The Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) has noticed a growing demand for financial support from students as a result of rising study costs. The existing study grant provided by the Flemish government is proving insufficient for many, leading more students to turn to the university for assistance. This puts additional pressure on VUB’s own resources. As an urban engaged university, VUB stresses its continued commitment to ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students by offering them personalised help through a comprehensive range of support. 

Since 2018, the number of contacts by VUB students – financial questions or concerns reported by email, phone or appointment – with the university’s Student Statute and Student Financing service has grown each year. From 2021 to 2022, there was an increase of 16%, and 7% from 2022 to 2023.

“At first glance, these percentages don’t seem to be spectacular, but in reality, the figures are even higher because we have automated our application process in recent years,” says Nadine Engels, vice-rector for Education and Student Affairs. “During contacts, staff are seeing signs that students are finding it increasingly difficult to cover rising study costs, from registration fees and textbooks to the rent for a student room. Of course, there has also been the energy crisis and rising inflation in the past year. Moreover, the amount of the Flemish government’s study grant hasn’t increased sufficiently in line with the rise in study costs, leading to students increasingly turning to the university for financial assistance. This puts additional pressure on the university, because it has to use its own resources to meet that demand. For comparison: the amount disbursed between 2018 and 2022 grew by 44%, to a total of €1,578,662 in 2022. But doing nothing is not an option. Financial, material, social or psychological concerns can seriously affect students’ mental well-being and, consequently, their results. It is our duty as a university to ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.”

Financial support in figures

VUB has a range of financial instruments available to students. As requests for help increase, so does the number of applications and the amount the university pays out. 

VUB offers students a rent allowance, which was increased for the second academic year in a row in response to rising rental costs. In the 2022-2023 academic year, it rose from €90 to €130 per month. For the current academic year, there was another increase to a maximum of €140 for VUB rooms and up to €160 for privately rented rooms. As a result, the amount paid out in 2023 so far has increased by 30% compared to the same period in 2022. The university also provides a social allowance up to a maximum of €2,000 for students who require additional support. There was a 20% increase in the number of approved applications in 2023 compared to 2022, accounting for a 12% rise in the amount disbursed. Students who are not eligible for the Flemish government’s study allowance can, under certain conditions, apply for a reduction in tuition fees.

Short- or long-term interest-free loans are also available. Short-term loans have a value of up to €1,500, repayable within the same academic year. Long-term loans have a value of up to €1,500, repayable only after graduation or cessation of studies at VUB. In September-October of this academic year, 35% more short-term loans were granted than in the same period last year. These were most commonly in relation to spreading tuition fee payments.

In addition, VUB will in some cases offer an advance on the Flemish government’s study grant, an external bursary or an international allowance for exchange students. The Caroline Pauwels Relief Fund for students may also be used in emergency situations to provide students in financial need with the support they need to continue their studies.

“In a diverse society, we need future leaders from diverse backgrounds who can find innovative solutions for the challenges of tomorrow,” says VUB rector Jan Danckaert. “As an urban engaged university, in the metropolitan context of Brussels, developing talent is our greatest asset. But if students are struggling, sometimes talent, effort and dedication aren’t enough for them to obtain a diploma. To offer everyone equal educational opportunities, we continue to take our social responsibility by offering students in need personalised assistance.”