Authorities in French-speaking Belgium will extend consultation on a new law limiting the number of foreign students enrolling on undergraduate courses including veterinary medicine and physiotherapy.
The law, due to be introduced in September, is intended to cut the number of non-Belgians accepted on certain courses. Presently, most such students are French citizens who turn to institutions in Belgium's francophone region of Wallonia if they do not qualify for places at home. In veterinary medicine, 86 per cent of university students enrolled in 2005-06 had completed secondary education outside Belgium, while for physiotherapy the figure was 78 per cent.
Admission for veterinary medicine is by competition, so foreign students displace Belgians and raise fears that national education and the supply of new vets are being undermined. For courses open to all comers, 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.
The law will set a cap of 30 per cent for non-resident students on courses that had more than 40 per cent foreign enrolment the year before. It would apply only to first enrolments in first-cycle degrees, and would not affect mobility programmes such as Erasmus.
As well as veterinary medicine and physiotherapy, the cap will apply to chiropody, speech therapy and obstetrics. It is estimated that applying the law will mean 1,000 fewer students in 2006-07, raising fears that some courses would cease to be viable.
The Government says the impact will be spread over a number of years, across all the region's institutions. Safeguards will offer compensation to adversely affected institutions and maintain employment for lecturers.
Nevertheless, 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 per cent is still 12 times the European average for non-resident students.