VUB and ULB hold joint academic opening for first time


Brussels’ two universities might not share the same language, but they do share the same ideas, according to the rectors

‘Free thinking without borders’

Brussels’ two universities have held a joint party to mark their 185 year anniversary and 50 years of co-operation. The ceremony yesterday afternoon was attended by King Filip.

On Friday, the Dutch-speaking VUB and francophone ULB held their first ever joint opening, the annual ceremony that marks the beginning of the new academic year. The event at Brussels’ Jubelpark began with speeches from rectors Caroline Pauwels and Yvon Englert and ended with a festival of live music and food trucks for the 7,000 invited guests.

The two institutions have a shared history that began with the foundation of ULB in 1834 as the francophone Free University of Belgium, renamed shortly after as the Free University of Brussels. Founder Theodore Verhaegen, a local lawyer and liberal politician, envisaged it as an independent university free of influence from the church and state.

In 1969, it split along language lines, and the Dutch-speaking VUB was created. Despite the split, the universities have a close relationship today and work together on a number of projects.

Our universities share not only a history but also, and especially, a shared dream of the future

- VUB rector Caroline Pauwels

“Separation didn’t mean severance,” says VUB rector Caroline Pauwels. “We began a collaboration between our two institutions that has only grown, particularly in recent years where it has become especially close. Our universities share not only a history but also, and especially, a shared dream of the future.”

The theme of the event was “free thinking without borders”, and King Filip presented prizes to students from both universities who have made particular contributions to co-operation and dialogue between communities. Pauwels: “We celebrate this common anniversary and these 50 years of intense collaboration not only because we are proud of our universities, but also because we are proud of our city, our communities and our country.”

Meanwhile, KU Leuven will be starting the academic year with a higher than usual number of international students. Though registration remains open until 9 October, preliminary analysis of those already registered shows growing popularity among students from overseas.

So far, 6,500 international students have enrolled for the 2019-20 year, of whom 2,304 are new students. Based on this trend, the university is expecting a total increase of about 20% on last year at its campuses in Leuven, Brussels and Ghent.

“Our growing reputation as one of the best universities on the European continent is probably part of the reason for this increase,” said Peter Lievens, vice-rector for international policy. “Young international talent not only strengthens a number of our programmes but is also very important for the development of Flanders as an interesting, knowledge-driven region.”

Photo: ULB rector Yvon Englert and VUB rector Caroline Pauwels

Free University of Brussels (VUB)

The VUB was established as a spin-off of the French-speaking Université Libre de Bruxelles in the 1960s. It’s an internationally oriented and liberal institution, and the only Dutch-speaking university in the capital.
Work - The VUB is the largest Dutch-speaking employer of the Brussels-Capital Region.
St V - Every year, students honour university founder Pierre Theodore Verhaegen in a festive, booze-filled “St V” march through the city.
Campus - The VUB is the only Dutch-speaking university with a small, American-style green campus.

Master’s programmes offered


million euros in research budget in 2010

12 000

students in 2011-2012 academic year