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Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Coordinates: 50°49′21″N 4°23′45″E / 50.82242°N 4.39573°E / 50.82242; 4.39573
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Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Latin: Universitas Bruxellensis
MottoScientia vincere tenebras (Latin)
Motto in English
Conquering darkness by science
TypeIndependent/Partly state-funded
Established1834 (Free University of Brussels)[1]
1970 (VUB)[2][3]
PresidentKarsten De Clerck
RectorJan Danckaert[4]
Administrative staff
3,257 (2017)
Students19,245 (2020)[5]
Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Elsene
, ,
CampusElsene, Jette, Anderlecht and Gooik
ColoursOrange & blue[6]
AffiliationsUniversity Association Brussels, UNICA, T.I.M.E.

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Dutch: [ˈvrɛiə ʔynivɛrsiˈtɛid ˈbrʏsəl] ; English: Free University of Brussels; abbreviated VUB) is a Dutch and English-speaking research university located in Brussels, Belgium.[7] It has four campuses: Brussels Humanities, Science and Engineering Campus (in Elsene), Brussels Health Campus (in Jette), Brussels Technology Campus (in Anderlecht) and Brussels Photonics Campus (in Gooik).[8]

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel was formed in 1970 by the splitting of the Free University of Brussels, which was founded in 1834 by the lawyer and liberal politician Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen. The founder aimed to establish a university independent from state and church, where academic freedom would be prevalent.[9] This is today still reflected in the university's motto Scientia vincere tenebras, or "Conquering darkness by science", and in its more recent slogan Redelijk eigenzinnig, or "A reasonable mind of its own". Accordingly, the university is pluralistic – it is open to all students on the basis of equality regardless of their ideological, political, cultural or social background – and it is managed using democratic structures, which means that all members – from students to faculty – participate in the decision-making processes.[10]

The university's research articles are on average more cited than articles by any other Flemish university.[11] The university is organised into 8 faculties that accomplish the three central missions of the university: education, research, and service to the community. The faculties cover a broad range of fields of knowledge including the natural sciences, classics, life sciences, social sciences, humanities, and engineering. The university provides bachelor, master, and doctoral education to about 8,000 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students.[12]


Establishment of a university in Brussels[edit]

Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, founder of the Free University of Brussels

The history of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is closely linked with that of Belgium itself. When the Belgian State was formed in 1830 by nine breakaway provinces from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, three state universities existed in the cities of Ghent, Leuven and Liège, but none in the new capital, Brussels. Since the government was reluctant to fund another state university, a group of leading intellectuals in the fields of arts, science, and education — amongst whom the study prefect of the Royal Athenaeum of Brussels, Auguste Baron, as well as the astronomer and mathematician Adolphe Quetelet — planned to create a private university, which was permitted under the Belgian Constitution.[13][9]

In 1834, the Belgian episcopate decided to establish a Catholic university in Mechelen with the aim of regaining the influence of the Catholic Church on the academic scene in Belgium, and the government had the intent to close the university at Leuven and donate the buildings to the Catholic institution.[14] The country's liberals strongly opposed to this decision, and furthered their ideas for a university in Brussels as a counterbalance to the Catholic institution. At the same time, Auguste Baron had just become a member of the freemasonic lodge Les Amis Philantropes. Baron was able to convince Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen, the president of the lodge, to support the idea for a new university. On 24 June 1834, Verhaegen presented his plan to establish a free university.[9]

After sufficient funding was collected among advocates, the Université libre de Belgique ("Free University of Belgium") was inaugurated on 20 November 1834, in the Gothic Room of Brussels Town Hall. The date of its establishment is still commemorated annually, by students of its successor institutions, as a holiday called Saint-Verhaegen/Sint-Verhaegen (often shortened to St V) for Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen.[15] In 1836, the university was renamed the Université libre de Bruxelles ("Free University of Brussels").[13]

After its establishment, the Free University faced difficult times, since it received no subsidies or grants from the government; yearly fundraising events and tuition fees provided the only financial means. Verhaegen, who became a professor and later head of the new university, gave it a mission statement which he summarised in a speech to King Leopold I: "the principle of free inquiry and academic freedom uninfluenced by any political or religious authority."[9] In 1858, the Catholic Church established the Saint-Louis Institute in the city, which subsequently expanded into a university in its own right.

Growth, internal tensions and move[edit]

The Free University, then housed in the Granvelle Palace, c. 1900

The Free University grew significantly over the following decades. In 1842, it moved to the Granvelle Palace, which it occupied until 1928. It expanded the number of subjects taught and, in 1880, became one of the first institutions in Belgium to allow female students to study in some faculties. In 1893, it received large grants from Ernest and Alfred Solvay and Raoul Warocqué to open new faculties in the city. A disagreement over an invite to the anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus to speak at the university in 1893 led to some of the liberal and socialist faculty splitting away from the Free University to form the New University of Brussels (Université nouvelle de Bruxelles) in 1894. The institution failed to displace the Free University, however, and closed definitively in 1919.[16]

In 1900, the Free University's football team won the bronze medal at the Summer Olympics. After Racing Club de Bruxelles declined to participate, a student selection with players from the university was sent by the Federation.[17][18] The team was enforced with a few non-students.[19] The Institute of Sociology was founded in 1902, then in 1904 the Solvay School of Commerce, which would later become the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management. In 1911, the university obtained its legal personality under the name Université libre de Bruxelles - Vrije Hogeschool te Brussel.[20]

The university's football team that won the bronze medal at the 1900 Olympic Games

The German occupation during World War I led to the suspension of classes for four years in 1914–1918. In the aftermath of the war, the Free University moved its principle activities to the Solbosch in the southern suburb of Ixelles and a purpose-built university campus was created, funded by the Belgian American Educational Foundation. The university was again closed by the German occupiers during World War II on 25 November 1941. Students from the university were involved in the Belgian Resistance, establishing Groupe G which focused on sabotage.

Splitting of the university[edit]

Until the early 20th century, courses at the Free University were taught exclusively in French, the language of the upper class in Belgium at that time, as well as of law and academia. However, with the Dutch-speaking population asking for more rights in Belgium (see Flemish Movement), some courses began being taught in both French and Dutch at the Faculty of Law as early as 1935. Nevertheless, it was not until 1963 that all faculties offered their courses in both languages.[21] Tensions between French- and Dutch-speaking students in the country came to a head in 1968 when the Catholic University of Leuven split along linguistic lines, becoming the first of several national institutions to do so.

On 1 October 1969, the French and Dutch entities of the Free University separated into two distinct sister universities. This splitting became official with the act of 28 May 1970, of the Belgian Parliament, by which the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the French-speaking Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) officially became two separate legal, administrative and scientific entities.[22][23]


The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an independent institution. The members of all its governing entities are elected by the entire academic community – including faculty staff, researchers, personnel, and students.[10] This system guarantees the democratic process of decision-making and the independence from state and outside organisations. Nevertheless, the university receives significant funding from the Flemish government, although less than other Flemish universities. Other important funding sources are grants for research projects (mostly from Belgian and European funding agencies), scholarships of academic members, revenues from cooperation with industry, and tuition fees to a lesser extent.

The main organisational structure of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is its division into faculties:[24]

  • Faculty of Law and Criminology
  • Faculty of Social Sciences & Solvay Business School
  • Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences
  • Faculty of Sciences and Bio-engineering Sciences
  • Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy
  • Faculty of Arts and Philosophy
  • Faculty of Engineering
  • Faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy

These faculties benefit a wide autonomy over how they structure their educational programmes and research efforts, although their decisions need to comply with the university's statutes and must be approved by the central administration.

The central administration is formed by the Governing Board, which is currently presided by Eddy Van Gelder. It decides the university's long-term vision and must approve all decisions made by the faculties. The Governing Board is supported by three advising bodies: the Research Council, the Education Council, and the Senate. These bodies provide advice to the Governing Board on all issues regarding research, education, and the academic excellence of faculty staff, and may also propose changes to the university's strategy. The daily management of the university is the responsibility of the Rector and three Vice-Rectors.

As of 2022 the rector of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel is Jan Danckaert,[25] who succeeded Caroline Pauwels (1964-2022), who resigned in 2022 for health reasons.[26]


The Vrije Universiteit Brussel offers courses in a large variety of modern disciplines: law, economics, social sciences, management, psychology, physical sciences, life sciences, medical sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, humanities, engineering, physical education. About 22,000 students follow one of its 128 educational programmes.[27] All programmes are taught in Dutch, but 59 are also taught in English. In agreement with the Bologna process, the university has implemented the so-called bachelor-master system. It therefore issues four types of degrees: bachelor's, master's, master after master's, and doctoral degrees.

Admission to the programmes is generally not restricted; anyone can subscribe to the programme of his/her choice. However, prerequisite degrees may be mandatory for advanced programmes, e.g., a bachelor's degree is required to subscribe to a master's programme, and a master's degree is required to subscribe to a master after master's or doctoral programme. An exception to this is the admission exam to the bachelor in medicine, which is required following ruling of the Flemish government. Tuition fees are low, and even decreased or eliminated for some students with less financial means.

The academic year is divided into two semesters, each spanning thirteen course weeks: the first semester lasts from October to January, the second semester from February to June. Students take exams in January and June. Apart from the Christmas and Easter holidays (both lasting two weeks) that are normally used to prepare for the exams, students are free the week between both semesters and during the summer vacations from July to September.

The university has implemented several quality control schemes in order to preserve the high quality of its educational programmes. Each semester, all students evaluate the courses they have followed. All programmes are also regularly assessed by internal panels and by external international visitation committees. Furthermore, all programmes are accredited by the Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatie Organisatie, an independent accreditation organisation charged with the accreditation of higher education programmes in both Flanders and the Netherlands.[28]


Notable faculty:

Basic principles[edit]

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel considers itself an open-minded and tolerant university.[29] Its central principles are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in particular the principle of free inquiry for the progress of humanity. The latter includes the dismissal of any argument of authority and the right of free opinion.[10] The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is the only Flemish university that has incorporated such principle in its statutes. The principle of free inquiry is often described by a quotation of the French mathematician and philosopher Henri Poincaré:

Seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel
updated seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Thinking must never submit itself,

neither to a dogma,
nor to a party,
nor to a passion,
nor to an interest,
nor to a preconceived idea,
nor to anything whatsoever,
except to the facts themselves,

because for it to submit to anything else would be the end of its existence.

This principle is also reflected in the university's motto Scientia vincere tenebras, or Conquering darkness by science, and in its seal. The seal of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel displays a beggar's wallet and joined hands on the orange-white-blue (the colours of the Prince of Orange) escutcheon in the emblem, referring to the struggle of the Protestant Geuzen and the Prince of Orange against the oppressive Spanish rule and the Inquisition in the sixteenth century.

Another basic principle of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel – also incorporated in the university's statutes – is that the institution must be managed according to the model of democracy.[10] Practically, this means that all members of the academic community — faculty staff, researchers, personnel, and students – are represented in all governing bodies. In this way, the university ensures that everyone has a voice in its decision-making processes and participates in its management. This principle must also guarantee the independence of the university and the academic freedom.

Campus and facilities[edit]

Etterbeek campus

Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering Campus
Most of the faculties are located on the Etterbeek campus (which is actually located on the territory of the neighbouring borough of Elsene). It is the livelier of the two campuses and consists almost entirely of concrete structures, most built in the 1970s. Some are decaying rapidly but at least one, the Rectoraat designed by Renaat Braem, is heritage-listed.[30] Activities take place in numerous auditoriums and labs. In addition, there is a modern sports centre, a football pitch encircled by a running track, and a swimming pool. For eating out, there is a restaurant with subsidies for students and staff, and the bars/cafes 't Complex, Opinio, Pilar and KultuurKaffee. The KultuurKaffee [nl] was a full-fledged concert venue during the evening/night, offering the university a cultural scene and organising free concerts and events. It was demolished to make space for the new XY construction project in 2015.[31]

Rectoraat, VUB

Brussels Health Campus
The campus in Jette is also a fully-fledged campus. The University Hospital (UZ Brussel [nl]) is in the vicinity. All courses and research in the life sciences (medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, the biomedical and paramedical sciences) are located here.

Brussels Technology Campus
The campus Kaai in Anderlecht was established in 2013 and shared with the Erasmushogeschool Brussel. It houses the Industrial Engineering section of the Faculty of Engineering. Among extensive industrial laboratory facilities, the Brussels fablab[32] has grown to the centre of activity on the campus in recent years.

Brussels Photonics Campus in Gooik.


  • Languages and Humanities
  • Social Sciences and Solvay Business School
  • Engineering
  • Medicine and Pharmacy
  • Psychology and Educational Sciences
  • Sciences and Biomedical Sciences
  • Law and Criminology
  • Physical Education and Physiotherapy

Institutional cooperation[edit]

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel cooperates with several institutions of higher education. They are:

  • Brussels Chamber of Commerce
  • Erasmushogeschool Brussel (together with the Vrije Universiteit Brussel they make up the Brussels University Association)
  • UCLouvain Higher Institute for Re-adaptation Sciences
  • Top Industrial Managers for Europe
  • UCOS, the University Development Cooperation Centre
  • UNICA, the Institutional Network of the UNIversities from the CApitals of Europe
  • Université libre de Bruxelles
  • University of Kent (Brussels School of International Studies)
  • Vesalius College, an anglophone institution sharing the VUB campus
  • XIOS Hogeschool Limburg and Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg
  • Royal Military Academy
  • Worldwide, on the international level the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has concluded institutional collaboration agreements with 38 universities all over the world, and student exchange agreements with 160 universities.

Academic profiles[edit]

University rankings
Global – Overall
ARWU World[33]301–400 (2023)
CWUR World[34]359 (2020-21)
CWTS World[35]412 (2020)
QS World[36]259 (2024)
THE World[37]201–250 (2024)
USNWR Global[38]=292 (2023)

The university is included in major world university rankings such as Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Student life[edit]

A traditional klak or penne

The BSG is the umbrella organisation for all other student organizations and acts as the defender of the moral interests of the students. Together with their French-speaking counterparts ACE at the ULB, they organise the annual St V memorial.

These are some of the student organizations at the VUB:

  • Studiekring vrij onderzoek: a collective of students from various faculties, promoting free inquiry through the organisation of debates, lectures and more
  • Letteren-en Wijsbegeertekring (LWK): for students studying at the Arts and Philosophy faculty
  • Geneeskundige Kring (GK) and Farmaceutische Kring (FK): for students studying at the Medicine and Pharmacy faculty
  • Polytechnische Kring (PK) for students studying at the Engineering faculty
  • Psycho-Ped'Agogische Kring (PPK): for students studying at the Psychology and Educational Sciences faculty
  • Kring der Politieke Economische en Sociale Wetenschappen (KEPS) and Solvay ($); for students studying at the Economics and Political faculty
  • Wetenschappelijke Kring (WK) [nl]: for students studying at the faculty of Sciences and Bio-engineering Sciences
  • Mens Sana in Corpore Sano (Mesacosa or MC): for students studying at the Physical Education and Physiotherapy faculty
  • Vlaams Rechtsgenootschap (VRG): for students studying at the Law and Criminology faculty
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel Model United Nations (VUBMUN): for all students of the VUB.[39]
  • We Decolonize VUB: for ethnic minority students at the VUB.[40]

Members of these organizations (except VUBMUN) wear a klak (Dutch) or penne (French).

Furthermore, the VUB has student organizations for students with a specific regional background. They are: Antverpia (Antwerp), Westland (Westhoek), WUK (West Flanders), KBS (Brussels and Flemish Brabant), Campina (Campine), Kinneke Baba (East Flanders), Limburgia (Limburg), VSKM (Mechelen), Hesbania (Haspengouw) and Ibérica (Latin America and Iberian peninsula). There are also several organizations for specific majors within a faculty, such as Infogroep (computer science), Biotecho (bio-engineering), bru:tecture (previously Pantheon) (architecture) and Promeco, Inisol and Business Club (economics). Last but not least there are organizations centered around a common interest, such as the Society of Weird And Mad People (SWAMP, for all kinds of games), BierKultuur (based on the rich beer culture in Belgium) and Liberaal Vlaams Studentenverbond (LVSV, students interested in classic liberalism).

Notable alumni[edit]

Scientists and academics[edit]



  • Pieter De Leenheer
  • Tony Mary (1950–)
  • Felix Van de Maele




  • Yves Desmet
  • Jean Mentens
  • Danira Boukhriss, Flemish television presenter and newscaster.
  • Tim Trachet, Belgian writer, publicist and journalist.

Honorary doctorates[edit]

Notable recipients of honorary doctorates (doctor honoris causa) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel include:

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium". Thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk.
  2. ^ "Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Studyinflanders.be.
  3. ^ "VUB celebrates 50 years". Vub.ac.be.
  4. ^ "Jan Danckaert named new rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussel". VUB Today. 22 June 2022.
  5. ^ "De Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) telt dit jaar 8 procent meer studenten dan het jaar voordien. Dit academiejaar zijn 19.245 studenten ingeschreven". Nieuwsblad.be. 23 October 2020.
  6. ^ Basic VUB house style colours – website of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  7. ^ The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is one of the five universities officially recognised by the Flemish government. A list of all official institutes of higher education in Flanders is maintained by the Flemish government.
  8. ^ "Campuses". Vub.ac.be. 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d Witte, Els (1996). Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen (1796–1862) (in Dutch). Brussels. ISBN 90-5487-140-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  10. ^ a b c d According to the statutes of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel: "Organiek Statuut" (PDF) (in Dutch). Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 November 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2007.
  11. ^ Visser, M.S.; Rons, N.; Moed, H.; Federhof, A.J. (2003), Bibliometrische Studie van Onderzoeksdisciplines aan de Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 1992–2001, Leiden: Centre for Science and Technology Studies, University of Leiden
  12. ^ Figures from the 2011–2012 Yearly Report of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel: "Activiteitenverslag 2011–2012" (PDF) (in Dutch). Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  13. ^ a b "A University born of an idea". Université libre de Bruxelles. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  14. ^ Lamberts, Emiel; Roegiers, Jan (1990). Leuven University, 1425–1985. Leuven: Leuven University Press. ISBN 90-6186-418-6.
  15. ^ "Pierre Théodore Verhaegen and St V". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 25 February 2023.
  16. ^ Laqua, Daniel (2013). The Age of Internationalism and Belgium, 1880–1930: Peace, Progress and Prestige. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-8883-4.
  17. ^ Great Britain's first home Olympic football adventure by Jon Carter, ESPN, 26 Jun 2012
  18. ^ Before the World Cup: Who were football’s earliest world champions? by Paul Brown on Medium Sports, 6 Jun 2018
  19. ^ Games of the II. Olympiad - Football Tournament by Søren Elbech and Karel Stokkermans on the RSSSF
  20. ^ Nerincx, Edmond (8 November 1911). Loi du 12 août 1911 accordant la personnification civile aux universités de Bruxelles et de Louvain (PDF) (in French). Brussels: Belgian official journal. p. 4846. Retrieved 25 February 2023.
  21. ^ "About the University: Culture and History". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  22. ^ "Chambre des Représen tant" (PDF).
  23. ^ "Law of 28 May 1970, concerning the splitting of the universities in Brussels and Leuven" (in Dutch). Belgisch Staatsblad/Flemish Government. Retrieved 25 November 2007.
  24. ^ See the "Faculties of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  25. ^ "Jan Danckaert named new rector of Vrije Universiteit Brussel". VUB Today. 22 June 2022.
  26. ^ See the "Organogram of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel" (PDF). Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 April 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  27. ^ According to the "official list of educational programmes at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  28. ^ Accreditation details can be consulted at "the website of NVAO". NVAO—Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  29. ^ "Welcoming the World" (PDF) (in Dutch). Brussels: Vrije Universiteit Brussel. 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  30. ^ "Het Rectoraatsgebouw van de Vrije Universiteit Brussel" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2022.
  31. ^ "KultuurKaffee van VUB sluit na dit weekend de deuren" (in Dutch). DeMorgen. 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  32. ^ "Fablab Brussels".
  33. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2023". ShanghaiRanking. Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  34. ^ "World University Rankings 2020-2021". Center for World University Rankingsg. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  35. ^ "CWTS Leiden Ranking 2020 - P(top 10%)". CWTS Leiden Ranking. Retrieved 7 March 2021.
  36. ^ "QS World University Rankings 2024". Top Universities. Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  37. ^ "World University Rankings 2024 – Vrije Universiteit Brussel". Times Higher Education (THE). 23 March 2024. Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  38. ^ "Best Global Universities 2022-23: Vrije Universiteit Brussel". U.S. News Education (USNWR). ). Retrieved 4 April 2024.
  39. ^ VUBMUN. "Vrije Universiteit Brussel Model United Nations".
  40. ^ We Decolonize VUB. "We Decolonize VUB - Project the world Needs You | Vrije Universiteit Brussel".

External links[edit]

50°49′21″N 4°23′45″E / 50.82242°N 4.39573°E / 50.82242; 4.39573