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European Commission: higher education back on the policy agenda at EU level

At the end of May 2017, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Education and Culture (DG EAC) launched a much-awaited policy document – a Communication on a renewed EU agenda for higher education. Building on its predecessor communications, of 2006 and 2011, and on the results of a public consultation carried out in 2016, the 2017 policy package is introduced as ''a new EU agenda for higher education that builds on work already done, but refocuses efforts on current and evolving opportunities and challenges”. The communication and foreseen actions are designed to respond, according to the European Commission, to three major challenges that higher education systems in Europe currently face:
  • a skills mismatch between what is needed and what is provided in Europe;
  • growing social and societal divisions; and
  • a mismatch between different components and aspects of higher education systems.
Reducing the number of priorities from five to four, the communication lists the following priority areas for action:
  1. Tackling skills mismatches and promoting excellence in skills development.
  2. Building inclusive and connected higher education systems.
  3. Ensuring higher education institutions contribute to innovation.
  4. Supporting effective and efficient higher education systems.
Advocating for the need to streamline the EU’s support for higher education, the communication also identifies 20 sets of measures and activities that will be supported by the European Commission, while counting on collaboration with member states and stakeholder bodies. Particularly noteworthy is the announced start of a “European initiative to track graduates”, that is to cover higher education, as well as vocational education and training graduates, and to provide information on their career paths and/or further education. This is to be achieved by an EU-level graduate survey and relies on cooperation with member states to improve graduate tracking. With a view to the internationalisation of higher education, the communication is in line with current debates whereby internationalisation is no longer seen as an objective in itself, but as a means to reach core objectives in higher education. The document mentions the promotion of “international cooperation, exchange and mobility to boost quality”, ensuring that through the “international circulation of ideas” good practices and the latest developments in higher education become known and widely applied. The document specifically mentions:
  • Curricular integration of Erasmus+ work placements within the Erasmus+ partnerships (measure 3);
  • Prioritisation of staff mobility for pedagogical training and strengthening cooperation between teacher training centres in Europe (measure 5);
  • Support for the recognition of qualifications held by refugees (measure 9);
  • Further support for student and staff mobility by ensuring that the member states implement the recast directive (2016/801) on students and researchers;
  • Further simplification of student mobility by exploring, amongst others, the feasibility of “electronic student identification systems to allow cross-border access to student services and data” (measure 19).
The other EU institutions are expected, in the next months, to follow-up with own positions vis-à-vis the Commission’s communication. European Commission – A renewed EU agenda for higher education