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Thematic bibliography: Education

Dossier thématique : Enseignement
Thematisch dossier: onderwijs

The issues associated with education in Brussels are many and varied. Whether it is early childhood education, compulsory education or higher education, all levels have undergone their share of reforms in order to improve quality and accessibility. Since the creation of the journal, more than a dozen articles, fact sheets and synopses have addressed these issues, re-examining them regularly as changes are observed. This thematic bibliography invites you to return to the archives of Brussels Studies and (re)discover the reflections and results published on the theme of education.

Early childhood care

HUMBLET Perrine, 2011. Population growth in Brussels and inequality of access to kindergarten, in: Brussels Studies, General collection, no 51, 19/09/2011. Available at:

What is the social equality of access to kindergarten, the main means of entry into the education system? In Brussels, population growth combined with the social and economic divide threaten equal access to kindergarten. The study presents an analysis of enrolment statistics per municipality and shows that already in 2011, in many areas, there was a widespread saturation of kindergartens. The author also raises the issue of the worsening shortage of places at the time, predicting that enrolling children in kindergarten would be increasingly difficult, not only due to saturation, but also due to new enrolment regulations being implemented. According to the author, the inequality already experienced by socio-economically disadvantaged families was increasing: less informed about the standards in force, less aware of the extent of the steps to be taken, and less able to find their way through the educational maze, they were at greater risk of seeing their children start school later, in schools which they had not freely chosen.

HUMBLET Perrine, AMERIJCKX Gaëlle, AUJEAN Stéphane, DEGUERRY Murielle, VANDENBROECK Michel and WAYENS Benjamin, 2015. Young children in Brussels: from an institutional approach to a systemic view, in: Brussels Studies, Synopses, no 91, 21/09/2015. Available at:

This synopsis highlights the paradox in which the Brussels Region finds itself: its future depends largely on the way in which the various deficits affecting children's development will be corrected, while the main tools fall within the competence of two communities: ONE or Kind & Gezin on the one hand, and the two Ministries of Education on the other. The result is a separate administrative vision of early childhood. However, due to socio-economic inequalities, some of the children in Brussels do not benefit from the necessary conditions in order to develop their full potential. One child in four (or one in three, depending on the indicator) living in a disadvantaged family (including a large number of children in single-parent families), as many as 50% of children in a multilingual situation, academic delay observed from the start of the curriculum, and an unknown number of families and children without legal status: these are all elements which, in the eyes of the authors, justify a comprehensive emergency plan for childhood in Brussels.

HUMBLET Perrine, ROBERT Emmanuelle, HUYNEN Philippe, AMERIJCKX Gaëlle, AUJEAN Stéphane and WAYENS Benjamin, 2020. French-speaking childcare centres in the Brussels-Capital Region: access and users, in: Brussels Studies, Fact Sheets, no 151, 06/12/2020. Available at:

This fact sheet summarises the main results of a survey of French-speaking childcare centres in Brussels between July and October 2018. It noted that as the number of available spaces is less than what is needed for potential users, early childhood structures have often established criteria for registration. These criteria are diversified and sometimes complex, and influence the level of primary accessibility of services. In the "classic" childcare centres (crèches, pre-nursery schools and homes for children), families with two parents who are professionally active are most common, and the "municipality of residence" criterion seems to have an impact on the selection of children. Drop-in centres stand out not only in terms of financial contribution, but also for all other indicators. The average parental contribution of €11.4 per day, compared to €18.7 for all of the structures, reflects use by more fragile families, in particular by single parents (only 69% of these children live with both parents compared to 86% for all of the structures). The drop-in centres therefore have a specific public with more acute social needs.

Basic education

Current situation

JANSSENS Rudi, CARLIER Donat and VAN DE CRAEN Piet, 2009. Education in Brussels, in : Brussels Studies, CFB Synopses, no 5, 19/01/2009. Available at:

The situation of compulsory education in the Brussels-Capital Region is at the heart of this synopsis from the 2009 Citizens' Forum of Brussels. The authors address the relationship between school and the city in four aspects: (1) the political and institutional context (the organisation of education), (2) the teaching process (what to teach and how to teach it, under what circumstances and with what results), (3) the demographic and geographic data (target population), and (4) the socio-cultural context (urban development).

CANTILLON Estelle, 2009. Regulating school choice in Brussels, in: Brussels Studies, General collection, no 32, 30/11/2009. Available at:

This article from 2009 is a contribution to the reflections on the school enrolment policy best suited to the needs of the Brussels-Capital Region. To this end, Estelle Cantillon first refocuses the debates on school enrolment at the time by distinguishing the political objectives from the procedure which implemented these objectives, arguing that the analysis of these two aspects can be undertaken independently. The author then describes the specific issues facing the region with respect to school enrolment.

WAYENS Benjamin, JANSSENS Rudi and VAESEN Joost, 2013. Education in Brussels: complex crisis management, in: Brussels Studies, Synopses, no 70, 29/08/2013. Available at:

This synopsis updates and adds to the synopsis from the 2009 Citizens' Forum of Brussels [Janssens, Carlier and Van de Craen, 2009]. The first part of the synopsis sets out the institutional and political framework of education in Brussels. It underlines the extent to which education in Brussels does not exist in the strict sense of the word: education is managed by a multitude of structures (the organising authorities) which often operate autonomously and consult each other at network level (structured on a philosophical basis), within a strictly Community (and therefore linguistic) framework. The second part points out the saturation of the Brussels school infrastructure, the great diversity of the school population in particular with regard to the languages spoken at home, and the dualisation of qualifications in the Brussels-Capital Region, where there is a high proportion of highly qualified people as well as people with low qualifications. The third part opens the discussion on future projects, as they were imagined in 2013.

WAYENS Benjamin, DELVAUX Bernard, MARISSAL Pierre, VERMEULEN Sofie, QUITTELIER Benoit and JANSSENS Rudi, 2016. The need for teachers in the Brussels Region by 2020, in: Brussels Studies, Fact Sheets, no 101, 20/06/2016. Available at:

An interuniversity team from Université libre de Bruxelles, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Université Saint-Louis and Université catholique de Louvain have analysed the available data so as to gain a clearer picture of the needs in terms of teaching staff from a Brussels perspective. The IBSA Paper No. 5, summarised in this Fact Sheet, details their estimation of these needs by 2019-2020.

Diversity at school

REA Andrea, NAGELS Carla and CHRISTIAENS Jenneke, 2009. Young people in Brussels: social inequality and cultural diversity, in: Brussels Studies, CFB Synopses, no 9, 02/02/2009. Available at:

This synopsis from the Citizens' Forum of Brussels questions the persistent tendency to disqualify certain young people in Brussels, the increase in their precarious existence, and the growing adversity between young people of different social and ethnic origins. Noting that school results are generally worse in Brussels than in Wallonia and Flanders, the authors point out that education for young people remains a selective process through which social inequalities are translated into school inequalities which, in turn, lead to social inequalities. In Brussels, social differences overlap with ethnic differences. The authors point out in particular that the majority of students whose families fall under the lowest social background indicators are over-represented in technical and vocational education.

LENEL Emmanuelle, 2010. Diversity at school as a lever for success?, in: Brussels Studies, General collection, no 40, 06/09/2010. Available at:

This article examines the democratic ideal of diversity in the broad sense, in the field of education. Based on two case studies of schools in Brussels which meet the challenges of diversity in Brussels in two very different ways, sociologist Emmanuelle Lenel uses ethnographic data to put universalist and communitarianist integration models into perspective. She attempts to show that these two types of school do not simply constitute an ethical and philosophical alternative, but that they contribute to shaping different students. Beyond their impact on educational success and segregation, each model of school favours the three logics differently – strategies for success, integration and personal growth – which students must combine within the school environment.

MC ANDREW Marie, 2016. Access to the educational institutions of communities whose language is fragile: a Canadian perspective, in: Brussels Studies, General collection, no 95, 25/01/2016. Available at:

The issue of controlling access to different educational systems in a bilingual context is not specific to Brussels. In Canada, this issue also arises in two ways: first, for minority language communities (often French-speaking) in the English-speaking part of the country, and second, in Quebec, for the majority French-speaking community, whose language is nonetheless fragile on a national scale. After examining certain elements in the debate regarding the control of access to the educational institutions of communities whose language is in a fragile situation, the author presents the contrasting choices made in this respect over the past forty years by the French-speaking minority in Canada depending on whether or not it has the status of regional majority, as well as some of the consequences. The Canadian experience illustrates two approaches, namely that of the protection of a fragile minority and the dynamic use of schooling in an objective to transform ethnolinguistic relations.

Higher education

VAESEN Joost and WAYENS Benjamin, 2014. Higher education and Brussels, in: Brussels Studies, Synopses, no 76, 23/04/2014. Available at:

This synopsis brings together a large amount of data on Brussels, which are often fragmented at institutional level. In particular, it shows that if we consider only recognised ("subsidised") higher education institutions (HEIs), there are more than 86,000 students in higher education in Brussels (2010-11 figures), which represents almost a quarter of the students in Belgium at this level of education and makes Brussels by far the largest student city in the country. Higher education goes beyond the teaching of students and is permeated by research, especially at universities. In this regard, the authors point out that the Brussels Region still had a very low rate of investment in research and development (R&D) in 2014, both with respect to European objectives as well as the European average and the situation in the other Belgian regions. HEIs are also an important economic factor, due to the volume of their spending alone. In 2012, the revenues of the four universities in Brussels (ULB, VUB, USL-B and UCL-Woluwe) amounted to some 617 million euros, equivalent to 23% of the budget of the Brussels-Capital Region. As employers, HEIs (including teaching hospitals) employed more than 28,000 people in 2011, accounting for 4.5% of paid employment in BCR. The presence of HEIs in several areas is therefore clear and directly affects more than 115,000 people (students and workers). This synopsis concludes with the major current debates on the role of higher education institutions in a city-region.

Transition to employment

FRANSSEN Abraham, CARLIER Donat and BENCHEKROUN Anissa, 2014. The transition of young people from education to employment in Brussels: challenges for governance, in: Brussels Studies, Synopses, no 73, 27/01/2014. Available at:

The dualisation of the education system, early school leaving, the high unemployment rate of low-skilled young people and chronic insecurity underline the difficulties involved in the transition of young people from education to employment. This synopsis is aimed at providing a better understanding of the transition of young people from education to employment, from unemployment to training, from training to employment and within the labour market itself. It is based on the observations of "LaboJeunes", which for two years organised group analyses gathering institutional authorities, teachers, employers, professionals in the field and of course young unemployed people. After a quick review of the situation in Brussels and a specification of the category of “young people in transition”, the authors examine public action aimed at young people in transition. Secondly, a divided diagnosis of the implementation of this public action and its effects is established. With the stakeholders, it identifies some of the challenges of what is more a patchwork of cooperation between conflict-ridden relations than a coherent plan of action. Thirdly, from a prospective and propositional angle, the authors explore the conditions and ways of improving public action in terms of the transition of young people from education to employment.

VEINSTEIN Matthieu and SIRDEY Isabelle, 2016. Vocational training: a transition towards the employment of young job seekers in Brussels with limited education?, in: Brussels Studies, General collection, no 96, 29/02/2016. Available at:

This article shows that the French-speaking professional training system in Brussels significantly improves the opportunities for the professional integration of participants, in particular with respect to vocational training. The possible impact of this – particularly as a second chance for young people with the lowest qualifications – is, however, limited by the recruitment practices of companies. While they generally favour those who have undergone vocational training, other criteria are taken into consideration when there is a shortage of job vacancies. The most vulnerable youth benefit less from their vocational training, especially in terms of job stabilisation. The authors conclude that it therefore seems necessary to combine economic development and the safeguarding of educational pathways in order to take action against unemployment in Brussels.

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