Young and innovative, UA develops unique research centre in the EU: Vaccinopolis

Flemish universities

The University of Antwerp (UA) is characterised by its internationally competitive research and entrepreneurial approach. It is ranked 280 in QS World Ranking 2023 and holds the 6th position in Belgium. Today, it has about 20,000 students, which makes it the third-largest university in Flanders.

There are ten domains the university's research is among the best in the world: Drug Discovery and Development; Ecology and Sustainable Development; Port, Transport and Logistics; Imaging; Infectious Diseases; Materials Characterisation; Neurosciences; Socio-economic Policy and Organisation; Public Policy and Political Science; Urban History and Contemporary Urban

It is a young university founded in 2003 after the merger of three separate institutions: UFSIA (Universitaire Faculteiten Sint-Ignatius Antwerpen), RUCA (Rijksuniversitair Centrum Antwerpen) and UIA (Universitaire Instelling Antwerpen). This merger made UA to become the first "pluralistic" university in Belgium, offering philosophical, ethical, spiritual discourse and openness towards religion and intercultural dialogue.


The university's roots go back to Sint-Ignatius Handelshogeschool (Saint-Ignatius School for Higher Education in Commerce) founded by the Jesuit (Society of Jesus) in Antwerp in 1852. This was one of the first European business schools to offer formal university degrees. It later opened a Faculty of Literature and Philosophy (including Law) and a Faculty of Political and Social Sciences. It was renamed Universitaire Faculteiten Sint-Ignatius Antwerpen (UFSIA) in the 1960s when the Belgian government granted it university status.

In the early 1970s UFSIA joined into a confederation with "Rijksuniversitair Centrum Antwerpen" (RUCA) and "Universitaire Instelling Antwerpen" (UIA). It introduced an innovative educational policy in 1971 based on a trimester system (now a semester one), a credit system, limited numbers of lectures and an emphasis on active education and self-study, a system which is now widespread throughout Flanders.

Covid-19 and Vaccinopolis

"This academic year has lots of potential, because we have to build a new world which can tackle both global health and climate in one huge project and you're in the front line, ready to work on that new society," said UA rector Herman Van Goethem to welcome students during the academic year 2020-2021 facing Covid-19 hardships.

One year later, this March 2022, UA opened up a unique vaccine research centre at Campus Drie Eiken named "Vaccinopolis", where vaccines for all kinds of pathogens are tested and accelerate the fight against new and existing diseases.

"Covid-19 has really made us face the facts," explained vaccinologist UA Professor Pierre Van Damme (UAntwerp). "With Vaccinopolis we put our country on the map. Together with our partners, we want to build an innovation ecosystem for pandemic management," he added.

According to Van Damme, there is no comparable facility of this magnitude in continental Europe.

"For comparable facilities, you would have to go to the United States or Great Britain," he remarks.
Architect Roy Pype, Professor Pierre Van Damme and UZA facility manager Bart Van Meerbergen at UA to present Vaccinopolis on 25 March 2022. ©BELGA PHOTO (JONAS ROOSENS)
Architect Roy Pype, Professor Pierre Van Damme and UZA facility manager Bart Van Meerbergen at UA to present Vaccinopolis on 25 March 2022. ©BELGA PHOTO (JONAS ROOSENS)

UAntwerp and ULB

The Belgian federal government invested 20 million euros in Vaccinopolis and in the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB)’s Institute for Medical Immunology. Vaccinopolis closely collaborates with the university of Brussels, which is a leader in human vaccine immunology.

Private partners also invested in the realisation of Vaccinopolis. From the Flemish government's recovery plan, €5.3 million was made available for the development of an innovation ecosystem for pandemic management, as indicated in the 2030 roadmap of Voka - Chamber of Commerce Antwerp-Waasland.



©BELGA PHOTO (JONAS ROOSENS) Together with partners such as the Institute of Tropical Medicine and the hospitals of the region, UA wants to turn Vaccinopolis into an ecosystem and innovation hub for pandemic control.

This article is part of the five-part series "Flemish Universities"



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