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Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Latin: Universitas Bruxellensis
Motto Scientia vincere tenebras (Latin)
Motto in English Conquering darkness by science
Established 1834/1970
Type Independent/Partly state funded
President Eddy Van Gelder
Rector Prof. Dr. Paul De Knop
Staff 2,582
Students 10,837
Location Brussels, Belgium Belgium
Campus Etterbeek and Jette
Colours orange, white, blue               
Affiliations University Association Brussels, UNICA, T.I.M.E.
Logo of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel About this sound listen is a Flemish university located in Brussels, Belgium.[1] It has two campuses referred to as Etterbeek and Jette.

The university's name is sometimes abbreviated by "VUB" or translated to "Free University of Brussels". However, it is an official policy of the university not to use abbreviations or translations of its name,[2] because of possible confusion with another university that has the same translated name: the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles.

In fact, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel was formed by the splitting in 1970 of the same Université Libre de Bruxelles, which was founded in 1834 by the Flemish-Brussels lawyer Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen. He wanted to establish a university independent from state and church, where academic freedom would be prevalent.[3] This is today still reflected in the university's motto Scientia vincere tenebras, or Conquering darkness by science, and in its more recent slogan Redelijk eigenzinnig (Dutch), or Reasonably opiniated. Accordingly, the university is pluralistic — it is open to all students on the basis of equality regardless of their ideological, political, cultural or social background — and it is managed using democratic structures, which means that all members — from students to faculty — participate in the decision-making processes.[4]

The university is organised into 8 faculties that accomplish the three central missions of the university: education, research, and service to the community. The faculties cover a broad range of fields of knowledge including the natural sciences, classics, life sciences, social sciences, humanities, and engineering. The university provides bachelor, master, and doctoral education to about 8,000 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students.[5] It is also a strongly research-oriented institute, which has led to its top-214 position among universities worldwide.[6] Its research articles are on average more cited than articles by any other Flemish university.[7]



The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an independent institution. The members of all its governing entities are elected by the entire academic community — including faculty staff, researchers, personnel, and students.[4] This system guarantees the democratic process of decision-making and the independence from state and outside organisations. Nevertheless, the university receives significant funding from the Flemish government, although less than other Flemish universities. Other important funding sources are grants for research projects (mostly from Belgian and European funding agencies), scholarships of academic members, revenues from cooperation with industry, and tuition fees to a lesser extent.

The main organisational structure of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is its division into faculties:[8]

These faculties benefit a wide autonomy over how they structure their educational programmes and research efforts, although their decisions need to comply with the university's statutes and must be approved by the central administration.

The central administration is formed by the Governing Board, which is currently presided by Eddy Van Gelder.[8] It decides the university's long-term vision and must approve all decisions made by the faculties. The Governing Board is supported by three advising bodies: the Research Council, the Education Council, and the Senate. These bodies provide advice to the Governing Board on all issues regarding research, education, and the academic excellence of faculty staff, and may also propose changes to the university’s strategy. The daily management of the university is the responsibility of the Rector and three Vice-Rectors. The current Rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is Paul De Knop.[8]


The Vrije Universiteit Brussel offers courses in a large variety of modern disciplines: law, economics, social sciences, management, psychology, physical sciences, life sciences, medical sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, humanities, engineering, physical education. About 10,000 students follow one of its 128 educational programmes.[9] All programmes are taught in Dutch, but 59 are also taught in English. In agreement with the Bologna process, the university has implemented the so-called bachelor-master system. It therefore issues four types of degrees: bachelor's, master's, master after master's, and doctoral degrees.

Admission to the programmes is generally not restricted; anyone can subscribe to the programme of his/her choice. However, prerequisite degrees may be mandatory for advanced programmes, e.g., a bachelor’s degree is required to subscribe to a master’s programme, and a master’s degree is required to subscribe to a master after master’s or doctoral programme. An exception to this is the admission exam to the bachelor in medicine, which is required following ruling of the Flemish government. Tuition fees are low, and even decreased or eliminated for some students with less financial means.

The academic year is divided into two semesters, each spanning thirteen course weeks: the first semester lasts from October to January, the second semester from February to June. Students take exams in January and June. Apart from the Christmas and Easter holidays (both lasting two weeks) that are normally used to prepare for the exams, students are free the week between both semesters and during the Summer holidays from July to September.

The university has implemented several quality control schemes in order to preserve the high quality of its educational programmes. Each semester, all students evaluate the courses they have followed. All programmes are also regularly assessed by internal panels and by external international visitation committees. Furthermore, all programmes are accredited by the Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatie Organisatie, an independent accreditation organisation charged with the accreditation of higher education programmes in both Flanders and the Netherlands.[10]


Notable faculty:



Establishment of a university in Brussels

The history of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is closely linked with that of Belgium itself. At the time of the declaration of independence of Belgium in 1830, three state universities existed in the cities of Ghent, Liège and Leuven. In Brussels, the capital of the newly established country, a university was lacking. A group of leading intellectuals in the fields of arts, science, and education — amongst whom Auguste Baron and the astronomer and mathematician Adolphe Quetelet — pointed out the advantages of a university to the new capital and country.[3] Initially, they sought for the establishment of a state university, but the Belgian government showed little enthusiasm due to the onerous financial burden of yet another state university.

In 1834, the Belgian episcopate decided to establish a Catholic university in Mechelen with the aim of regaining the influence of the Catholic Church on the academic scene in Belgium, and the Belgian government had the intent to close the state university at Leuven and donate the buildings to the Catholic institution.[11] The liberals in Belgium strongly opposed to this decision, and furthered their ideas for a university in Brussels as a counterbalance to the Catholic institution. At the same time, Auguste Baron had just become a member of the freemasonic lodge "Les Amis Philantropes", as had a large number of other intellectuals with enlightened ideas. Baron was able to convince Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, the president of the lodge, to support the idea for a new university. On 24 June 1834, Verhaegen presented his plan to establish a free university.[3]

After sufficient funding was collected among advocates, the Université Libre de Bruxelles was inaugurated on 20 November 1834, in the Gothic room of the city hall of Brussels.[12] After its establishment, the Université Libre de Bruxelles faced difficult times, since it did receive no subsidies or grants from the government; yearly fundraising events and tuition fees provided the only financial means. Verhaegen, who became a professor and later head of the new university, gave it a mission statement which he summarized in a speech to King Leopold I: the principle of free inquiry and academic freedom uninfluenced by any political or religious authority.[3]

Splitting of the university

In the nineteenth century, courses at the Université Libre de Bruxelles were taught exclusively in French, the language of the upper class in Belgium at that time. However, with the Dutch-speaking population asking for more rights in Belgium, some courses were already taught in Dutch at the Faculty of Law as early as 1935. Nevertheless, it was not until 1963 that all faculties offered their courses in Dutch.[13 ] On 1 October 1969, the university was finally split in two sister institutions: the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel. This splitting became official by the law of 28 May 1970, of the Belgian parliament, by which the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Université Libre de Bruxelles became two separate legal entities.[14]

Basic principles

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an open, tolerant, and pluralistic university.[15] Its central principles are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in particular the principle of free inquiry for the progress of humanity. The latter includes the dismissal of any argument of authority and the right of free opinion.[4] The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is the only Flemish university that has incorporated such principle in its statutes. The principle of free inquiry is often described by a quotation of the French mathematician and philosopher Henri Poincaré:

Seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Thinking must never submit itself,
neither to a dogma,
nor to a party,
nor to a passion,
nor to an interest,
nor to a preconceived idea,
nor to anything whatsoever,
except to the facts themselves,
because for it to submit to anything else would be the end of its existence.

This principle is also reflected in the university's motto Scientia vincere tenebras, or Conquering darkness by science, and in its seal. The seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel displays a beggar's wallet and joined hands on the orange-white-blue (the colours of the Prince of Orange) escutcheon in the emblem, referring to the struggle of the Protestant Gueux and the Prince of Orange against the Spanish rule and the Inquisition in the sixteenth century.

Another basic principle of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel — also incorporated in the university's statutes — is that the institution must be managed according to the model of democracy.[4] Practically, this means that all members of the academic community — faculty staff, researchers, personnel, and students — are represented in all governing bodies. In this way, the university ensures that everyone has a voice in its decision-making processes and participates in its management. This principles must also guarantee the independence of the university and the academic freedom.

Campus and facilities

Etterbeek campus

Most of the faculties are located on the Etterbeek campus (which is actually located on the territory of the neighbouring borough of Elsene), it is the livelier of the two campuses. The activities mainly take place in the numerous auditoriums and labs. In addition, there is a modern sports centre with various rooms for sporting activities, a football pitch encircled by a running track and an on-campus swimming pool. For eating out, there is not just the student restaurant, but also some snack bars ('t Complex, Opinio, Kultuurkaffee), the last one also organising free concerts and events and being a full-fledged concert venue during the evening/night, offering the university a cultural scene.

The campus in Jette is also a fully-fledged campus. The University Hospital (UZ Brussel) is in the vicinity. All courses and research in the life sciences (medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, the biomedical and paramedical sciences) are located here.


  • Arts and Philosophy
  • Economics, Political and Social Sciences
  • Engineering
  • Medicine and Pharmacy
  • Psychology and Educational Sciences
  • Sciences and Biomedical Sciences

Institutional cooperation

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel cooperates with several institutions of higher education. They are:

  • Brussels Chamber of Commerce
  • Erasmushogeschool Brussel (together with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel they make up the Brussels University Association)
  • Higher Institute for Re-adaptation Sciences Louvain
  • Top Industrial Managers for Europe
  • UCOS, the University Development Cooperation Centre
  • UNICA, the Institutional Network of the UNIversities from the CApitals of Europe
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • University of Kent (Brussels School of International Studies)
  • Vesalius College, an anglophone institution sharing the VUB campus
  • XIOS Hogeschool Limburg and Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg
  • Royal Military Academy
  • Worldwide, on the international level the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has concluded institutional collaboration agreements with 38 universities all over the world, and student exchange agreements with 160 universities

International acclaim

On the 2009 THE–QS World University Rankings list, the Free University of Brussels was ranked inside the top 250 for the fourth consecutive year. An overview of the last years:

Year Rank (Change)
2005 258
2006 133 ( 125)
2007 229 ( 96)
2008 214 ( 15)
2009 227 ( 13)

Student life

Notable alumni

Scientists & Academics






  • Yves Desmet

Notes and references

  1. ^ The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is one of the five universities officially recognised by the Flemish government. A list of all official institutes of higher education in Flanders is maintained by the Flemish government.
  2. ^ (Dutch) Stijlhandboek 1.0, Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2005,, retrieved 2007-11-23  .
  3. ^ a b c d (Dutch) Witte, Els (eds.) (1996), Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen (1796-1862), Brussels: VUBPress, ISBN 90-5487-140-7  .
  4. ^ a b c d According to the statutes of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel: (Dutch) Organiek Statuut, Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2005,, retrieved 2007-11-23  .
  5. ^ Figures from the 2006 Yearly Report of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel: (Dutch) Activiteitenverslag 2006, Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2007,, retrieved 2007-11-23  .
  6. ^ According to the 2008 THES - QS World University Rankings. QS Education Trust. Retrieved on february 7, 2009.
  7. ^ Visser, M.S., Rons, N., Moed, H.F., and Nederhof, A.J. (2003). Bibliometrische Studie van Onderzoeksdisciplines aan de Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 1992-2001. Leiden: Centre for Science and Technology Studies, University of Leiden.  
  8. ^ a b c See the "Organisational Chart of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved November 24 2007.  
  9. ^ According to the "official list of educational programmes at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved November 26 2007.  
  10. ^ Accreditation details can be consulted at "the website of NVAO". NVAO—Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. Retrieved November 26 2007.  
  11. ^ Lamberts, Emiel; Roegiers, Jan (eds.) (1990), Leuven University, 1425-1985, Leuven: Leuven University Press, ISBN 90-6186-418-6  .
  12. ^ "Presentation of the Université Libre de Belgique". Université Libre de Belgique. Retrieved 24 November 2007.  
  13. ^ "About the University: Culture and History". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 25 November 2007.  
  14. ^ (Dutch) "Law of 28 May 1970, concerning the splitting of the universities in Brussels and Leuven". Belgisch Staatsblad/Flemish Government. Retrieved 25 November 2007.  
  15. ^ (Dutch) Redelijk eigenzinnig 2008-2009, Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2007,, retrieved 2007-11-23  .

See also

External links

Coordinates: 50°49′21″N 4°23′45″E / 50.82242°N 4.39573°E / 50.82242; 4.39573


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