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The KU Leuven, Europe's most innovative university, is proud to be offering more than 20 PhD scholarships to students from low income countries. International cooperation and development are at the heart of the university. Therefore the KU Leuven thinks it is important to collaborate with researchers from the Global South, to help build the institutional capacity of their home universities and to tackle grand challenges that are of concern to communities in the South.

KU Leuven is situated about twenty kilometers from Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and Europe. It is the oldest university of the Low Countries. As such, it has a long-standing tradition of hospitality towards students and scholars from abroad. Currently, more than 11,000 international students (about 18% of the total number of students at KU Leuven) have found their home away from home in Leuven.



Deadline: 10 March 2022

The goal is to support research relevant to the development of countries in the Global South, to strengthen the local capacity building of the local institution and to ensure the local embeddedness of the researcher upon completing the PhD. KU Leuven promoters can apply for a 4 year PhD project for a candidate from a developing country who wishes to obtain a doctorate at KU Leuven. The project must address a topic that is relevant for sustainable development. To strengthen the embeddedness of the research within the concerned country, a co-promoter affiliated with a university or research institute from the same or another developing country must be involved in the project.. Upon completion of the doctorate, the aim is for the candidate to return in order to strengthen the capacity of the collaborating institution.


Deadline: 29 April 2022

The aim is to give scholars the opportunity to conduct 4 years of PhD research in a ‘sandwich’ system, which means that maximum 50% of the research is financed by and takes place at KU Leuven and at least 50% takes place and is financed by the home institution of the scholar, supported by a local co-promoter. Thus, as partners, both the KU Leuven and the home institution co-finance the research. KU Leuven, however, additionally offers a supervision allowance to the local co-promotor at the home institution and to the promoter at the KU Leuven.

Candidates have to be assigned by the home institution and receive sufficient financial backing from that institution so as to pursue the research in an effective manner. This ensures the candidate is embedded strongly in the home country and can, after obtaining the PhD, contribute to local capacity building.

The PhD degree is awarded by KU Leuven.

The scholarships are offered to excellent proposals that deal with a development-relevant research topic, preferably linked to one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Having obtained their doctoral degree from KU Leuven, the PhD holders are expected to mobilise their expertise at the university in their home country so as to help strengthen that institution’s capacity.


The doctoral scholarships have a duration of maximum 4 years. The mandate starts on October 1st of the year of the approval (other starting dates are possible on request).

Financial conditions: an approval contains a doctoral scholarship at KU Leuven for 4 years, a predoctoral period of max. 12 months (if the doctoral committee advises to do so) and a one-off reimbursement of travel costs from the home country of the PhD student to Belgium at the start of the doctorate (max. €1000 and based on proof of expenditure). The PhD student is exempt from the tuition fee at KU Leuven. In case a predoctoral period is imposed and the predoc is not successful, the involved candidate can also claim reimbursement of travel costs for the return trip to the home country (max. €1000 and based on proof of expenditure).


In order to be able to apply for a ‘PhD scholarship for researchers from the South’, an authorization to enroll as a doctoral student at KU Leuven must be obtained. We strongly recommend starting this procedure at least 2,5 months before the deadline date in the next bullet, via [url] The promoter assigns the HR delegate to start up the application for the admission, via the new KU Loket application admission, the candidate does not have access to this application. The candidate/PhD receives an e-mail with the link to the application for academic admission and completes the application. Further instructions can be found via Admissions.)

All applications are evaluated by the Research Council (its Bureau or a subcommittee) based on the academic quality of both the candidate and the research proposal, as well as the quality and relevance of the scientific track record of the promoter and co-promoter(s). For each application the Research Council (its Bureau or a subcommittee) will ask for written advice from the doctoral committee on whether the candidate should first take a pre-doctoral program.

Only applications that were evaluated positively by the Research Council (or its Bureau or a subcommittee) are then transferred to the Interfaculty Council for Development Cooperation (IRO). In this second phase, the IRO Selection Committee evaluates proposals on the basis of two evaluation criteria:

  • the development relevance of the topic, including its importance for sustainable development, and the potential impact of the research on better understanding or solving the development-related problem

  • the local embeddedness of the candidate and the potential to increase local capacity of the involved institution.

The evaluation by the Research Council (or its Bureau or a subcommittee) and the IRO Council will take place in May and June 2022.

The application must mainly contain the following elements (see digital application form for further specifications):

  • Authorization from the doctoral committee to enroll as a PhD researcher. (this authorization is requested via Admissions and is strictly academic. It does not guarantee the funding of a PhD scholarship!)

  • An identification of the KU Leuven promoter and (optional) co-promoter with their CV and a description of the supervision of the PhD student;

  • An identification of the co-promoter at the university or research institute in a developing country with CV and a description of the supervision of the PhD student;

  • The project description and work plan of the doctoral project, demonstrating the academic strength of the proposal, as well as the development relevance of the research, its potential to solve or better understand the development related problem(s), the way in which the candidate is or will be embedded in the local home institution, and his/her potential to contribute to the capacity strengthening of that institution after completing the PhD. In the work plan, any planned foreign stays must explicitly be described (max. 5p);

  • The curriculum vitae of the candidate, including a motivation about the stay at the KU Leuven research group, about the development relevance of the research for the involved country, about the ways in which the candidate will be embedded in the involved institution after obtaining the PhD and how he/she will contribute to its local capacity strengthening (max. 3p);

  • A motivation letter from the KU Leuven promoter containing (a) a clarification of the scientific added value of the project, (b) a description of the developmental relevance of the research and its potential impact on solving or better understanding the development-related problem, (c) a description of the aimed for (or current) collaboration with the foreign co-promoter, and (d) a formal confirmation to fulfill the supervising and logistic task ensuring the completion of the doctorate within the foreseen time period.


The foreseen doctorate must meet the KU Leuven requirements for the attainment of a doctoral degree (see regulation doctoral degrees and guidelines joint doctoral degree). The following additional conditions apply:

  • There is a local co-promoter from the developing country. This co-promoter should have the necessary scientific expertise to supervise the project and is an authority in the field and the institute. This co-promoter should play an active role in the project, remotely or as host during short stays;

  • The research should be conducted at KU Leuven. Short stays or missions to the concerned developing country and/or other foreign stays are allowed (max. 6 months and with intervals of minimum 6 months), but they must be described in the original application. In case of approval of the application, these stays must be reported to the Research Coordination Office and must be in line with the original application;

  • The dissertation should be defended within the period of 4 years. The KU Leuven promoter must confirm that this is feasible and that he/she will do whatever is necessary to ensure the doctorate can be finished within the foreseen time period.

  • The PhD candidate must in principle still complete the whole doctoral trajectory. It is possible that the PhD candidate has already started a pre-doc or a doctorate at KU Leuven, but no longer than 8 months (incl. the pre-doctoral period) on the deadline date of this call;

  • The first master’s degree cannot have been obtained more than 15 years ago.

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