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Bruegel: Higher aspirations

Aghion, P. et al., Higher aspirations: An agenda for reforming European universities, Bruegel, Brussels, 2008. ISBN 978-9-078910-07-7. Pages 70.

Bruegel, a European think tank devoted to international economics, published a study in its Blueprint Series to look at why European universities seem to be underperforming in the light of the Shanghai ranking. The study comes to the conclusion that

  • The level of student mobility in Europe is low and the Bologna process, designed to create a European Space of Higher Education, will result in quality convergence of undergraduate education rather than in a substantial increase in mobility across countries;
  • More generalist and flexible undergraduate curricula are needed to ‘match’ institutions with students and could thus contribute to reducing the failure rates at undergraduate level;
  • The research performance of Europe’s universities still lags far behind that of their US counterparts.

Higher aspirations is a bewildering study. It is full of some well-known mantras of educational economics. It has some difficulties with the facts, for example when it confuses the Lisbon Agenda with the European Research Area and when it claims, against all international statistics, that student mobility is low in Europe. But it also displays some fresh thinking and some unexpected insights.