More young people with migrant roots go on to university


The proportion of secondary school student who progress to higher education in Flanders has doubled in 15 years, but the pandemic is having a disastrous effect, say researchers

‘Social mobility in action’

Young people living in Flanders but whose roots are outside the European Union, are increasingly making their way into higher education. Over the past 15 years, the percentage of such student going to college or university has doubled from about 20% to 41%, a study released this week shows.

“There is still a long way to go, but the figures give me hope,” said Flemish diversity minister Bart Somers. “This is social mobility in action.”

The study was carried out by Hiva, the Research Institute for Work and Society at KU Leuven. Its researchers set out to assess the broad impact of the 2002 Equal Opportunities in Education Decree.

These are students who can later tell their children that it is important to continue studying

- Diversity minister Bart Somers

That decree allocates extra resources to schools with a high number of vulnerable children, such as those from low socio-economic status families, or who have a migrant background and may lack Dutch language skills.

The researchers found that the percentage of students between the ages of 18 and 20 who continue their studies after secondary school has risen from 37% in 2003 to 53% in 2018. The figure for students with a background in non-EU migration rose from 20.6% in 2003 to over 41% in 2018. In absolute terms this represents a jump from 4,300 students to more than 15,000.

“These are students who can later tell their children that it is important to follow their example and continue studying,” Somers said. “These are 15,000 students who can be role models and trailblazers.”

Researchers caution

While Somers reads the results as a broad endorsement for investing in equal opportunities, the Hiva researchers are more cautious. They emphasise that inequality in Flemish education remains very high.

Their results show that 15-year-olds from the most underprivileged tenth of the population are still three years behind their more privileged peers when it comes to skills development. And the most vulnerable students are four times more likely to drop out before they leave secondary education.

Then there is the pandemic. “Everything indicates that the corona crisis is wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable groups in education,” the researchers conclude. “Should we be afraid that the hopeful results of two decades will be completely wiped out?”

Photo ©Christophe Vander Eecken/UGent