More students could become doctors or dentists, but can universities cope with the influx?

More than 5,600 candidates will sit entrance exams for a place to study medicine or dentistry this week. By offering more places, the Flemish government wants to reduce the shortage of practitioners. But the question is whether the universities are prepared, writes VRT NWS.

Of the 5,121 candidates, 1,600 will be allowed to begin their studies. This is significantly more than last year when only 1,276 candidates were accepted.

There is also great interest in the dental entrance examination, which takes place on Wednesday. There are 1,512 candidates, almost 300 more than last year. Every year, some candidates take both exams. This year, 954 have to declare in advance which course they prefer.

Shortage of doctors

"I am pleased that so many students are choosing this pathway because there is an absolute need for additional doctors to deal with the shortage and health care needs," Flemish Education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA) told VRT NWS. The region has been facing a shortage of doctors and a lack of specialists such as dermatologists, ophthalmologists and paediatricians.

But the question is whether the universities are prepared for the extra students. "The new quota has been set in consultation with the universities because they have to be able to guarantee a sufficiently high quality of education," Weyts says.

Some medical faculties, however, are concerned about practical organisation. Professor Piet Hoebeke, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at UGent, refers to the sudden influx of a quarter more students as a "shock effect".

"Based on past averages, we expect about 600 new students, up from 350 to 400. Add to that the dental students, who often participate in the same classes, and you will need a place that can accommodate about 750 students."

"These students need almost one-to-one guidance"

At KU Leuven, dean Paul Herijgers also wonders how to organise the training. "These are very intensive courses," he says. "These students need almost one-to-one guidance regarding practical skills and their first steps in the clinic. This requires a lot of extra commitment."

Universities are stressing the need for additional structural resources to continue to provide good education. Weyts has already made a one-off extra 15 million euros available to help with the transition. "But from now on, the quota will be higher every year, so it is important that there are also additional resources on an ongoing basis to continue to provide quality education," says Herijgers.


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