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Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation

Belgium - Flemish Community

13.Mobility and internationalisation

13.7Bilateral agreements and worldwide cooperation

Last update: 27 November 2023

Bilateral agreements

Bilateral cooperation is possible within the framework of cultural and cooperation agreements. Some of these agreements are concluded by Belgium and implemented by the regions. Others are concluded by the Flemish Community, which was given the power to sign treaties in 1993. Flanders has concluded bilateral cooperation agreements with 27 countries since 1993. In these agreements, the parties offer scholarships on a reciprocal basis to enrol in an advanced course, to engage in scientific research, or the take part in a summer school.

Cooperation with the neighbouring countries is described in 13.1 'Mobility programmes in elementary and secondary education'. Cooperation with the Netherlands is discussed here below.

Cooperation with the Netherlands

This cooperation between the Flemish Community and the Netherlands is based on various treaties and agreements.

Dutch Language Union

The Dutch Language Union was established in 1980, when the Netherlands and the Flemish Community signed the Language Union Treaty. This supranational body paved the way for Flanders and the Netherlands to act as one single common linguistic community at international level. The Union contributed to the development of the Dutch language, Dutch-speaking education, Dutch literature and the promotion of reading. The Taalunieversum website features a.o. an electronic alert list containing summaries of articles on the teaching of Dutch published by Dutch and Flemish journals, a lexicon of Dutch, Surinam and Flemish education terminology and/or abbreviations.

Cultural Treaty between Flanders and the Netherlands

This cultural treaty on close cooperation in the areas of culture, education, science and well-being was signed in 1995. On a regular basis the Cultural Treaty Commission advises the Dutch and the Flemish Governments, and organises conferences and study days.

Open University

The Dutch Open University (OU) was founded in 1984. This university offers people the opportunity to follow a university level course at their own pace outside of the normal daytime courses offered by the universities. The Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) signed a cooperation agreement with the Dutch OU. 

The Flemish Department of Education and Training provides an annual budget of €632.000 for funding the open higher education study centres hosted on the six campuses (Antwerp, Brussels, Diepenbeek, Ghent, Kortrijk and Leuven) of the five Flemish universities (Antwerp University, Free University Brussels, Ghent University, Hasselt University and KU Leuven) ad their cooperation with the Open University of the Netherlands. The study centres are designated to provide pedagogical supprt to students who are enrolled in courses at the OU.

The Open Universityh of the Nehterlands is also the host institution for two UNESCO chairs: one on 'Knowledge transfer for sustainable development supported by ICTS' and one on 'Open Educational Resources' (OER).

The course materials of the university were initially not accessible free of charge for the learner but were always offered at affordable prices. In recent years the Open University is evolving in the direction of OER, by gradually putting course materials freely accessible via the internet.

External reviews within education and accreditation

As early as 1992 the Organisation of Cooperating Dutch Universities (VSNU) and the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) concluded a cooperation agreement on external reviews within education. External assessment panels composed of Dutch and Flemish members checked the quality of the programmes taught. On 3 September 2003 Flanders and the Netherlands signed a cooperation treaty on the accreditation of higher education courses within the framework of the introduction of the three tire structure (Bachelor-Master-Doctorate) in accordance with the Bologna Process. Under this treaty the joint independent Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organisation (NVAO) was founded. Together with the Parliamentary Act on the Reform of Higher Education of 4 April 2003, this treaty formed the legal basis for the introduction of accreditation in Flanders.

The Treaty on the transnational University Limburg

In 1991 the Maastricht University (NL) and the University Centre Limburg in Diepenbeek (FL) decided to organise the joint discipline of 'knowledge technology'. The Treaty on the Transnational University Limburg (tUL) was signed in 2001. The tUL is entitled to award Bachelor and Master degrees in listed fields of study. These certificates are automatically recognised in Flanders and the Netherlands.

Cooperation between universities and university colleges

Dutch and Flemish universities and university colleges also cooperate in numerous ways. The Flemish Community’s IWETO-database (Science and Innovation Administration Research Database System – Inventaris Wetenschappelijk en Technologish Onderzoek Databank) contains over 1000 scientific joint ventures between Flemish universities (not university colleges or scientific institutions) and Dutch institutions. At times this cooperation extends even further. For instance, the universities of Aachen, Liège, Maastricht and Diepenbeek (the Meuse-Rhine Euregion) work together under the common denominator ALMA while cooperation between university colleges is known under the name HORA EST. Furthermore, every year a number of Dutch-Flemish meeting days are held on higher education.

Cooperation and participation in worldwide programmes and organisations

Funding programme for internships in multilateral organisations

Internships at international organisations are usually unpaid. Combined with the often high living expenses in the cities where these organisations are based, this constitutes a serious financial barrier to gaining international experience in multilateral organisations. Therefore the Flemish Government introduced the Flanders Trainee Programme to support young people at the start of their career. The Flanders Trainee Programme also contributes to the worldwide distribution of Flemish expertise and to enhancing the visibility of the Flemish government in international organisations. In addition, a network of contacts is built within the Flemish international policy domain.

On 18 February 2011 the Flemish government approved the Parliamentary Act on the Subsidisation of Internships at International Organisations. Compared with the previous act from 29 September 2006, a number of changes has been made, such as an increase in the number of international organisations eligible for funding. 

A Ministerial Order, also adopted on the 18th of February 2011, defined lump sums for living and accommodation expenses in the framework of the subsidisation of the internships at international organisations. To be eligible for financial support candidates must be under the age of 35, have received an internship offer from an international organisation, and hold a certificate from an institution of secondary or higher education funded or subsidised by the Flemish government.

Cooperation within the framework of the Council of Europe

Belgium is one of the founding members of the Council of Europe. Flanders is represented in the Council of Europe Standing Conference of Ministers on Education and in the various working groups on citizenship, intercultural dialogue, language education, ethis and integrity, sustainable development and the Pestalozzi training programme for the professional development of teachers and education actors. The Flemish Department of Education and Training is represented in the Council of Europe's Steering Committee for Educational Policy and Practice (CDPPE).

Cooperation within the framework of the OECD

Belgium is one of the founding members of the OECD. The Department of Education and Training of the Flemish Community is represented in ther Education Policy Committee (EDPC), the governing board of CERI and various OECD networks. At present the department participates in the comparative skills assessment programmes PISA, PIAAC and TALIS.

Flanders also regularly participates in theme specific reviews, which are carried out with the help of independent external experts. These reviews begin with the drafting of a background report, followed by a visit from OECD experts who spend a number of days studying the theme in question before they compile their report on the specific policy pursued by Flanders. The OECD regularly publishes studies on education (Education GPS and Education Policy Outlook), which also cover Belgium.

Every year the OECD publishes 'Education at a Glance', which is a comparative review of the OECD countries based on the OECD education indicators.

Cooperation within the framework of UNESCO

On 6 March 1998 Flanders signed a collaboration agreement with UNESCO. Officials from the Department of Education and Training regularly attend the UNESCO general conference, and specific meetings on subjects related to education (e.g. education for all, Lifelong Learning, ICT and Open Resources, the international recognition of qualifications, education on sustainable development, ...).

In 2004 the Flemish UNESCO committee was established, which includes representatives of the Ministry of Education and Training.

UNESCO@vlaanderen: onderwijs is an e-publication on the interaction between UNESCO and the educational field in Flanders.

Within the UNITWIN/UNESCO Chairs programme – aimed at encouraging universities to engage in transnational cooperation – three chairs have been established in Flanders.

Flanders also has 11 UNESCO-associated schools which prepare students for active citizenship, peace education and education for sustainable development. The UNESCO platform in Flanders coordinates ASPnet (Associated Schools Project Network) in Flanders, together with members of the Flemish UNESCO Committee.

Development cooperation

The Flemish policy on development cooperation is implemented by the VAIS (Flemish Agency for International Cooperation). Also the Flemish Ministry of Education and Training however supports development initiatives by other organisations.

Flemish Assocation for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB)

The Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB) was founded in 1982 as a nonprofit organisation. On the principle of 'Education for Development' VVOB aims to contribute to poverty reduction and to a fairer world with increased opportunities for all. The organisation's main aim is to sustainably improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of education and training in developing countries.

VVOB is a development organisation which works primarily by order of the Flemish and the Belgian federal government. The main aim of the organisation is to support capacity building of the partner institutions. The partner countries of VVOB are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, Suriname, Cambodia, Vietnam and South Africa.


VLIR-UOS provides travel grants of 1.000€ to students from Flemish universities and university colleges for a study visit of at least one month in a developing country. The study visit must be part of a recognised course component such as a traineeship or a final paper. VLIR-UOS also offers doctoral scholarships of two to four years to researchers from a Flemish university examining development related topics.

VLIR-UOS also provides scholarships to students from the South for a short study visit at a Flemish insitution, or to enrol in a master or doctoral programme in Flanders. So called South-South grants are also available, which support students from a developing country to study or perform research in another developing country.

Cooperation within the framework of ASEM-DUO

ASEM-DUO is a European Fellowship Programme which provides funding for the exchange of professors and students in tertiary education between Asia and Europe. Since 2012 Flanders takes part in the programme, where it cooperates with China, India, South Korea and Vietnam.

Washington Centre for Internships and Academic Seminars

The Washington Centre for Internships and Academic Seminars is an independent, nonprofit organisation, which provides selected students from colleges and universities in the United States and other partner countries opportunities to work and learn in Washington, D.C. The Centre offers two types of programmes:

  • Internships, which provide students with the opportunity of a semester- or summer-long integrated academic and work experience in government, corporate and nonprofit organisations.
  • Academic seminars, which provide intensive learning experiences focused on selected topics.

Cooperation between Flanders and the Washington Centre for Internships and Academic Seminars was initiated in 2010. As part of the cooperation Flanders provides mobility support to Flemish students to take part in the Centre's internship programmes.