Organisation of doctoral studies
Third-cycle studies include doctoral programs and work related to the preparation of a doctoral thesis.
Within the inter-university Graduate Colleges under the F.R.S.-FNRS, one or more Graduate Schools may be created, approved by the ARES on the advice of the university thematic Chamber, in order to better correspond to the organisation of research and to guarantee the quality of doctoral studies. A Graduate School can thus be part of several Graduate Colleges under the F.R.S.-FNRS. Each Graduate School is placed under the responsibility of a scientific committee.
The Graduate School in Arts and Art Sciences organises training activities intended to accompany the doctorate in Arts and Art Sciences, closely articulating arts and sciences and not confusing it with either research in arts or research on arts. This double aspect of the doctorate in Arts and Art Sciences makes it necessary for Universities and Art Colleges to collaborate in supporting doctoral students in this field.
Doctoral studies and preparatory work for the doctorate are carried out in research teams - the size of which varies according to the discipline - under the direction of a promoter, at the university or in close collaboration with the university, and may lead to a Level 8 certificate exclusively awarded by a university.
The doctoral studies are linked to the specific skills of the research teams and give the graduates a high scientific and professional qualification. They can lead to the issuance of a training certificate in research with a lump-sum of 60 ECTS of training. They essentially consist of specific activities related to the practice of research and therefore cannot include more than 30 ECTS of learning activities (courses organized by the institution, including lectures, tutorial exercises, practical work, laboratory work, seminars, creative exercises and workshop research, excursions, visits and training courses).
Holders of an in-depth master's degree in the same field benefit from an automatic valuation of the maximum 30 ECTS for these learning activities.
The academic degree of doctor is conferred after the defence of a thesis demonstrating the recipient's ability to be creative, to conduct scientific research and to disseminate his/her results.
Under the general conditions fixed by the academic authorities, students with a scientific research master’s degree for at least 120 ECTS have access to third-cycle studies with a view to obtaining the related degree.
Moreover, in addition to a diploma, degree or second-cycle certificate issued in the French Community or elsewhere, the board of the studies concerned may award all the higher studies successfully completed by a student for at least 300 ECTS, with any additional conditions.
By way of derogation from these general conditions and the additional conditions which they lay down, the academic authorities may also admit to postgraduate studies holders of a diploma, degree or certificate issued outside the French Community who, in this system of origin , gives direct access to doctoral courses or studies and work related to the preparation of a doctoral thesis, even if the studies sanctioned by these titles or degrees are not organized in separate cycles or in at least five years.
This admission must be exceptional and duly justified, in particular on the basis, of the formal and genuine proof of this ability to pursue doctoral studies in the original system.
No one may obtain the degree of doctor without having successfully completed a corresponding doctoral program.
Status of doctoral students/candidates
All doctoral students have the status of students. They are also researchers in their own right and members of the academic community of their institution, represented as such on the different bodies of their university at which decisions about programs and regulations are taken.
There are four possibilities for the financing of a doctoral thesis, and the status of the doctoral student depends on which option is used :
- A student wishing to prepare a doctorate may obtain a post as an assistant at one of the universities. The contract has a maximum term of six years full-time equivalent (contract renewable every two years) ;
- Doctoral grants are awarded by the research grant funds, in particular by the FRS-FNRS, WBI (Wallonia-Brussels International) and the Walloon Region. These fixed-term grants may be obtained following the favourable classification of a research project examined by a committee. The research grants are subject to social security, but exempt from tax. The universities may also award grants (training grants, doctoral grants or post-doctoral grants, including through Concerted Research Actions and Special Research Funds) ;
- The doctorate may also be financed by means of an employment contract as researcher within the framework of either an agreement between the university and a public body, or a university-private sector research partnership ;
- It is also possible to carry out a doctorate on one's own funds. In this case, it is up to the doctoral student to find a way to finance his or her research years.
The position of assistant involves participation in the work of supervising students (supervision of practicals, seminars, invigilating at examinations, etc.) for up to 50% of the time, whereas doctoral students with a grant or under an employment contract are not subject to such an obligation.
Since 1996, the universities have been authorised to award doctoral grants which are not subject to withholding tax on professional income, but are subject to social security. In principle, therefore, the doctoral student receiving a grant from a university should benefit from the same social status (in terms of sickness and invalidity cover, family allowance, unemployment benefit, pension, pension etc.) whether he or she is a scholarship holder or under an employment contract. However, the social cover (entitlement to unemployment benefit, maternity leave and holiday pay in particular) may vary depending on the type of grant.
Current expenses associated with doctoral research (operating costs, use of equipment) are normally payable by the unit to which the student is attached or by funders. Additional resources may be available for certain occasional expenses, such as participation in conferences, seminars and meetings and research trips abroad.
The "landscape" decree doesn't stipulate anything about supervision arrangements for PhD students.
The university institutions have progressively implemented various initiatives with a view to publicising employment opportunities, training PhD students in the acquisition of transversal skills, and assisting graduates in finding a job.
The universities have close links with the socio-economic world through research work conducted in collaboration with industry, a research commercialisation policy, the creation of numerous spin-offs and the development of science parks.
Enterprise-University interface units have been created by each of the universities under their own individual arrangements. The LIEU network brings together the interface units and the units for the valorization of research performed in Universities in the French Community.
According to the site, the interface units have the following roles :
- to create dialogue between companies and universities in order to encourage partnerships between them ;
- to develop the universities’ scientific and technical potential ;
- to use the skills of universities and research bodies to increase companies’ technical capabilities ;
- to orient the universities’ scientific skills towards the needs of the economy ;
- to make the research activities, skills and equipment of the university’s scientific services better known to local and international companies ;
- to make universities more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Council of French-Speaking Rectors has published a guide to facilitate such partnerships, and public grants are available to finance cooperation projects.
The work related to the preparation of a doctoral thesis corresponds to 180 ECTS acquired after an initial training leading to a master's degree (120 ECTS) or equivalent level.
The doctoral degree is awarded to students who :
- developed new knowledge at the most advanced frontier of a field of study and research, or at the interface of several fields, and demonstrated mastery of skills and methods of research ;
- demonstrated the ability to design, plan, implement and adapt a comprehensive scientific or artistic research process with due respect for integrity ;
- have contributed, through original research, to pushing the boundaries of knowledge or the field of art, developing meaningful works, some of which deserve publication or national or international diffusion according to the usual standards ;
- are able to integrate knowledge to critically analyze, evaluate and synthesize new, complex and highly specialized scientific or artistic proposals in their field, or at the interface of several fields ;
- are able to communicate, beginning in a critical dialogue, on their field of expertise with their peers, the scientific or artistic community in the broad sense, or with sophisticated audiences ;
- are capable, within their academic or socio-professional environment, of contributing actively to societal, scientific, technical, artistic or ethical progress in a knowledge and sensitive society.
The academic degree of doctor is awarded after defending a thesis demonstrating the doctorand’s creativity and ability to carry out scientific research and disseminate its results. The doctoral examination consists of :
- the production of an original dissertation in the discipline, in the form of either a thesis of personal character, or an essay by the candidate showing the value of a coherent set of publications and achievements for which the candidate is author or co-author ;
- the public presentation of this work highlighting its qualities and originality, as well as the candidate’s ability for scientific popularisation.
The faculty boards in particular are authorised to specify the prerequisites for admission to the preparatory work for a thesis or prior to the submission of a thesis, additional practical procedures relating to submission, the organisation of the private examination and the public defence, and the deliberation procedures and operational arrangements of the specific examination boards.
Third-cycle programmes in higher education comprise research training, leading to a research training certificate, and the preparation of a doctoral thesis, leading to the academic degree of doctor. These qualifications are at level 8 of the European Qualifications Framework for life long learning.
Diplomas certifying the academic degrees and certificates attesting successful completion of studies are awarded by boards made up of academic authorities.
For third-cycle university studies, the title is the name of the accredited graduate college or the research domain(s). The degree of doctor is mentioned in the title of the defended thesis.
There are no organisational variation for third-cycle higher education.