Higher Education in the European Union

Higher Education in the European Union

Higher education is an integral part of 19,5 million students in the European Union. However, even today, some encounter great challenges, when moving abroad to study another degree, or participate in the Erasmus+ programme. Some degrees are not accepted, while Erasmus students often have to repeat a semester due to a lack of accreditation by the home university, which doesn’t consider some modules equivalent to its own. This lack of recognition, and the implicit absence of trust, seems outdated in 21st century Europe. It stems from the fact that the field of education is not considered to be covered by the freedom to provide services.

Worth Knowing

History

Although the main responsibility for education lies within the member states of our European Union, the latter has the mandate to encourage cooperation between universities and foster the mobility of students and researchers. To fulfil that mandate, the European Commission has supported the Bologna Process which entails the establishment of a three-cycle system (Bachelor, Master, Doctorate), a European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), National Qualification Frameworks (NQF), and common standards for quality assurance. The objective behind this process is the creation of the so-called European Higher Education Area, which should make university education in Europe more comparable, competitive and coherent. Yet, since the Bologna Process is not part of EU legislation but only a non-legally binding agreement between states, including many non-EU countries, the level of progress towards this goal varies. While almost all of them have implemented the core reforms mentioned above, many failed in consistency, especially in regards to implementing the degree structure in courses like medicine, architecture and law. Further areas where progress is awaited include the recognition of credits gained abroad, the entry into higher education from different secondary school tracks, and the lacklustre application of the common standards for quality assurance.

Having identified those areas, the EU is determined to enable every member state to reach its commitments, and, thus contribute to the convergence of the higher education system within our union. In 2017, the Commission published an updated “EU Strategy for Higher Education” which involves, for example, exploring the feasibility of an electronic student identification system to provide cross-border access to student data and also involves the establishment of a knowledge hub on higher education to increase comparability within the EU.

Furthermore, the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navaracsics has put forward four concrete proposals to enhance mobility and coherence. Firstly, supporting the founding of European Universities. Secondly, promoting automatic mutual recognition of academic qualifications and learning periods abroad. Thirdly, the introduction of a European Student card, and lastly improvements in the teaching and learning of languages and enhancing the Erasmus+ programme. The Erasmus+ programme is a big part of the EU’s efforts to increase coherence within the higher education sector and the budget for it is set to double for the next period (2021-2027). Yet, although it is the EU’s most well-known success story, its results and consequences are not always to be welcomed as we will discuss below.

Read more on the Commission’s website and on EurLex here and here!

Erasmus and Erasmus+

The European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (Erasmus) programme, aims to foster cultural diversity by offering students to participate in university exchanges at European universities, independently of whether they’re located in EU member states. Students participating in the programme gain the opportunity to study with their peers in a new environment and thereby learn to look at the world from a different perspective. This experience helps students broaden their horizons and to better tackle problems in their respective field of study or their personal life. Improved and fresh thinking is only one of the programme’s advantages: students go through a genuinely European experience and learn what Europe means first hand.

Since, its introduction in 1987, many details and the name of the programme have changed. However, the above-described principles have been continuously shaping our European Union’s vision by making the Erasmus programme more coherent, transparent and, most importantly, accessible to students. Since the first Erasmus student set foot on the steps of his European host university, more than 9 million other students have followed, making the programme a success with a continuously increasing demand.

According to surveys conducted by the European Commission, 88% of students that enrolled in the Eramsus+ programme have increased their social skills, while 80% believe that their experience at the host university and country has shaped their prospective personal role in community and society. Many students’ experience is then motivating them to implement the new ideas.

However, Erasmus students often experience the same disadvantages as students that have completed their degree; their modules are not officially accredited. Students participating often face the problem of not being able to accredit ECTS points to their home university resulting in two scenarios. Firstly, students are faced with additional burdens by having to complete exams at their home university. Secondly, students have to retake a semester or even a year at home which comes hand in hand with additional fees and the prospect of entering the job market later. Both these scenarios are disadvantageous to students, the EU and its Erasmus+ programme, the economy, and the single market. With fewer people participating in the programme due to these burdens, all parties involved would gain from establishing a system in which ECTS points are accredited.

To create such a system, universities would have to comply to a certain degree to a common curriculum, that would, however, culminate in a declining competition among universities, as flexibility and uniqueness diminish; the latter being opposed by  European powerhouses, especially in the United Kingdom. Moreover, owing to the freedom of education, university programs diverge greatly among member states and even inside member states. The freedom of education would hence by infringed by a rigid common framework.

Read more about the erasmus+ programme here.

Single Market and Higher Education

In 1993, the member states of the European Union established the single market which guarantees the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people inside the union. The access to the single market is not confined to member states. Other countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland also form part of it, while other countries have limited access. In the following, we will focus on the free movement of people. Some would argue that higher education can be categorized as a service, but the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU formerly: ECJ), does not consider that higher education is a service that enjoys the right of free movement. Proponents of this view argue that because member states fund higher education, it should remain under their purview. Moreover, higher education is not as straightforward a service as giving consultancy advice from Frankfurt to Madrid.

Free Movement of People and Higher Education

Another reason why the automatic recognition of diplomas and qualifications should be a higher priority is that it greatly contributes to the free movement of people in the EU. Currently, many highly educated people cannot move to other EU countries because the failure to recognize their qualifications prevents them from getting a job. However, many member states with significant labour shortages would welcome those looking for a job to fill their vacancies. Especially in the area of medicine and social work, the acceptance of other EU qualifications remains a big problem. Tackling it would be greatly beneficial for many European countries with ageing populations and for the highly qualified professionals who could find work in those countries.

However, the increasing influx of people from other member states might become an even more contentious issue than it is today. Especially in areas where labour shortage is a minor issue, people might feel threatened by the increasing number of people coming, and resentments might grow. Thus, a pessimistic conclusion would be that, given the current political climate, an increase in immigration from EU countries might endanger the project of European integration.

Yet, statistics show that xenophobia is stronger in those areas with very little interaction between cultures than it is in areas with a lot of interactions between cultures. Hence, increased movement of people among EU member states as a consequence of a better recognition of different qualifications would probably accelerate the formation of a more inclusive European identity, and thus the process of European integration.

From an economic point of view, a mutual recognition of qualifications that makes it easier for people to move countries is an instrument to reduce economic inequalities within the EU. It balances out national labour shortages and differences within national workforces so that all member states benefit from it. Nonetheless, this is based on the assumption that people moving to another member state to study or work there will eventually come back. Yet, those who left their home to work in a higher-wage EU country often have adjusted their lifestyle to its higher living standards and are not willing to give that up. As a consequence, those member states that lag behind in terms of educational opportunities and average income may suffer a brain drain which would counterproductively further increase inequality in the EU.

Another positive economic effect of an automatic recognition of qualifications is that it would reduce the asymmetry between how free capital currently is to move across borders and how free people are to move countries. As capital enjoys a higher freedom of movement than people, capital is often in a better bargaining position when it comes to economic policy decisions. For example in the struggle for more labour rights, capital can threaten to leave the country, while it is more difficult for employees to threaten the same. Tackling this asymmetry is thus very important for a more fair and just society. An EU-wide automatic and mutual recognition of qualifications would be an important step towards that.

What do you think?

Drive change on Talos

Cause Automatic & mutual recognition for diplomas earned in higher education institutions within EU Member States!
Launcher Áron James Miszlivetz

Hey there, if you agree with some of our points in this article we would like to invite you to look at the initiative launched on Talos to reform the higher education accreditation system. As you have read this article, you are likely to agree that there is a need for reform. Your specific suggestions may differ, but by signing the proposal we could ask the EP to discuss the matter, and openly consider all options. Also, please feel free to contact us through the comment section or the various social media sites to make your voice heard. We are keen on adopting new points!

Read more

European Commission (Education and Training)

EUR-Lex (Paper on a renewed EU agenda for higher education)

EUR-Lex (Recent Developments on Higher Education)

Higher Education in the European Union

Higher education is an integral part of 19,5 million students in the European Union. However, even today, some encounter great challenges, when moving abroad to study another degree, or participate in the Erasmus+ programme. Some degrees are not accepted, while Erasmus students often have to repeat a semester due to a lack of accreditation by the home university, which doesn’t consider some modules equivalent to its own. This lack of recognition, and the implicit absence of trust, seems outdated in 21st century Europe. It stems from the fact that the field of education is not considered to be covered by the freedom to provide services.

Worth Knowing

History

Although the main responsibility for education lies within the member states of our European Union, the latter has the mandate to encourage cooperation between universities and foster the mobility of students and researchers. To fulfil that mandate, the European Commission has supported the Bologna Process which entails the establishment of a three-cycle system (Bachelor, Master, Doctorate), a European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS), National Qualification Frameworks (NQF), and common standards for quality assurance. The objective behind this process is the creation of the so-called European Higher Education Area, which should make university education in Europe more comparable, competitive and coherent. Yet, since the Bologna Process is not part of EU legislation but only a non-legally binding agreement between states, including many non-EU countries, the level of progress towards this goal varies. While almost all of them have implemented the core reforms mentioned above, many failed in consistency, especially in regards to implementing the degree structure in courses like medicine, architecture and law. Further areas where progress is awaited include the recognition of credits gained abroad, the entry into higher education from different secondary school tracks, and the lacklustre application of the common standards for quality assurance.

Having identified those areas, the EU is determined to enable every member state to reach its commitments, and, thus contribute to the convergence of the higher education system within our union. In 2017, the Commission published an updated “EU Strategy for Higher Education” which involves, for example, exploring the feasibility of an electronic student identification system to provide cross-border access to student data and also involves the establishment of a knowledge hub on higher education to increase comparability within the EU.

Furthermore, the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navaracsics has put forward four concrete proposals to enhance mobility and coherence. Firstly, supporting the founding of European Universities. Secondly, promoting automatic mutual recognition of academic qualifications and learning periods abroad. Thirdly, the introduction of a European Student card, and lastly improvements in the teaching and learning of languages and enhancing the Erasmus+ programme. The Erasmus+ programme is a big part of the EU’s efforts to increase coherence within the higher education sector and the budget for it is set to double for the next period (2021-2027). Yet, although it is the EU’s most well-known success story, its results and consequences are not always to be welcomed as we will discuss below.

Read more on the Commission’s website and on EurLex here and here!

Erasmus and Erasmus+

The European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (Erasmus) programme, aims to foster cultural diversity by offering students to participate in university exchanges at European universities, independently of whether they’re located in EU member states. Students participating in the programme gain the opportunity to study with their peers in a new environment and thereby learn to look at the world from a different perspective. This experience helps students broaden their horizons and to better tackle problems in their respective field of study or their personal life. Improved and fresh thinking is only one of the programme’s advantages: students go through a genuinely European experience and learn what Europe means first hand.

Since, its introduction in 1987, many details and the name of the programme have changed. However, the above-described principles have been continuously shaping our European Union’s vision by making the Erasmus programme more coherent, transparent and, most importantly, accessible to students. Since the first Erasmus student set foot on the steps of his European host university, more than 9 million other students have followed, making the programme a success with a continuously increasing demand.

According to surveys conducted by the European Commission, 88% of students that enrolled in the Eramsus+ programme have increased their social skills, while 80% believe that their experience at the host university and country has shaped their prospective personal role in community and society. Many students’ experience is then motivating them to implement the new ideas.

However, Erasmus students often experience the same disadvantages as students that have completed their degree; their modules are not officially accredited. Students participating often face the problem of not being able to accredit ECTS points to their home university resulting in two scenarios. Firstly, students are faced with additional burdens by having to complete exams at their home university. Secondly, students have to retake a semester or even a year at home which comes hand in hand with additional fees and the prospect of entering the job market later. Both these scenarios are disadvantageous to students, the EU and its Erasmus+ programme, the economy, and the single market. With fewer people participating in the programme due to these burdens, all parties involved would gain from establishing a system in which ECTS points are accredited.

To create such a system, universities would have to comply to a certain degree to a common curriculum, that would, however, culminate in a declining competition among universities, as flexibility and uniqueness diminish; the latter being opposed by  European powerhouses, especially in the United Kingdom. Moreover, owing to the freedom of education, university programs diverge greatly among member states and even inside member states. The freedom of education would hence by infringed by a rigid common framework.

Read more about the erasmus+ programme here.

Single Market and Higher Education

In 1993, the member states of the European Union established the single market which guarantees the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people inside the union. The access to the single market is not confined to member states. Other countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland also form part of it, while other countries have limited access. In the following, we will focus on the free movement of people. Some would argue that higher education can be categorized as a service, but the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU formerly: ECJ), does not consider that higher education is a service that enjoys the right of free movement. Proponents of this view argue that because member states fund higher education, it should remain under their purview. Moreover, higher education is not as straightforward a service as giving consultancy advice from Frankfurt to Madrid.

Free Movement of People and Higher Education

Another reason why the automatic recognition of diplomas and qualifications should be a higher priority is that it greatly contributes to the free movement of people in the EU. Currently, many highly educated people cannot move to other EU countries because the failure to recognize their qualifications prevents them from getting a job. However, many member states with significant labour shortages would welcome those looking for a job to fill their vacancies. Especially in the area of medicine and social work, the acceptance of other EU qualifications remains a big problem. Tackling it would be greatly beneficial for many European countries with ageing populations and for the highly qualified professionals who could find work in those countries.

However, the increasing influx of people from other member states might become an even more contentious issue than it is today. Especially in areas where labour shortage is a minor issue, people might feel threatened by the increasing number of people coming, and resentments might grow. Thus, a pessimistic conclusion would be that, given the current political climate, an increase in immigration from EU countries might endanger the project of European integration.

Yet, statistics show that xenophobia is stronger in those areas with very little interaction between cultures than it is in areas with a lot of interactions between cultures. Hence, increased movement of people among EU member states as a consequence of a better recognition of different qualifications would probably accelerate the formation of a more inclusive European identity, and thus the process of European integration.

From an economic point of view, a mutual recognition of qualifications that makes it easier for people to move countries is an instrument to reduce economic inequalities within the EU. It balances out national labour shortages and differences within national workforces so that all member states benefit from it. Nonetheless, this is based on the assumption that people moving to another member state to study or work there will eventually come back. Yet, those who left their home to work in a higher-wage EU country often have adjusted their lifestyle to its higher living standards and are not willing to give that up. As a consequence, those member states that lag behind in terms of educational opportunities and average income may suffer a brain drain which would counterproductively further increase inequality in the EU.

Another positive economic effect of an automatic recognition of qualifications is that it would reduce the asymmetry between how free capital currently is to move across borders and how free people are to move countries. As capital enjoys a higher freedom of movement than people, capital is often in a better bargaining position when it comes to economic policy decisions. For example in the struggle for more labour rights, capital can threaten to leave the country, while it is more difficult for employees to threaten the same. Tackling this asymmetry is thus very important for a more fair and just society. An EU-wide automatic and mutual recognition of qualifications would be an important step towards that.

What do you think?

Drive change on Talos

Cause Automatic & mutual recognition for diplomas earned in higher education institutions within EU Member States!
Launcher Áron James Miszlivetz

Hey there, if you agree with some of our points in this article we would like to invite you to look at the initiative launched on Talos to reform the higher education accreditation system. As you have read this article, you are likely to agree that there is a need for reform. Your specific suggestions may differ, but by signing the proposal we could ask the EP to discuss the matter, and openly consider all options. Also, please feel free to contact us through the comment section or the various social media sites to make your voice heard. We are keen on adopting new points!

Read more

European Commission (Education and Training)

EUR-Lex (Recent Developments on Higher Education)

EUR-Lex (Paper on a renewed EU agenda for higher education)