In higher education, owing to the expansion of international exchange programmes in recent years and in particular the Erasmus programme, the proportion of students completing part of their curriculum in a non-EU country is growing significantly. Higher education institutes encourage student exchanges. Agreements between a higher education institute in the French Community and foreign counterparts may stipulate that certain courses or activities will be provided in the foreign institutes, and that the exams pertaining to these activities will also be organised in these institutes according to their rules. The foreign higher education institutes eligible for such agreements must be recognised by the foreign authorities competent for higher education, organise study programmes or participate in the organisation thereof, and award credentials equivalent to at least a first cycle degree. Higher education institutes form partnerships amongst themselves, as well as with other Belgian or foreign institutions or legal persons in the scientific, educational, professional or cultural spheres, and may enter into collaboration agreements with these partners. The agreements may concern the provision of studies in the domains for which they are accredited, and the awarding of academic credentials relating to these. For agreements that concern education, the partner institutions must be recognised by the national authorities competent for higher education.
In the case of universities, a curriculum may impose on students a minimum number of credits earned in a different institution from the one in which he or she is enrolled. If this mobility leads a student outside the territory of the French Community, the university must bear the additional expenses related to registration, travel and lodging.
The promotion of mobility for students in vocational education and training is essentially brought about through the European programmes (Leonardo, Socrates, Jeunesse). However, there are also bilateral actions centred on the exchange of students, some of which relate to technical and vocational education. There are also internal exchange programmes (between Belgium’s regions and linguistic communities), which allow students in vocational or technical education to participate in mobility (including through internships).
In 2004 the French Community created a Student Mobility Assistance Fund (FAME), which complements the European subsidies. At each beneficiary institution, at least 50% of the available budget must be used for students who receive a study allowance in the year before their departure. Mobility in this context relates to the European Higher Education Area, but also to the other Communities of Belgium. The French Community also gives support to the beneficiaries of certain European mobility programmes. The amounts of grants vary between €150 and €400 per month.
The curriculum of an haute école may impose a minimum number of credits which must be taken outside the French Community. If the student has no alternative to the travel that this requires, the haute école must pay the additional enrolment fees and travel and accommodation expenses to enable the student to attend the courses concerned. The curriculum of future lower secondary teachers of Germanic languages includes hours allocated for the completion of a language stay in one of the languages studied, for at least two weeks.
The French Community is also well aware that the mutual recognition of study certificates, diplomas, examinations, course credits and other qualifications obtained abroad is an essential condition for intensifying mobility and exchanges. All equivalence decisions are based on the regulatory provisions related to the organisation of education that are in force on the date when the decision is made. In no case may the recognition of equivalence result in recognising studies that are not at least equal to the corresponding Belgian studies, nor may the beneficiary have access to studies, which would not be accessible to him or her in the country where the diploma was conferred.
The Equivalences Service is responsible for undertaking a single, overall examination of the administrative and educational aspects of applications from pupils from foreign countries. If an additional educational opinion is required by the Ministry of the French Community, the opinion of the General Inspection Service is requested. Equivalence enquiries relating to certificates for the fourth stage of complementary vocational secondary education, nursing care section, must form the subject of an additional examination and a preliminary opinion from the General Department of Health of the Ministry of the French Community.
For diplomas that give access to higher education, the system's general philosophy, directly inspired by the 1953 Council of Europe Convention on the equivalence of diplomas that give access to higher education, is that for foreign students wishing to begin or continue studies in Belgium, equivalence is subject to Belgium’s own education regulations. Students may not gain more extensive rights than those they would be entitled to in the country in which they completed their studies or passed the exams that they hope to have recognised as equivalent. This ‘escape clause’ exists primarily to prevent mobility that could be construed as ‘negative’, because rather than being based on a desire for further development by taking courses in another education system, it is motivated by it being impossible to pursue such studies in the country where the secondary education diploma was conferred.
Equivalence for a diploma can also be requested in order to obtain employment.
At the higher education level, Belgium has a legal and regulatory framework which makes it possible to recognise practically all diplomas that have been earned abroad, whatever their level, the discipline concerned, and the country where they were conferred. It is the law of 19 March 1971 and the decrees that followed in its wake that determine the conditions for granting equivalence, as well as the procedure in force for handling the request. Equivalence can be granted for periods of study, exams, or diplomas and other certificates obtained in an educational institution in a foreign system. It can be full or partial, in which case the applicant may be subject to additional exams (one or several exams or even one or several years of study) applicable to subjects included in the corresponding Belgian curriculum. The Minister whose portfolio encompasses university education decides on all full equivalence requests for foreign diplomas and certificates for which there are no general measures. Under certain conditions, it is the remit of university authorities to recognise full or partial equivalence between foreign diplomas or certificates and the academic degrees that they confer. Similar provisions have been adopted for short- and long-type higher education diplomas. Depending upon the case, the Minister whose portfolio encompasses higher education or the haute école authorities decide on equivalence requests. To facilitate the process of recognition of diplomas, the French Community’s higher education establishments have been progressively adopting the ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) since 2004-2005.Since February 2009, with regard to the exercise of functions in pre-primary, primary, ordinary and specialised secondary, artistic, social advancement and higher non-university, and part-time arts education institutions of the French Community and the associated boarding institutions, and in the Centres for Psychological, Medical and Social Services, the French Community has treated as equivalent to an educational qualification any qualification that is issued by a non-EU country, that is recognised by a European Union Member State and whose holder has three years’ certified professional experience in the profession concerned in the territory of that Member State.
The system of gateways is applicable to both students who completed their studies in the French Community and those who studied entirely or partly abroad and benefit from total or partial equivalence delivered in the French Community.
Academic staff mobility
At political level, there has been no specific commitment of the French Community to increase academic staff mobility. There is therefore no implementation of specific instruments. However, it's important to mention that Higher education institutes encourage the exchange of staff: the agreements made between Belgian and foreign Higher education institutes can include provisions for the exchange of staff members.
Part 2 of the Comenius project consists of providing support to transnational projects and mobility activities aiming to promote the professional development of all categories of personnel involved in school education. The Leonardo da Vinci project includes scholarships allowing exchanges between trainers, designers and managers of training programmes, for example universities, human resource managers, vocational guidance specialists, linguistic tutors, with a view to preparing initial or in-service training programmes. These initiatives also support cooperation between companies and universities.
In addition to the various exchange and mobility possibilities offered to teaching and academic personnel by the many programmes organised by the international organisations, the French Community takes care to maintain and reinforce its own structures. The Association for the Promotion of Education and Training Abroad (APEFE) is now grouped with the other administrations of an international character within Wallonia-Brussels International (Espace international Wallonie-Bruxelles, EIWB).
The APEFE aims to fulfil 7 objectives :
- promoting sustainable human development, international solidarity, the fight against poverty and exclusion ;
- contributing to the rule of law and international justice ;
- restoring human dignity for the most disadvantaged and contributing to gender equality ;
- protecting minorities and contributing to gender balance ;
- preventing conflicts and preserving peace ;
- deploying an ethical, equitable and balanced approach wherever it operates ;
- preserving the environment and access to natural resources.
Every year, APEFE organises 250 long- and short-term missions in 15 countries. The countries in question are among the world’s poorest as measured by the UNDP’s human development index. Its interventions prioritise sub-Saharan Africa (the Great Lakes region in particular), where at least 50% of its budgetary resources are deployed.
Eventually, even though it can not be considered "international" mobility strictly speaking, it should be noted that the "Fonds Prince Philippe" also funds projects in Higher Education between institutes of the three Belgian communities. Staff mobility is funded in this context.