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Dutch vs. Belgian Universities: A Side-by-Side Comparison

February 7, 2023

Both Belgium and The Netherlands are popular destinations for students pursuing a degree in higher education. With approximately 632.000 students enrolled in both countries for the 2022/2023 academic year, there are more than enough studies to choose between. However, despite their close proximity, there are some significant differences between universities in the two countries.

The first obvious difference is the language of instruction. In The Netherlands, most universities use Dutch as the language of instruction, although many also offer some courses in English (with most universities having between 10-50% international students). In Belgium, however, there is a much greater diversity of languages used in higher education, with both French, Dutch and English being commonly used, depending on the region. Knowing what the predominant language at the university is can be very useful to know beforehand, as studying at a university with several language barriers may be frustrating. 

Another difference is the particular approach to teaching and learning. Dutch universities tend to have a more informal and participatory approach (especially with the high number of polytechnics), with students often encouraged to take a more active role in their own education. Belgian universities, on the other hand, tend to have a more traditional and lecture-based approach, with a stronger emphasis on rote learning and memorization. Of course this does vary from institution to institution, but checking the approach beforehand (e.g. asking current students) can be very useful.

Lastly, there is also a difference in tuition fees between the two neighboring countries. In The Netherlands, tuition fees for domestic students are around €2.000, and fees for non-European students can reach up to €20.000. In Belgium, tuition for public universities starts around €500 and is usually 50% cheaper than most Dutch universities. However, this does vary per institution. Also bear in mind that the cost of studying is much more than just tuition, and that the city you live in (e.g. rent), the distance from the university (e.g. transport) and your lifestyle (e.g. groceries) are likely to have a much bigger financial impact.

Deciding which country suits you best can be a real challenge, but both countries offer outstanding higher education studies. As mentioned in other blogs, remember that choosing a university and study that matches who you are as a person (e.g. field, learning style, exchange opportunities, duration) is much more important than only basing your choice on a country. In fact, no matter where you study in either Belgium or The Netherlands, you’ll never be more than just a few hours away from the other country!

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