Long live learning: after all, studying does not stop after your studies

levenslang leren

Who knows how your job will look within ten years? More importantly, will your job even exist? In a society that is changing rapidly it is hard to answer such questions. One thing’s for sure: studying does not stop once you have achieved your diploma. For years we were lagging behind in terms of lifelong learning. Fortunately things are now looking more promising.

“I often tell my students: don’t expect it to be over once you graduate. Jobs evolve, and new demands for competencies and skills will keep emerging in the work domain.” Wise words from professor Eveline Schollaert, whose research is dedicated to the importance of lifelong learning. Her conclusion: “We simply have no choice.”

Jobs that don’t yet exist

It sounds dramatic, yet it’s really true. The employment market is evolving rapidly. Most young people who are still at school will end up doing a job that doesn’t even exist yet. In fact, for the majority of today’s active population, it is the case that today’s knowledge and skills will not be sufficient for an entire career.

Given the context, lifelong learning is a hot topic. This means that, as an employee, you remain up to date even after your studies. And that you are ‘employable’, as they call it. Even so, this notion has hardly trickled through in Flanders. Figures from Statistiek Vlaanderen show that, for many years, we have been treading water at a low level, and that only 8% of the active population is involved in additional learning. In comparison: in countries like Sweden and Finland the number is almost 30%, in the Netherlands the number is just below 20%.

Continous evolution

The need to continue learning is great, but the step is taken too little. That was not the case for Zoë Pauwaert, who is currently working as environmental coordinator at Bova Enviro+. When her contract expired in her last job she was forced to look for something new. There were plenty of interesting vacancies, only she lacked the necessary diploma. By doing an extra programme, a postgraduate at Ghent University, she now has a certificate as well as the job she wanted.

Zoë must keep up her education in her current job too: “As an external environmental coordinator I help companies with an impact on the environment with their environmental permits. I keep track of legislation and assess whether the company is on track. I also consider how the company can take action to save energy and install eco-friendly processes. It is therefore very important that I stay up to date on the latest legislation, which is actually evolving all the time. That’s why I regularly do new courses.”


According to Eveline, this is the right approach to extra education and training. “It all begins with a needs analysis. What is relevant to you? What are your specific requirements?” That creates the motivation to want to keep on learning. If you are motivated, you increase your chances of success. “Self-management is a basic requirement”, explains Eveline. “Being able to determine for yourself what you think is important, which competencies and skills you want to improve and which programmes you wish to follow. Even so, your chosen programme does not necessarily need to have anything to do with your career. It can also simply enrich you as a person, making you more enthusiastic in your job or even in life.”

"Your chosen programme does not necessarily need to have anything to do with your career. It can also simply enrich you as a person, making you more enthusiastic in your job or even in life"
Eveline Schollaert, professor in the faculty of Economic and Business Administration

“From the employer’s perspective the question is: which skills does your organisation need and what do your employees want? You can establish your training objectives on that basis: what are you keen to achieve with the learning path?” After all, companies play an important role in the success of lifelong learning, according to Eveline. “Not only by giving their colleagues the opportunity, but also by supporting them in applying their newly acquired skills and believing in them. Believing that you can do it is, besides motivation, another important prerequisite for success in a course. We call that self-efficacy. If you can start a programme with plenty of self-confidence, you are better prepared to be learn new things and you will also get more out of it.”

Chunking in modules

Motivation is one thing, time is quite another. That was tricky for Zoë too: “The combination of work and family life was already a challenge, certainly since I was about to give birth to our first child when I joined the programme.” However, the way in which the postgraduate was structured, into five modules, made it feasible. “Each semester you can follow one of these modules”, she explains. “Really handy: it allows you to choose when you will do an exam. Provided you complete the programme within three years.”

The division into modules is not only done to cater for a lack of time, it also increases the chances of success. This has been scientifically researched, says Eveline: “The method, dividing a course into smaller parts, is called chunking and appears to work.”

Mini programmes

Ghent University is an important player when it comes to offering lifelong learning, being an educational establishment, and organises various postgraduates in modules. Plus increasingly other forms of continuing education too. Bieke Morlion, coordinator of Lifelong Learning at Ghent University: “We are creating more short programmes. This means you can do one course unit from an existing programme.” This kind of mini programme is accompanied by a certificate: so-called micro credentials.

Levenslang leren

There are also paths with no evaluation: summer school, lectures or study days. “Such a course of lectures has considerably less impact on your agenda and can also ensure that you stay up to date on a certain subject”, explains Bieke. “You join in, but are not assessed in an exam, apprenticeship or paper, so there is no certificate. Although you do receive a certificate to prove your participation, which you can then add to your portfolio.”

At the source

Many faculties have been working for years on complementary programmes. For example, the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture has had a platform for lifelong learning together with the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering for years. The former Institute for Permanent Education is an academy for engineers and recently changed its name to UGain. Exchanges between the university and business are the clue in these initiatives. The university keeps in touch with society, while companies employee better trained people like Zoë.

"As a research institute we are at the source of knowledge. It is our job to pass such knowledge onto society. The key to innovation is in our own hands."
Bieke Morlion, coordinator of Lifelong Learning at Ghent University

The role of a university in lifelong learning should not be underestimated. Bieke: “As a research institute we are at the source of knowledge. It is our job to pass such knowledge onto society. The key to innovation is in our own hands.”

Nova Academy combines offer

In an effort to do even better, Ghent University teamed up with the University of Antwerp and the VUB, in founding Nova Academy. This is an overarching information platform, with a structured summary of the continuing education on offer at the three universities. The aim is to strengthen the range of lifelong learning in Flanders. Even so, the responsibility for organising and implementing the range remains with the different faculty and interfaculty academies. Ghent University has made the conscious decision to keep the academies in the hands of the faculties. In doing so, the programmes are established at the source: where research is done and new knowledge emerges.

Many academies work together regularly, including the Humanities Academy (Faculty of Arts and Philosophy) and the GHALL (Ghent Health Academy for Lifelong Learning, faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences) with their series of lectures ‘Reading in times of caregiving’. Bieke: “These lectures are given by experts in the care sector and literature. In fact, not all are academics, there are also hands-on experts and authors.”

It is thanks to the close collaboration between the academic world and the work domain that the range of lifelong learning suits what is going on in society so seamlessly. And since society is evolving so rapidly, the range of programmes at the academies is approved much more quickly than what’s on offer in traditional education.

Bieke concludes: “Our university has grown considerably in the last twenty years. We have always focused hard on the traditional and subsidised offer. Today, Ghent University is devoting its efforts to lifelong learning.” In this way, with initiatives like Nova Academy, Flanders can catch up.

Nova Academy

Take a look at the Nova Academy platform for a complete summary of our continuing education, lectures and study days.

Eveline Schollaert

Eveline Schollaert is a professor in the faculty of Economic and Business Administration. In her research she focuses on aspects which can support a sustainable relationship between organisations and employees. She is also a member of UGent@work, one of the ten IDCs (interdisciplinary research consortia) with which Ghent University aims to increase the social impact of research in certain areas. Years ago she fell in love in an auditorium at Ghent University. Twenty years on she is happily married to that very person and they have two children and a cat.

Zoë Pauwaert

Zoë Pauwaert achieved her Masters in marine sciences, and worked for a while in the Hydraulic Laboratory. Then she did a postgraduate as environmental coordinator and she worked as an ecology and innovation advisor at Deucalion. Today she is a project engineer at Bova Enviro+. As a student she was actually keen to do Erasmus. She ended up choosing an international Master’s programme with fellow students from all corners of the globe.

Bieke Morlion

Bieke Morlion is a coordinator of Lifelong Learning at Ghent University. She is a Ghent University person from head to toe: she began there as a student, and has since worked there for 22 years. She adores not only the university, but also the city. Most of all she loves the area around the Vooruit, and has done ever since she was a student.


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