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On 20 September, the European Commission launched its long-awaited Communication Supporting growth and jobs – an agenda for the modernisation of European higher education. The 16-page document builds on a 2006 text on the same theme and is accompanied by a “staff working document” with background data.
The Communication is made up of two main parts. Part one addresses the level of member states and higher education institutions, part two focuses on the Community (EU) level. The document revisits many of the same issues and ideas that have permeated the Commission’s consideration of modernisation in European higher education in recent years. ‘Quality’, for example, with a wide variety of meanings, is referred to frequently.
More concretely, and with a view to the future, the modernisation agenda confirms the Commission’s plans, already announced in the recent proposals for the 2014 - 2020 framework budget (Multiannual Financial Framework), to increase Community spending on education, training, research and innovation very considerably. It also repeats the European Commission’s intention to unite under one roof the present Lifelong Learning Programme, the Erasmus Mundus scheme, and the Union’s funding instruments in the field of youth. The new mega-scheme to emerge from this is to be called Education Europe (and thus, coincidentally, will carry the same name as the ACA newsletter). The Erasmus ‘strand’ of Education Europe will also support degree mobility at the Master’s level, in addition to temporary mobility at all levels. As has been the case with every new generation of EU programmes, ‘simplification’ is promised to programme beneficiaries. This promise is also made for the area of research and innovation, where the Framework Programme (currently FP7) is to be merged with the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme, and initiatives such as the European Institute of Technology (EIT).
The Communication makes minor mention of the “external dimension” of European higher education, for example with general pledges like the one to increase the inflow of non-European students and, particularly, young researchers. More may be revealed on this front next year, however, as there are plans for a separate Communication on “internationalisation” for the autumn of 2012.