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Short-cycle higher education

Belgium - Flemish Community

7.2.First-cycle programmes

7.2.2Short-cycle higher education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Higher vocational education (HBO5) was introduced on 1 September 2009.

Higher vocational education offers opportunities for students who wish to obtain a qualification at level 5 (in the Flemish and in the European framework, i.e. the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning (EQF for LLL)) via programmes of 90 and 120 credits. These programmes lead to an Associate Degree at qualification level 5.

Higher vocational education has a double finality. It provides relatively short programmes with a clear market oriented approach, but at the same time allow for a transfer to professional bachelor programmes.

The system of higher vocational education is currently under reform.

Branches of study

Higher vocational education contains 10 areas of study (which are identical to these of the professional bachelor programmes):

  1. Architecture
  2. Health care
  3. Industrial science and technology
  4. Biotechniques
  5. Education
  6. Socio-agogic work
  7. Commercial science and business management
  8. Audiovisual and visual arts
  9. Music and performing arts
  10. Nautical sciences

At the moment HBO 5 programmes are only organised in the following areas of study:

  1. Biotechniques
  2. Health care
  3. Commercial science and business management
  4. Industrial science and technology
  5. Socio-agogic work

Programmes of higher vocational education primarily rely on a modular offer.

Admission requirements

Holders of the following qualifications have access to higher vocational education in Flanders:

  1. a certificate of the second grade of the third stage of secondary education;
  2. a Secondary Education Certificate;
  3. a certificate of a programme of secondary education for social promotion of at least 900 teaching periods;
  4. a certificate of a programme of secondary adult education of at least 900 teaching periods;
  5. a qualification of higher education for social promotion;
  6. a certificate of higher vocational education;
  7. a qualification of higher vocational education;
  8. a qualification of short cycle higher education with a complete curriculum;
  9. a qualification of bachelor or master;
  10. a foreign qualification which is recognised by Flemish law, Belgian law, a European directive or an international agreement as equivalent to one of the above mentioned diplomas.

Without these certificates, a trainee can also be admitted via an admission test organised by the institution (i.e. secondary school, Adult Education Centre or university college).


The nursing programme however must offer certain basic competences which have been commonly determined. The programme must be consistent with the European Directive 2005/36/EC and the Belgian legislation concerning general nursing staff and the exercise of healthcare professions. The programme must therefore comprise at least 4,600 hours. In addition, since school year 2009-2010, educational institutions have had to require trainees to engage in at least four hours per week of programme-related personal activities (extra work placements, private study, dissertation, etc.) outside the weekly teaching timetable for the duration of the programme. The class council decides autonomously the format and content of these activities. In the nursing programme work experience placements may without exception be organised in accordance with the institution’s regulations; the prohibition in principle of work experience placements on Sundays, public holidays and at night does not apply here.

For the remaining HBO5 programmes there are currently various types of curricula:

  • Modular programme profiles laid down by the Flemish Government
  • Structural schemes approved by the competent Flemish minister
  • Approved curricula and timetables for linear programmes
  • Programme profiles linked to a certain institution for an Adult Education Centre who wants to update its programme offer and has submitted an application to this end with the Commission for Higher Education

All these programmes will have to be reformed and be based on one or more professional qualifications.

The institutions for higher education will draw up for all HBO5 programmes domain specific learning outcomes which will be validated by the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. On the basis of these domain specific learning outcomes each institution will establish its programme.

Teaching methods

Institutions of higher education are free to determine their own teaching methods.

Work experience placements will become a relevant and obligatory part of the HBO5 programmes. Depending on the situation of the students, his/her pathway and possible prior knowledge, the format and content of the work experience placement may differ. It is indispensable that the students takes actively part on the shop floor and combines work experience with learning.

The cooperation between programme and the employment sector, and the format of the work experience placements, form an important part of the new programme’s test which needs to be taken with the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders at the occasion of the organisation of a new programme or in the process of reforming an old programme. A strong interaction between theory and practice, input from the employment sector in the format and implementation of the programme and work experience placements are necessary preconditions to offer a high quality HBO5 programme.

Progression of students

For each module and course component an assessment is provided, in the format of continuous evaluation or in the form of a concluding assessment. The assessment aims at professionally evaluating the degree to which a student has reached the goals from the approved curriculum or course profile. In case a student does not pass in a fist evaluation period, a second evaluation period can be organised. In case a student does not pass in the second evaluation period, (s)he needs to reenrol for the module or course component in question. In case a student passes, (s)he is granted a certificate.

In case the modules of a programme or not sequentially organised, a students can determine himself in which sequence the modules are taken. To be granted access to a sequentially organised module, a student must hold a certificate of the sequentially preceding module in the learning pathway. The profile of a programme indicates which modules are organised sequentially.

Students enrol per module and are not obliged to finish the entire programme.

For those programmes which are not yet organised in modules (about 1,5% of the total offer) a student must pass the first year before being admitted to the second.


Specific to the HBO5 programmes is their direct link to a certain profession or a well delineated cluster of professions. The programmes are based on labour market relevant competences and are in that regard less generic than the professional bachelor programmes, which prepare for a broader field of action. The involvement of labour market sectors is large, since they determine the professional qualification on which the programmes are based. But also when drawing up the programme or implementing the programme the cooperation with the employment sector is larges, e.g. in the framework of work experience placements.

Student assessment

Each cooperation is responsible for drawing up an education and examination regulations for the HBO5 programmes. This document contains at least:

  1. the evaluation conditions
  2. the format of each evaluation
  3. the time periods within which these evaluations will take place
  4. the composition of the evaluation committees
  5. the way in which deliberation of the evaluation committees will take place and the evaluation results will be communicated
  6. the conditions under which a second evaluation period is organised

For the HVE nursing programme evaluation decisions are made by the class deliberating council. Under certain conditions, the class deliberating council’s final decision on whether a student has passed or failed a module may be deferred (e.g. to allow for remedial work experience placements), and the pupil may proceed to the next module. Integrated tests are not organised.

In higher vocational education, a second assessment period can be organised.


Within a cooperation the education institution grant together the associate degree with the corresponding certificates. 

The following certificates may be awarded upon the successful completion of the HBO5 nursing programme:

  • a certificate for each successfully completed module
  • a Secondary Education Certificate;
  • an Associate Degree. A Diploma Supplement is awarded with the qualification;
  • a certificate of the basics of business administration basics.

Certification for the nursing programme always takes place either on 31 January or on 30 June. In case a modular certificate is awarded after a deferred final decision, the actual award date is indicated.

For the remaining HBO5 programmes the following certificates or qualifications can be granted:

  • a certificate confirming that a particular unit of a temporary modular programme has been completed successfully;
  • a modular certificate confirmig that a particular module has been completed successfully;
  • a certificate confirming that a modular programme or a programme of less than 900 teaching periods has been completed successfully;
  • a certificate confirming that the course 'business administration' in the branch of study 'commerce' has been completed successfully;
  • a diploma confirming that the courses of study have been followed succesffuly;
  • an Associate Degree confirming that a programme offered at higher vocational educatin level, which comprises a minimum of 900 teaching periods and excluding specific teacher-training programmes has been successfully followed. A Diploma Supplement is automatically awarded with the Associate Degree.

Organisational variation

All HBO5 programmes are offered in various organisational formats. The majority of the programmes consists of independent modules. These are usually organised on a weekday, but sometimes also in the weekend. A small half of the offer is registered as daytime education, a third in the evening, and a small part is offered in combination with distance education.