Flemish education minister Ben Weyts has ruffled feathers by unilaterally increasing the numbers of students entering medical and dentistry studies at Flemish universities for the academic year 2020-2021.
His French community counterpart Valérie Glatigny has demanded the creation of a joint committee to look at the real needs of the two professions.
At present, the numbers of students allowed to study medicine and dentistry in Belgium is governed by an agreement between the two language communities, which restrict the numbers to meet the needs of the National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (Inami/Riziv), which sets a limit on the number of registered graduates allowed each year.
The Flemish community, which like its French-speaking counterpart has jurisdiction over education, does this by restricting entry-level numbers; students have to pass an exam to be allowed to enter the courses in the first place. French-speaking universities, by contrast, have until only recently allowed all new undergraduates, many of whom drop out along the way. An exam for entry into the first year, and in some cases for passing on to second year, was introduced recently.
Weyts justifies his unilateral increase by pointing to the shortage of doctors in many places in Flanders, especially outside of the main cities. The Flemish system limits entry-level numbers, but also sees wastage as students drop out before graduating. And with a 60-40 majority in terms of population, Flanders considers it is being penalised by the numbers as they are at present – set by the federal government, the authority over Inami/Riziv, at 929 for medicine and 136 for dentistry on each side of the language divide.
Weyts, however, said those numbers “are too low to respond to the health care needs of Flanders,” and intends to raise the two figures to 1,276 and 180 respectively. The end result – the number of students graduating at the end of their studies – will still be determined by the number of licences handed out by Inami/Riziv. However Weyts considers Flemish graduates will be more likely to take up those licences if there are more of them to begin with.