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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Main providers

Belgium - Flemish Community

8.Adult education and training

8.3Main providers

Last update: 27 November 2023

Various actors provide an offer for lifelong learning in Flanders: 

  • The strictly public providers: the Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency (VDAB) and the SYNTRA network (coordinated by the Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurial Training); 
  • Adult training in public educational institutions: basic adult education, part-time art education and agricultural training; 
  • The non-profit organisations: professional and employers’ associations, sectorial training funds and civil society organisations such as the Centre for Professional Training and institutions of socio-cultural training; 
  • The private providers of training.

The most prominent publicly financed providers of adult education and training are described here below.

Adult education

Adult education in Flanders is organised by the Adult Basic Education Centres (ABECs) and the Adult Education Centres (AECs).

  • Adult basic education, aimed at raising the general literacy level, is only organised by the 13 Adult Basic Education Centres. 
  • Secondary adult education is organised by the Adult Education Centres. 

The Adult Basic Education Centres are pluralist centres, established under the form of a non-profit organisation. Their general assembly must consist for at least ¼ of representatives of municipalities, provinces, cooperation agreements among local authorities, Public Social Welfare Centres, or districts. Each of the five Flemish provinces has two or three ABECs. A 13th centre was established in Brussels Capital. Here at least one representative of the Flemish Community must be part of the general assembly.

The Adult Education Centres are established as a free centre or as an official centre. Currently 34 AECs are spread over Flanders.

The ABECs and AECs are responsible for organising the programmes for which they hold educational responsibility, for granting valid proofs of study, for organising individual guidance for the course participants, and for managing the open learning centres. They can also grant official study certificates. The centres are supported by the School Advisory Services which are linked to the umbrella organisations.

The interests of the ABECs are promoted by the umbrella organisation Ligo Centres for Basic Education. The interests of the AECs are promoted by the Council for Community Education in Flanders and by the representative associations of the organising bodies for the other school networks. One center is not connected to a representative organisation.

As concerns their content the modular programmes of the ABECs are attuned to the programmes offered by the AEC, which allows for a smooth transition.

The Adult Basic Education Centres and the Adult Education Centres do not only cooperate amongst each other but also with other services such as the Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency (VDAB), the Public Social Welfare Centres, local authorities, … In the case of adult basic education the cooperation with VDAB concerns trainings on basic skills on the shop floor or improving arithmetic skills during professional programmes.

A close cooperation exits also with the agencies for integration and civic engagement and the non-profit organisation Huis van het Nederlands Brussel. These organisations target foreign mother tongue adults. They are responsible for the organisation and coordination of the intake, testing and referral of candidates for a course or programme and participants of the course ‘Dutch as a second language’ (NT2). Therefore they map out the offer of NT2 in their area of operation and examine the needs of foreign mother tongue adult who are searching for a course of NT2.


Job-seekers can follow a vocational training which is organised by the Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency (VDAB) or by a partner, partly financed by VDAB. The agency was established in 1989 with the aim of making the labour market in Flanders as transparent and dynamic as possible. In order to fulfil this assignment VDAB offers besides training and programmes also placement services and career guidance.

As an external autonomous agency VDAB is not directly governed by the minister of work but managed by a governing board. As part of the Flemish authorities the agency is accountable to the Flemish Government. VDAB is financed by the government and the ministers determine its policy priorities.

The goals and objectives of VDAB for the period 2015 – 2019 and the accompanying actions for the year 2015 are geared to the European employment strategy, the Flemish Government Agreement 2014-2019, and the Policy Paper on Work, Economics, Science and Innovation 2014-2019.

In an annual business plan VDAB indicates, departing from the policy priorities as determined in the annual Policy Brief on Work, which projects will be elaborated and where the services must be continued, refined and/or adapted. The VDAB business plan 2015 comprises the following strategic goals:


  • SG 1: Everybody a job: We activate each talent with a focus on a tailor-made approach.


  • SG 2: We invest in versatile pupils/youngsters by means of an effective framework for work-based learning.
  • SG 3: We invest in versatile employers in strong careers.
  • SG 4: We invest in entrepreneurship and versatile enterprises and organisations.
  • SG 5: We invest in the preconditions for an innovation-driven labour market policy.
  • SG 6 We invest in the European, international and interregional networks in the framework of the realisation of the own policies.

Various VDAB-programmes take place in provincially organised competence centres of VDAB. The agency has currently 93 offices and 55 training centres. The VDAB-programmes can also be organised at other places such as on the shop floor of a company (IBO, on-the-job-training), with a partner (education, Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurial Training or another training institution) or by means of mobile sections which take place in an alternating way and in partnerships (e.g. with public administrations) at various locations. VDAB also has a virtual campus for web-based learning.

The Flemish Employment Services and Vocational Training Agency and the Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurial Training have concluded a framework agreement which allows VDAB competence centres and SYNTRA-campuses to use each other’s learning workshops or places for practical training with specific (technical) equipment, class rooms with equipment (chairs, tables, whiteboards, data projectors) and computer classes. VDAB needs the class rooms primarily during the day while SYNTRA-programmes are mainly organised in the evening. The competence centres are also accessible for schools with their pupils, for maximum ten days per pupil and within an arranged planning.

SYNTRA Flanders

Since 2004 entrepreneurial training in Flanders is coordinated by the Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurial Training – SYNTRA Flanders.

The agency is managed by a governing board, which is assisted by a practice committee. Both bodies contain representatives from the representative organisations of employers and employees. In the governing board also representatives of the Flemish Government are members.

SYNTRA Flanders falls under the responsibility of the Flemish Minister of Work. The assignment of the agency is formalized in a management agreement between SYNTRA Flanders and the Flemish Government, which contains the strategic and operational goals of the agency.

The management agreement 2011-2015 contains the following six strategic goals for SYNTRA Flanders:

  1. SYNTRA Flanders as a performing instrument of the Flemish Government to inspire, support and implement the policy on entrepreneurial competences and training.
  2. SYNTRA Flanders and the SYNTRA centres strengthen their role as pivot for entrepreneurial training in order to create a market oriented strengthening of entrepreneurial competences.
  3. SYNTRA Flanders assumes fully its role and responsibility as the stimulating, steering and supervising authority with regard to the strategic partners with whom it cooperates.
  4. SYNTRA Flanders and the SYNTRA centres realise in a qualitative way by means of a future and (labour) market oriented provision of apprenticeships an enhanced intake and an enhanced qualified outflow.
  5. SYNTRA Flanders enhances the maturity of its own organisation by means of an improvement process.
  6. SYNTRA Flanders defines a path for improvement in order to realise measurable gains of efficiency.

From 2015 onwards a management agreement is no longer used but is replaced by an annual business plan with strategic and operational goals and accompanying action.

The SYNTRA network consists of five recognised centres for the training of self-employed and SMEs: the autonomous non-profit organisations SYNTRA West, SYNTRA Midden-Vlaanderen, SYNTRA Limburg, SYNTRA Brussel, and SYNTRA Antwerp and Vlaams-Brabant, with a total of 24 SYNTRA campuses spread over Flanders and Brussels.

In order to keep a finger on the pulse the Flemish Agency for Entrepreneurial Training applies a system of sectorial and professional committees. These contain sectorial pedagogical advisors from SYNTRA Flanders, experts, and representatives of the professional federations and sectorial funds. Each sectorial committee keeps track of new evolutions within the sector and elaborates, when needed, new training paths or makes alternations to existing ones. In this regard these committees form a platform for consultation and deliberation between the corporate and the educational world.

Part-time art education

Part-time art education (PAE) offers programmes for youngsters and adults in the field of visual arts, music, drama and dance. PAE aims at discovering, understanding and practicing art. It also offers a thorough preparation for higher art education.

The four disciplines of part-time art education are provided in two different types of schools (albeit regularly based in the same building): 

  • Academies for Visual Arts, 
  • Academies for Music, Drama and Dance.

Since school year 2009-2010 it is also possible to establish arts academies, by setting up new institutions, by merging existing institutions, or by transferring or merging existing branches. Arts academies are institutions that offer courses in the disciplines of visual arts and music and in one or more other disciplines.

Part-time art education is widely spread in Flanders. Most large and medium-sized cities have on their territory both types of schools. Most smaller communities have branches, where many students can follow the first stage of PAE closer to home.

Socio-cultural adult work

Socio-cultural adult work offers non-formal education with a focus on informal and non-formal learning. It comprises activities and organisations that contribute to the building of competent and emancipated persons. By doing so they contribute to community building. Persons participate on a voluntary basis. Socio-economic work is organised out of school and is detached from every form of professional training.

Socio-cultural adult work is organised in various forms: associations, movements and training institutions (adult education institutes/training plus centres and national training institutions).

An association consists of a network of divisions or groups, aimed at giving their members and participants a sense of meaning and emancipation with a view to personal and social development. An association has a communal function, a cultural function, an educational function and a social activation function. An association has at least 50 active (local) divisions or thematic or supra-local groups, spread across at least three provinces.

A movement is an organisation with a national character which is specialised in a theme or a cluster of closely-related themes. A movement has an educational and a social activation function. It organises activities in the field of awareness, education and social action with a view to bringing about social change. A movement addresses a broad audience.

An adult education institute or training plus centre is a pluralist organisation which aims at organising, structuring and coordinating the offer of non-formal education within a certain region. An adult education centre has besides a cultural and communal function primarily an educational function. The 13 adult education institutes in Flanders cover the need for non-formal education within their region by organising their own programmes and by cooperating with other actors of non-formal education.

The national training institutions comprise training institutions of trade unions, specialised training institutions and training institutions and services for disabled people. These institutions develop activities in at least four provinces or reach participants from at least four provinces.

Socio-cultural work in Flanders is supported by two organisations: - SoCius (support office of the sector) - The Federation of Socio-cultural Work (representative of the sector)

Socio-cultural work in Flanders resorts under the responsibility of the Minister of Culture. The Department of Culture, Youth, Sports and Media is responsible for preparing, following and evaluating the policy. The Agency Socio-Cultural Work for Youth and Adults is responsible for the policy implementation.

Agricultural training

Agricultural training in Flanders is organised in 48 recognised training centres. These centre are subsidized by the Flemish Community. The network consists of: 

  • 4 general centres for agricultural training 
  • 32 regional centres for agriculture training 
  • 12 training centres for agriculture at leisure

Agricultural training resorts under the responsibility of the Minister of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture and Fishery is responsible for the recognition of the providers (the recognized centres), the registration of the teachers, the subsidizing of the training activities, the inspections on the spot, the initialing of the certificates and the payment of the reimbursement for social promotion of the participants.