, but has a family income below €1.286,09. (registration fee approximately €320). Nonbursary student is Anyone not eligible for financial aid with an income above €1.286,09. (registration fee approximately €520). The financial aid awarded by the community governments depends on the income of the student’s family, and other familial circumstances, but is never more than approximately €3300 per year.

structure in Belgium

Secondary school is divided into four general types. Each type consists of a set of different directions that may vary from school to school. The general types are as follows: • General Secondary Education (ASO): This is known as ASO which is a very broad, general education, preparing for higher education. Once students have completed all six years, it is expected that they continue studying university or college. The job market considers an ASO diploma alone as useless, so a continued study in higher education is not only implied but even necessary to get a job. • Technical Secondary Education (TSO): The TSO is divided into two groups of education again: TTK and STK. The TTK courses focus more on technical aspects, the STK courses focus more on practical matters.

Higher education

Higher education in Belgium is organized by the two main communities, the Flemish Community and the French Community. German speakers typically enrol in institutions in the French Community or in Germany.

Bologna changes

Admission to universities and colleges
In Belgium anybody with a qualifying diploma of secondary education is free to enrol at any institute of higher education of their choosing. There are exceptions. Medicine/Dentistry students must take an entrance exam

A University education was not considered finished until the licentiate diploma is obtained. Occasionally it was possible to switch specializations after obtaining the candidate diploma. For example, a student with a mathematics candidate diploma was often allowed to start in the third year of computer science class. Sometimes a graduate diploma was also accepted as an equivalent to a candidate diploma, allowing for 2 or 3 more years of education at a University. Since the adoption of the Bologna process in most European countries, the higher education system in Belgium follows the Bachelor/Master system. The Bachelor’s degree takes 3 years. Distinction is to be made between the professional bachelor, which replaces the former graduate degree and which has a finality, and the academic bachelor which replaces the candidate degree and which gives access to master’s studies. Master’s degree is for 1 or 2 years. In Belgium, both Universities and Colleges are allowed to teach Bachelor and Master classes, either professional or academical. After obtaining a Master’s degree, talented students can pursue research projects leading to a doctorate degree. Ph.Ds are only awarded by Universities.

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Steve Rodrigues 11

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