Executive Summary

The Flemish Community of Belgium has a diversified publicly funded system of higher education, with five research universities and 16 professionally oriented university colleges. This network of institutions and the wide range of programmes they offer have ensured broad access to higher education for large sections of society and allowed the Flemish Community to achieve high rates of tertiary education attainment. The recent transfer of short-cycle associate degree programmes from the adult education sector to university colleges has further expanded the scope and reach of the higher education system. Over the last decade, academic staff in Flemish universities have been instrumental in achieving a significant increase in the number of publications produced by the Flemish research system. The Flemish Community now ranks among the top-performing OECD jurisdictions in terms of research productivity and citation impact.

Average spending per student on higher education institutions in the Flemish Community is around 30% above the OECD average, at a level similar to that in Austria and the Netherlands. Around 85% of total spending on higher education institutions comes from public sources. The Flemish Government uses carefully designed formulas, incorporating output variables, to allocate funds for core operations and for research to institutions and has significantly increased investment in research in recent years. However, budget envelopes for core operating funds have not fully kept pace with increased enrolment in the last decade, which, in combination with a largely open access admission system, has placed strain on institutional budgets. Moreover, challenges exist in a number of areas, including student progression and completion rates, support for research in university colleges, gender balance in the senior ranks of universities and the capacity of the system to respond to growing demand for lifelong learning. The table below provides a more detailed summary of key policy issues identified during the review and the corresponding recommendations formulated by the review team.

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