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Belgium Medicine Exams: Half of Applicants From Abroad

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The French-speaking part of Belgium registered a high increase of applicants for the entry exams in medical studies. Half of them are not Belgians.

On July 6, about 5,500 candidates, out of 6,165 who registered, took an exam in Brussels, Liège, Leuven, Mons or Namur in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. They applied for starting medical studies. In 2021, the number of students who took the test increased by 37% compared to 2020. Last year and in 2019, the number of applicants grew more around 5% and 6%.

On average, 20% of them pass the test. With 1,300 successful candidates, this is still a lot more than the available positions for the last year of specialization. In 2020, 1,230 positions were available, 492 for the French-speaking region and 738 for the Flemish community, while 1,695 students solicited one.

Laurent DESPY, from the Academy for Research & Higher Education, explains the increase of applicants by two hypotheses: “the ratio of non-residents who took the exam is on the rise and there is a possibility that the pandemic stimulated new vocations“.

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Tests for medical studies are less restrictive in Belgium than in France, attracting a lot of French to take their chance abroad.

Foreign medical students are capped at 30% of the total in Belgium

In fact, 54% who try to study medicine in Belgium this year do not live in Belgium. Most of them are French.

The situation is not new for the French neighbours to emigrate in Belgium for their studies. The selection in medicine or physical therapy is drastic in France and many among those who failed take their chances in Belgium. Their diploma would be valid in France anyway.

For a decade now, Belgium imposed some restrictions to limit the flow of students. French students need to prove they didn’t fail twice year during higher education. And only 30% of the non-residents are accepted to study in Belgium. Remote learning during the pandemic hasn’t affected quotas.

But this year, a new reform of the French university may have pushed more candidates to Belgium. The new organization, more like the Anglo-Saxon systems with a major and a minor, brings more flexibility to healthcare students. If they don’t pass the exams, they can divert to another field for the second year. It also encouraged future practitioners to care not only about science but also humanities.

But the transition was chaotic. The end of quotas limiting the number of practitioners each year gave the false impressions that all of a sudden, doors were opened for all. Universities published the available positions for each specialization a year later, making the students unable to adjust according to their chances of success. Moreover, with fewer hours for the major, teachers mostly packed the same program within a shorter amount of time. In June, the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, announced a new plan to adjust the reform. Meanwhile, French students took a chance elsewhere.

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