Study in Belgium
Belgium: Study Destination for Indian Students
A comprehensive enquiry done in 2008 into the number of Indian students that are registered in 18 major Belgian universities shows surprising results in more than one aspect. The least one could say is that they were very encouraging with regard to the academic ties that link both our countries.
The study revealed that more than 400 Indian students were registered in Belgian universities during the academic year 2007/08. This number is expected to increase in the years to come and was one of the focuses of the recent State Visit to India of H.M. King Albert II, accompanied by an important academic delegation.
A majority of the Indian students attracted by Belgian universities are studying in scientific and management branches.
One finds Indian students at the Solvay Business School (ULB, Brussels), the University of Antwerp, the Vlerick Management School (Ghent) and the Catholic University of Louvain (Frenchspeaking, UCL, Louvain-la-neuve).... But it would seem that the vast majority of them are registered at the Catholic University of Leuven (Dutch-speaking, KUL, Leuven) and the University of Ghent.
Editor Harun Riaz went to Ghent and Leuven to see how the Indian students were living the Belgian student life and collect their thoughts.
Quality Education and Infrastructure for Indian Students
For most young Indians, Belgium is not the first place that comes to mind when they have ambitions to study abroad. This is unfortunate, because Belgium’s high level of education offers unique career opportunities, while its society is a safe haven. Sarah Claerhout spoke to some Indian students at the Ghent University India Platform launch in October 2008.
The U.S., Australia and the U.K. are classical destinations for Indian students. But continental Europe’s eagerness to internationalise is altering this situation as it aims to become a preferred destination for highly skilled Indian students and professionals. Many EU states have created better conditions for attracting and retaining such knowledge migrants.
As a result, some of its vibrant educational destinations come into the picture today. Belgium is one of those…. With its exceptional quality of life, the accessibility of its institutions and a growing sensitivity to cultural diversity, the country is an appealing place to spend one’s formational years. Ghent University—a pluralistic university which is one of the fastest growing in Europe with over 30,000 students—holds internationalisation as one of its major ambitions. Its current rector in particular, Prof. Dr. Paul Van Cauwenberge has given a new impulse in opening up the University to the rest of the world, not only by presenting Ghent as an attractive place to live and study, but also by setting up academic platforms to promote international collaboration.
One of these is the brand new India Platform UGent. This will not only be home to a variety of academic initiatives involving India, but also another home for Indian students and faculty at Ghent University. With its expertise on the cultural differences and the challenges of communication between India and Europe, it will function as a meeting point for Indian students and young professionals.
Though Indian students are still a fairly small group (of the 3000 international students at Ghent in
2007 about 80 are Indian), they love Ghent. We spoke to some of them…
”Of the 3000 international students at Ghent University about 80 are Indian”
According to Amit Kumar, Ghent University is a unique destinationfor Indian students as in Ghent “all is included”. Amit came here under a bilateral agreement between Flanders and India and is currently pursuing a PhD in Bioengineering at the EnVOC research group ( E n v i r o nme n t a l Or g a n i c Chemistry and Technology). From the very beginning, he felt part of this research group: a friendly, highly motivated and result-oriented environment that has greatly enriched his own research. The university is very smoothly organized as compared to Indian institutions, and, in the field of engineering the students get a first-hand experience of “any phenomena of concern,” which is not always the case in India.
Doing research at Ghent University al so gave him several opportunities for short-term research around Europe. The international atmosphere taught him that “learning from different cultures results in the biggest growth of any human being”. His experience is not only about attending lectures and passing exams, he tells us, it is about his development as a human being. “Ghent has all the ingredients to enjoy student life, it has a huge sports centre, and it is a nice place to go out.” In short, Amit ends this interview, “Ik hou van Gent!!” (I love Ghent in Dutch!). Dr. Nagender Rao, a post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Molecular Biotechnology, could not agree more. He too enjoys the sports facilities and the vibrancy of the city. His colleagues at Ghent University are “good friends, very cooperative and with sound knowledge” and they welcome international members. Which does not mean that the atmosphere in the research labs is not challenging and demanding at times! What he finds especially appealing about Belgium is the absence of prejudice towards the English language, which one finds in some other European countries.
The world and India, according to Nagender, should be informed better about these advantages. He said Belgium should promote itself better and let the international students know about its existence: “advertise more and provide better funding opportunities and you will develop as an attractive destination for Indian students.”
A Hub for Indian Students in Belgium
“Take a survey in Indian schools. What are the dominant feelings you see? Studying abroad, off course and the notion has become a blip in the radar of Belgian universities, particularly the University of Leuven, located 20 Km from Brussels.”
-By Bart Hendrickx
The number of Indian students studying at the University of Leuven (K.U.Leuven), founded in 1425, has been rising steadily over the last few years. Earlier, Indian students focused primarily on the world renowned K.U.Leuven Theology program, but this time has clearly passed. Strong programs, like Engineering, Bioengineering and Medical Sciences, have taken their rightful place in the list of most popular and appreciated academic programs. It is clear that a strong push towards further internationalization and the ever increasing offer of quality English language programs at K.U.Leuven and other universities is responsible for this recent surge in international students’ interest. Where, until a few years ago, the only options for Indian and other international students for a quality postgraduate education abroad, were expensive programs in the US, UK or Australian institutions, nowadays quality European research institutions like the K.U.Leuven provide a valuable and more economical alternative. Universities in Belgium are partially financed by their respective regional/community governments. Hence they can offer superior quality academic programs, also to international students, for a much cheaper prize than their Anglo-Saxon competitors. In addition, the three doctoral schools at K.U.Leuven (Science, Technology and Engineering, Biomedical Sciences and Humanities), have all their PhD projects available in English and online, for any eligible quality international student to see and apply to. All advertised projects come with pre-approved financing.
Recent independent surveys at the University of Leuven show that Indian and other international students appreciate other aspects of a Belgian higher education even more than the reasonable cost. It turns out that they first and foremost value the safety and living conditions in which they can study and do research in Leuven. In the comparative worldwide survey of about100 top universities (including Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and many others) no one scored better on these aspects than Leuven did. Another surprise was that, next to the expert knowledge of the academics and a wide variety in top notch research, students very much appreciated the English language skills of the Leuven professors, even more so than at many UK or US institutions. This very positive testimony from especially Indian students is at least partially responsible for a 90 per cent (pro-) active recommendation rate for the K.U.Leuven. A score with which the University of Leuven again outperforms most, if not all, of its peer institutions in the world wide survey.
With over 120 different nationalities represented in its student body, K.U.Leuven has become a very multicultural city-campus. The Association of Indian Students at Leuven (ISAL) is one of the most active student organisations in the country.
Belgium lies at the cross-roads of cultures in Europe. Hence English is widely spoken, also by the local non-academic population. The country enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world as well as first class health care, education and social security systems. All this is at the disposal of the duly registered international student or researcher.
Leuven, in Flanders, the Dutchspeaking part of Belgium, is for many a surprise discovery in itself. It is very safe, friendly and studentoriented town with a long and rich history, brimming with culture and leisure opportunities. Its unique location at the heart of Europemeans that major European capitals such as Brussels, Paris, London, or Amsterdam are only a (very) short train ride away. There are daily direct flights to Brussels International Airport (12 minutes from Leuven) from New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.
Due to extensive knowledge of new technologies and considerable experience, Belgium’s Biopharmaceutical sector has carved a formidable presence across the globe.
The Biopharma industry of Belgium is on a roll. With the largest number of medicines in development in the world per capita, Belgium shows exceptional results in terms of innovation and industrial development in the field of biopharmaceuticals.
World Leader in Biopharma
Belgian laboratories are known worldwide for developing drugs and vaccines for major pandemics such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS.
A large pool of high quality scientists, worldclass research encouraged by substantial tax incentives and development facilities as well as the strong institutional networks are thefactors that have helped Belgium to become a booming star in the biopharma world.
In absolute figures, Belgium is the world’s second largest exporter of drugs and the seventh largest investor in Research and Development (R&D). With the highest concentration of life science employees in the world, the country has become the birthplace of several world-class R&D centres for the biopharma industry. Drugs and vaccines for major world pandemics (HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis, Malaria…) have been developed in Belgian laboratories. Renowned companies such as GSK Biologicals, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Pfizer and UCB have invested tens of billions of Euros over the past few years in the Belgian Biopharma industry.
”Lowest tax rate in Europe on revenues from patents makes Belgium one of the most attractive investment locations”
Belgium has over 200 small and medium-sized enterprises in the life sciences sector specialising in fundamental and clinical research.
The biotechnology sector of Belgium recorded a revenue of about three billion Euros in 2006. And, in the same year Belgian companies accounted for 16 per cent of Europe’s turnover in biotech and around 10 per cent of R&D spending. In its study entitled “Innovation in pharmaceutical Biotechnology ” published in 2006, the Organisation for Economic Co - operation a n d Development (OECD) presents Belgium as by far the best performing country on the basis of four indicators for innovation and industrial development.
Multinational biopharma companies are flocking to Belgium not just for the manufacturing and marketing of their product but also to conduct clinical trials and outsource medical research. Besides the high class facilities and qualified manpower, lowest tax rate in Europe on revenues from patents makes Belgium one of the most attractive investment locations for biopharma R&D and manufacturing.
International cooperation and complementarities with India
“Thanks to a number of pioneers, a world reputation in R&D and a series of positive measures taken
by the Belgian authorities, Belgium unites all the assets needed (…) to present itself at international level
as a land that welcomes investment in biopharmaceuticals”, declares Yves Verschueren, Managing Director of Essenscia, the Belgian Federation of Chemical Industries and Life Sciences.
”Belgian laboratories are known worldwide for developing drugs and vaccines for major pandemics such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS”
Now more than ever, biopharmaceutical companies are seeking international cooperation to st rengthen research and production in Belgium. “Hence the importance of emphasizing our assets abroad. We need to convince foreign companies wishing to invest in Europe to choose Belgium”, according to Yves Verschueren. This is why, in September 2008, Essenscia and the Belgian Minister for Enterprise and Simplification, Vincent VanQuickenborne, launched the campaign “Belgium the place to be for biopharmaceutical R&D and manufacturing” at the GSK Biologicals research centre in Rixensart, next to Brussels. Overthe next few months, Essenscia will be touring the world with representatives of the Belgian Biopharma sector to promote the country’s assets in the field to international investors and foreign researchers. It is in this context that an Indian-Belgian Biopharma Forum was organized during the State Visit to India in Mumbai on November 6, 2008 in presence of Their Majesties King Albert II and Queen Paola and the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Karel De Gucht. The Forum focused on “Belgium and India, two complementary and growing biopharma clusters”. Some of the speakers present at the event included Thomas Leysen, President of the Federation of Belgian Enterprises, Yves Verschueren, CEO of Essenscia, Dr. Ajit Shetty, Chairman of Janssen Pharmaceutica and RochDoliveux, CEO of UCB.
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