Bruges (Picture from Wikimedia)In Belgium, each language community – French, Flemish and German-speaking – runs its own education system. There is therefore no information on education at a national level.

Until very recently, vocational education from 16 years of age was above all reserved for young people who were not expected to achieve a positive outcome in mainstream education. However, everything has been implemented today to change this image. New measures have been taken to encourage work placements and apprenticeship contracts.

In Wallonia, for example, an agreement has been signed to make work placements, work-study programmes and modularising vocational and technical education at high school more widespread.

In Flanders, work placements are strongly recommended in technical and vocational secondary education. Social partners have also undertaken to create 75,000 jobs per year for pupils coming from vocational and technical high schools.

Government measures encourage enterprises to become involved in work-study programmes. The Federal Government has reduced social security contributions by €400 per quarter for employers who have arranged for tutors to supervise work placements and apprenticeships. Young people under the age of 18 and their host enterprises receive a premium, under certain conditions, for the contracts and agreements signed.


The Belgian education system – 2013

Flemish Community


Belgian system / Flemish Community (© Onisep / Elise Veteau)




French Community


Belgian system / French community (© ONISEP / Elise Veteau)




German Community


Belgian system / German Community (© Onisep / Elise Veteau)




The vocational pathway in Belgium


Full-time education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. Schooling is compulsory in all communities to the age of 18 for young people in part-time education.


Secondary education

The certificate of basic studies (certificat d’études de base – CEB), awarded at the end of primary school, allows pupils to attend secondary school education, which is divided into 2 pathways:

  • transitional mainstream education, which prepares pupils to continue their studies up to higher education, while offering opportunities of starting out in working life. On completing their studies, pupils are awarded an upper secondary education certificate (certificat d’enseignement secondaire supérieur – CESS).
  • vocational secondary education, which prepares pupils to start out on their working life while allowing them to continue their studies up to higher education. An upper secondary education certificate (CESS) and/or a qualification certificate (certificat de qualification – CQ) and/or a certificate of studies (CE6P) are awarded at the end of the course.

Part-time vocational training: from the age of 16, young people can pursue their studies in part-time compulsory vocational education. This system concerns, in particular, young people likely to drop out of school. It is also open to 15 year-olds who have completed their first year of secondary education.


Higher education

Students who have been awarded the CESS can pursue their studies at university, college and schools for the arts. Students from Hautes Ecoles who obtained a Baccalauréat can pursue their education in university

In the colleges, students can pursue long-term studies in the field of science and technology. The course is divided into 2 cycles.

  • The first cycle, called the transition cycle, lasts for 3 years and leads to a Bachelor’s degree.
  • The second cycle is profession-oriented, lasts for 2 years and leads to a Master’s degree.

Pupils can opt for short-term training organised in a single, profession-oriented cycle. This lasts for 3 years and leads to a Bachelor’s degree through theoretical and practical training. At the end of the cycle, students can go on to study for an extra year in certain streams which award the title of specialised diploma (diplôme de specialisation).



Apprenticeships are geared towards young people from the age of 15 or 16, who benefit from having the status of apprentices. Training is mainly conducted through hands-on experience (3½ to 4 days a week) and prepares pupils for jobs in sectors such as trades and crafts, business, industry and the tertiary sector. Apprenticeships last from 1 to 3 years according to the trade in question.


Key figures

  • In Belgium, in 2010, 73.1% of pupils in the 2nd cycle of secondary education were enrolled in a vocational pathway.
  • In July 2013, the unemployment rate for young Belgians stood at 23,8% (European average : 23,3%). (Eurostat – 2013)
  • Horizontal mobility between pathways is being developed: in Belgium (Flemish community), 12% of pupils who had started in mainstream education were awarded a diploma in the vocational pathway in 2009. (OECD – 2011)
  • The employment rate of Belgian students trainees one year after graduation is 73.2%. (CEDEFOP – 2012)

Last update : 21/02/2018