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5 world-class universities

The universities of Flanders represent the first pillar of the higher education system, and play a major role in the output of R&D in Flanders. The region’s 5 universities generate almost 90% of all of the non-private scientific output of Flanders.

These 5 universities are:

  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven),
  • Universiteit Gent (UGent),
  • Universiteit Antwerpen (UAntwerpen),
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB),
  • Universiteit Hasselt (UHasselt).


Public funding for the universities originates from 3 budgetary flows: a basic allowance, support granted on a competitive basis, and a variety of project-based sources.

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven)

  • Belgium’s first university, established in 1425.
  • Known for its intensive research and international orientation.
  • Largest university in Belgium and the Low Countries.
  • Ranks 42nd in the world according to the Financial Times 2021 Higher Education Ranking. 
  • Comes in at number 76 worldwide in the 2022 QS World University Rankings. 
  • Claims the number 95 position in the 2022 Shanghai Ranking.
  • Is considered Europe’s most innovative university and 7th-most innovative in the world (Thomson Reuters, 2019). 

Universiteit Gent (UGent)

  • Ghent University was established in 1817.
  • Recognized as socially committed and pluralistic and is not connected to any religion or ideology.
  • Strives for excellence in niche research areas
  • Consistently within the top 100 universities of the world, ranking 74th in the 2022 Shanghai Ranking. 
  • Ranks number 48 in the list of Europe’s most innovative universities (Thomson Reuters, 2019).
  • Comes in at number 143 globally in the 2022 QS World University Rankings. 

Universiteit Antwerpen (UAntwerpen)

  • Founded in 1852, Antwerp University is the third-largest university in Flanders.
  • Has a reputation for competitive research and an entrepreneurial approach.
  • Ranks 93rd in the list of Europe’s most innovative universities (Thomson Reuters, 2019).
  • Ranks among the top 300 universities worldwide according to the 2022 Shanghai Ranking.

Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

  • VUB was established in 1834.
  • Pluralistic and open to all students on the basis of equality; managed extremely democratically.
  • Strongly research-oriented; its scientific publications are cited on average more than articles produced by any other university in Flanders.
  • Ranks 59th in the list of Europe’s most innovative universities (Thomson Reuters, 2019). 
  • Ranks among the top 400 universities worldwide according to the 2022 Shanghai Ranking. 

Universiteit Hasselt (UHasselt)

  • Hasselt University is a young university, established in 1971.
  • Extremely active in sciences and business fields.
  • Known for its strengths in life and computer sciences.

Top-notch university colleges

The 2nd pillar of Flanders’ higher education system are the hogescholen, or university colleges. These colleges provide higher education and advanced vocational training. Since the academic year of 2013-2014, university college academics have been integrated into the university system. This integration took place within the framework of the “associations”, or cooperation agreements between one university and one or more university colleges. These associations were set up at the introduction of the bachelor-master structure in 2004 and are the result of the Bologna process.

The bachelor qualification is the highest obtainable degree from university colleges; master’s diplomas (and higher degrees) remain the sole domain of the universities. Several university colleges are currently in the process of merging, remaining affiliated to one of the five associations: KU Leuven, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels and Limburg.