Last Wednesday, 1500 students and teachers protested in Brussels against reforms to the Belgian Francophone higher education system. The reforms will restrict the number of foreign students in particular degrees like veterinary science and physiotherapy. Many French students currently study in Belgium because they are required to go through entrance exams in France.

The Times Higher Education Supplement has an article on the issue (subscription required):

The law, due to be introduced in September, is intended to cut the number of non-Belgians accepted on certain courses. In veterinary medicine, 86% of university students enrolled in 2005-06 had completed secondary education outside Belgium, while for physiotherapy the figure was 78%.

The law will set a cap of 30% for non-resident students on courses that had more than 40% foreign enrolment the year before. The cap will apply to chiropody, speech therapy and obstetrics. The Government argues that the influx of non-residents reduces resources per student, causes problems finding external placements and risks reducing the number of professionals who remain in Belgium.

Student groups and academic unions continue to mount demonstrations. Students have been particularly vocal, complaining that the measure is against the spirit of open access and mobility promoted by the Bologna Process. The Government disagrees, pointing out that 30% is still 12 times the European average for non-resident students.

This case looks a lot like the Europeanisation by stealth in Austria on which I posted in this blog in February. In Austria the case was about medicine and German students. In order to avoid an influx of foreign students to study medicine in Austria, the ministry established special requirements for foreign EU students. These requirements however were illegal according to an ECJ court ruling because this was seen as discrimination on the basis of nationality and contradictory to Article 12 of the Treaty, the non-discrimination principle.

My (limited) knowledge of European law therefore says that the Belgian reform will not be allowed by the European Court of Justice. Instead of referring to the (intergovernmental) Bologna Process, the students might better call upon the (supranational) EU Treaties.

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