An estimated 10,000 expats live in the city of Leuven, many of them young researchers who work at the KUL and Imec. The international staff at the KUL have almost 200 children under 12 years of age and the staff at Imec around 100 children. At the moment, these children are mostly enrolled in Flemish schools or international schools in the Brussels area.
“Neither of these solutions is ideal,” says Imec staff manager Hubert De Neve, who is involved in the planning of the school. “At Flemish schools, many expat children have difficulties following the lessons in Dutch. But the international schools in Brussels are not only quite far away, they are also very expensive.” Bart De Moor, vice-rector for international policy at the KUL adds: “The research world has become global and the mobility of scientists keeps on increasing. When they plan to stay for a maximum of ten years at a university, they want their children to receive an international education that prepares them for a life elsewhere as well.”
To attract more high-level researchers, Imec and the KUL are collaborating closely with the city of Leuven – with the financial aid of the VIB – to establish an international school closer to home that has democratic enrolment fees. “The enrolment fees would not be higher than €8,000,” says the education alderman of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani. “That is three times less than the fees at certain international schools in Brussels.”
The project benefits from the experience of an external consultant who also helped to create the International School of Ghent, which will open its doors next school year. What does this sudden surge of international schools mean? “Don’t be mistaken; these ideas have been developing in Flanders for a long time, and are now coming to fruition,” says De Moor. Ridouani agrees: “Flanders is an open region that adapts to globalisation. University cities, and in particular Ghent and Leuven, spend a lot of effort profiling themselves as international cities where expats can easily feel at home.”
Partners of the project hope to open the school in September 2013, but 2014 is more likely. After a few years, the ambition is to have around 80 pupils. Negotiations are being held with institutes in Leuven to provide the infrastructure for the international school. “This way, we integrate the school in the existing community of Leuven,” explains Ridouani. “The children would receive Dutch language lessons and have common activities with the other pupils of the school, such as music, drawing and sports lessons, plus excursions and festivities. We want to avoid the school developing an elitist character and make the possible transition to Flemish schools easy for children.”
This integration would also reduce the costs of the project. At the moment, the necessary budget is estimated at about €500,000. The four partners would each contribute between €100,000 and €150,000. After the first start-up years, the school could also receive children of the staff of other companies, which would make a financial contribution to allow their employees a reduced enrolment fee.