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Belgium introduces foreign student quotas

Belgium has capped the number of foreign students taking its medicine and dentistry courses to 30%, to stem the surging number of French crossing the border to study. The quotas apply to “non residents” – those who have not lived in Belgium for more than three years – but are aimed at French who study in Belgium but return home to work after graduation, leaving the medical professions under-resourced.

The French are thought to favour Belgian medical schools because of their less-taxing entry requirements, affordable fees and the shared French language

Some 20% to 30% of Belgian’s 3,700 first-year students in medicine in Belgium are French and the figure is nearer 45% in dentistry.

“In recent years we find that enrolment has quadrupled in medicine and tripled in dental medicine,” Professor Gustave Moonen, chief representative of francophone Belgium’s medical schools, told Le Monde. “This is the easy way, but there is no alternative.”

“Speech therapy and midwifery will probably follow where we have a sort of invasion of students from abroad, particularly France”

The French are said to favour francophone Belgian medical schools because of their lower entry requirements, affordable fees (around €835 per year) and shared language.

However, critics say rapidly growing enrolments have left courses oversubscribed and underfunded. A shortage of domestic medical professionals caused by French skills flight is leaving Belgians at risk, they add.

“Since the 1990s, there has been a quota at the end of medical school before specialisation,” said Michael Verbauwhede, president of the Federation of Francophone students from Belgium. “The French and Belgians are competing in the same way. But then the French return to France leaving a shortage of doctors, physiotherapists and dentists which poses a risk to public health.”

In 2006, similar caps were introduced in eight health science disciplines including occupational therapy and veterinary science, after an average 75% of enrolments were found to be non-resident (and mostly French). However, the European Court of Justice questioned the policy in 2010 and all caps were overturned last year by the Constitutional Court of Belgium.

Now more new restrictions appear likely. “Speech therapy and midwifery will probably follow where we have a sort of invasion of students from abroad, particularly France,” said Belgian Minister of Higher Education, Jean-Claude Marcourt last month.

In 2006, Austria introduced a cap to tackle the large number of German students taking its medical courses. It saved 75% of places for students with Austrian high school diplomas, 20% for students from other EU countries and just 5% for non-EU students.

Last month, a California senator also proposed capping out-of-state and international student enrolment at all 10 University of California campuses to give residents a “fair shot” at attending public universities. Critics say universities already subject to public spending cuts would lose vital revenue from out-of-state and international tuition fees.

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