The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled that a business school operating in Brussels and Antwerp may not grant master’s degrees.
The United International Business School is based in Switzerland, with operations in Italy, Spain and Japan as well as Belgium. In this country they have campuses in Brussels in St-Gilles and in Antwerp by the Meir shopping street.
The school offers bachelor’s, master’s and postgraduate degrees in a variety of business-related disciplines, but is not officially recognised by the Flemish government. Technically, then, the degrees are not valid, despite costing upwards of 50,000 euros for a full programme.
The founders of the school, the Swiss brothers Freddie and Thierry Kirchstein, were fined by a court in Antwerp in 2015 for the offence of offering degrees that have no international recognition, but the brothers appealed. They argued that since the school is a foreign enterprise, it does not require accreditation from Flanders in order to give out degrees.
Considering the appeal, a higher court sent the question to Luxembourg for a ruling under European law. For the sake of brevity the question related only to master’s degrees.
The court has now ruled that a master’s degree can only be issued by an institution accredited by the local legal authority, and that any breach of that rule can be prosecuted in the national court. And since the Flemish community does not recognise other degrees awarded by the school, it can take action against those also.
“The court ruled that the way the Flemish community recognises degrees is justified,” said Hilde Crevits, Flemish minister for education. “Only accredited educational institutions may hand out protected degrees. In that way the quality of our higher education can be protected.”
It will now be up to the court of appeal in Antwerp to take account of the EU court’s ruling in its own judgement on the appeal by the two brothers against the 2015 fine.
The Flemish government maintains a “white list” (also in English) of recognised degree-granting institutions, ranging from the five main universities through the university colleges to schools like the PARTS performing arts school in Brussels, the Vlerick Business School in Ghent, Leuven and Brussels, Antwerp Management School, the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp and the International Opera Academy in Ghent.
The list also includes a number of foreign institutions recognised by Flanders, among them the University of Kent in Brussels and the von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics in Sint-Genesius-Rode.
Unaccredited schools are, Crevits told De Morgen, a constant problem for the authorities. “Institutions that are not in order are contacted, and if they do not come into line, a legal action will be started,” she said. Several such procedures are currently under way.