Vrije Universiteit Brussel

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Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Latin: Universitas Bruxellensis
MottoScientia vincere tenebras (Latin)
Motto in English
Conquering darkness by science
TypeIndependent/Partly state funded
PresidentEddy Van Gelder[3]
RectorCaroline Pauwels[4]
Administrative staff
3,257 (2017)
Students15,865 (2017)
Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussel
, ,
CampusIxelles, Jette, Anderlecht and Gooik
Coloursorange, white, blue             
AffiliationsUniversity Association Brussels, UNICA, T.I.M.E.

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel About this soundlisten  is a Dutch-speaking university located in Brussels, Belgium.[5] It has four campuses: Brussels Humanities, Science and Engineering Campus (in Ixelles), Brussels Health Campus (in Jette), Brussels Technology Campus (in Anderlecht) and Brussels Photonics Campus (in Gooik).[6]

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 translations of its name, 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.[7] 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 (in Dutch), or Reasonably opinionated. 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.[8]

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.[9] It is also a strongly research-oriented institute, which has led to its top-189th position among universities worldwide.[10] Its research articles are on average more cited than articles by any other Flemish university.[11]


Establishment of a university in Brussels[edit]

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.[7] 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.[12] 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.[7]

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. 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.[7]

Splitting of the university[edit]

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]


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.[8] 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:[15]

  • Faculty of Law and Criminology
  • Faculty of Social Sciences & Solvay Business School
  • Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences
  • Faculty of Sciences and Bio-engineering Sciences
  • Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy
  • Faculty of Arts and Philosophy
  • Faculty of Engineering
  • Faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy

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. 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 Prof. Dr. Caroline Pauwels[4] [16]


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 12,000 students follow one of its 128 educational programmes.[17] 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 vacations 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.[18]


Notable faculty:

Basic principles[edit]

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel considers itself an open-minded and tolerant university.[19] 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.[8] 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 Geuzen and the Prince of Orange against the oppressive 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.[8] 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 principle must also guarantee the independence of the university and the academic freedom.

Campus and facilities[edit]

Etterbeek campus

Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering 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 and consists almost entirely of concrete structures, most built in the 1970s. Some are decaying rapidly but at least one, the Rectoraat designed by Renaat Braem, is heritage-listed.[20] Activities take place in numerous auditoriums and labs. In addition, there is a modern sports centre, a football pitch encircled by a running track, and a swimming pool. For eating out, there is a restaurant with subsidies for students and staff, and the bars/cafes 't Complex, Opinio, and KultuurKaffee. The KultuurKaffee [nl] was a full-fledged concert venue during the evening/night, offering the university a cultural scene and organising free concerts and events. It was demolished to make space for the new XY construction project in 2015.[21]

Rectoraat, VUB

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

Brussels Technology Campus
The campus Kaai in Anderlecht was established in 2013 and shared with the Erasmushogeschool Brussel. It houses the Industrial Engineering section of the Faculty of Engineering. Among extensive industrial laboratory facilities, the Brussels fablab[22] has grown to the centre of activity on the campus in recent years.

Brussels Photonics Campus in Gooik.


  • Arts and Philosophy
  • Social Sciences and Solvay Business School
  • Engineering
  • Medicine and Pharmacy
  • Psychology and Educational Sciences
  • Sciences and Biomedical Sciences
  • Law and Criminology
  • Physical Education and Physiotherapy

Institutional cooperation[edit]

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)
  • UCLouvain Higher Institute for Re-adaptation Sciences
  • 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.

Academic Profiles[edit]

University rankings
ARWU World[23] 201-300
THE World[25] 251-300
QS World[24] 188

The university is included in major world university rankings such as Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology[edit]


The Heart Rhythm Management Centre started its activities at the University Hospital UZ Brussel during spring 2007. The clinical activities soon rocketed to the #1 position in Belgium, and has been paralleled by important scientific production. Emerging fields of activity are multidisciplinary (clinical) and translational (research) programs in collaboration with the departments of Genetics, Pediatrics, Neonatology, Geriatrics, Neurology, as well as a fundamental research program in Physiology. The large scope of clinical activities, fuelled by increasing patient demand in Belgium and elsewhere, together with the presence of a state-of-the-art infrastructure and a research-stimulating multidisciplinary academic environment unique in Europe, as well as the intrinsic qualities of Professor Prof. Dr. Pedro Brugada and his team, are a unique opportunity for the Vrije Universiteit Brussel to implement this academic training program.

This Postgraduate course in Cardiac Electrophysiology and Pacing - is offered within the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy - after a specialization in Cardiology, and is supported by the Institute for Postgraduate Training of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (iPAVUB). The core faculty for the Postgraduate program includes Prof. Dr. Pedro Brugada, who directs the EP fellowship training and the Cardiovascular Department, Prof. Dr. Carlo de Asmundis, Director of the Heart rhythm Management Centre, Prof. Dr. Gian Battista Chierchia, Director of Atrial Fibrillation Program, Prof. Dr. Marc La Meir and Prof. Dr. Francis Wellens, Director of Cardiac Surgery Service. Additional faculty who participate in the program includes: Prof. Dr. Bonduelle Mary-Louise and Prof. Dr. Ramon Brugada, who trains fellows in cardiac genetics, Prof. Dr. Joel Smets, University of Nijmegen, Nederland, who trains fellows in electrocardiography and basic electrophysiology.[26]

Student life[edit]

A traditional klak or penne

Every student that enrolls at the VUB, automatically becomes a member of the Brussels Studentengenootschap (BSG – Brussels Student Society), unless they refuse to be. This means that every student has the right to vote and participate in the annual elections for the BSG committee. The BSG is the umbrella organisation for all other student organizations and acts as the defender of the moral interests of the students. Together with their French-speaking counterparts ACE at the ULB, they organise the annual St V memorial.

These are some of the student organizations at the VUB:

  • Studiekring vrij onderzoek: a collective of students from various faculties, promoting free inquiry through the organisation of debates, lectures and more
  • Letteren-en Wijsbegeertekring (LWK) and Perskring (Pers): for students studying at the Arts and Philosophy faculty
  • Geneeskundige Kring (GK) and Farmaceutische Kring (FK): for students studying at the Medicine and Pharmacy faculty
  • Polytechnische Kring (PK) for students studying at the Engineering faculty
  • Psycho-Pedagogische Kring (PPK): for students studying at the Psychology and Educational Sciences faculty
  • Kring der Politieke Economische en Sociale Wetenschappen (KEPS) and Solvay ($); for students studying at the Economics, Political and Social Sciences faculty
  • Wetenschappelijke Kring (WK) [nl]: for students studying at the faculty of Sciences and Bio-engineering Sciences
  • Mens Sana in Corpore Sano (Mesacosa or MC): for students studying at the Physical Education and Physiotherapy faculty
  • Vlaams Rechtsgenootschap (VRG): for students studying at the Law and Criminology faculty

Members of these organizations wear a klak (Dutch) or penne (French).

Furthermore, the VUB has student organizations for students with a specific regional background. They are: Antverpia (Antwerp), Westland (West Flanders), WUK (West Flanders), KBS (Brussels and Flemish Brabant), Campina (Campine), Kinneke Baba (East Flanders), Limburgia (Limburg), VSKM (Mechelen) and Hesbania (Haspengouw). There are also several organizations for specific majors within a faculty, such as Infogroep (computer science), Biotecho (bio-engineering), bru:tecture (previously Pantheon) (architecture) and Promeco (economics). Last but not least there are organizations centered around a common interest, such as the Society of Weird And Mad People (SWAMP, for all kinds of games) and BierKultuur (based on the rich beer culture in Belgium).

Notable alumni[edit]

Scientists & Academics[edit]






  • Yves Desmet
  • Jean Mentens

Honorary doctorates[edit]

Notable recipients of honorary doctorates ('doctor honoris causa) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel include:

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium". thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk.
  2. ^ "Vrije Universiteit Brussel". studyinflanders.be.
  3. ^ "Van Gelder nieuwe voorzitter raad van bestuur VUB". standaard.be. 20 December 2002.
  4. ^ "Caroline Pauwels named new rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussel". VUB Today. 10 May 2016.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Campuses". vub.ac.be. 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d Witte, Els (eds.) (1996). Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen (1796–1862). 'VUB'Press (in Dutch). Brussels. ISBN 90-5487-140-7.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  8. ^ a b c d According to the statutes of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel: "Organiek Statuut" (PDF) (in Dutch). Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 November 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2007.
  9. ^ Figures from the 2011-2012 Yearly Report of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel: "Activiteitenverslag 2011-2012" (PDF) (in Dutch). Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  10. ^ According to the 2012 QS World University Rankings. QS Education Trust. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  11. ^ 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.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Lamberts, Emiel; Roegiers, Jan (eds.) (1990). Leuven University, 1425–1985. Leuven: Leuven University Press. ISBN 90-6186-418-6.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  13. ^ "About the University: Culture and History". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  14. ^ "Law of 28 May 1970, concerning the splitting of the universities in Brussels and Leuven" (in Dutch). Belgisch Staatsblad/Flemish Government. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  15. ^ See the "Faculties of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  16. ^ See the "Organogram of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel" (PDF). Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 April 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  17. ^ According to the "official list of educational programmes at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  18. ^ Accreditation details can be consulted at "the website of NVAO". NVAO—Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  19. ^ "Welcoming the World" (PDF) (in Dutch). Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel. 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
  20. ^ https://www.vub.ac.be/downloads/GebouwM-NL.pdf
  21. ^ "KultuurKaffee van VUB sluit na dit weekend de deuren" (in Dutch). DeMorgen. 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  22. ^ "Fablab Brussels".
  23. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018". Shanghai Ranking Consultancy. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  24. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2019". Quacquarelli Symonds. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  25. ^ "World University Rankings 2019". Times Higher Education. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  26. ^ "Cardiac Electrophysiology and Pacing". vub.ac.be.

External links[edit]

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