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It’s here! European higher education package 2024

On 27 March 2024, the European Commission released a set of proposals for Europe’s higher education sector, with the aim of working towards a European degree. This package consists of three main documents: a Communication on a blueprint for a European degree, a proposal for a Council recommendation on sustainable and attractive careers in higher education and a proposal for a Council recommendation on a European Quality Assurance and Recognition System. The two Council recommendations support the Communication, while covering more than just the aim of developing a European degree. 

This package builds on a series of in-depth consultations with higher education stakeholders as well as the results of six Erasmus+ pilot projects involving more than 140 higher education institutions (HEIs) across Europe and a dedicated call for evidence published earlier this year (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, January 2024). 

The Communication on a blueprint for a European degree outlines two major entry points or pathways that can be followed by higher education institutions towards:  

  1. A preparatory European label given to joint degree programmes meeting the European criteria where students obtain a European degree label certificate; 
  1. A joint European degree as a new type of qualification awarded jointly by several universities from different countries or possibly by a European legal entity established by such universities.  

The Annexes to a draft Council recommendation on a European Quality Assurance and Recognition System present a list of 16 European criteria of the European degree, applicable for joint Bachelor, Master or Doctoral programmes organised in three blocks: (a) Transnational programme organisation and management, (b) Learning experience and (c) European values.  

In the next step, the European Commission will bring together experts from member states, HEIs, quality assurance (QA) agencies and student representatives under a European degree policy lab to develop detailed implementation guidelines and action plans, whereas a new annual European degree forum will monitor progress and provide high-level guidance. The Erasmus+ programme will support two new types of projects 

  • European degree Pathway Projects enabling HEIs to move towards a European degree;  
  • European degree Design Measures helping HEIs re-design the existing joint programmes or create new ones leading to a European degree. 

In addition to outlining a set of measures building the foundations towards a European degree, the initiative on European Quality Assurance and Recognition System proposes (a) to simplify the procedures to help deliver on the European Education Area; (b) to develop specific enhancement-oriented and thematic reviews to enhance learning and teaching quality, fully respecting institutional autonomy; (c) to shift towards an institutional approach to external quality assurance; and (d) to make recognition procedures automatic 

Finally, the proposal on sustainable and attractive careers in higher education focuses on two issues: (a) pioneering new joint transnational educational activities - like a European degree and (b) equipping people with high-quality skills requires well-trained, agile academic staff. It outlines a set of measures aiming to: 

  • Promote, recognise, and value engagement in deeper transnational cooperation 
  • Promote, recognise, and value diverse academic roles and tasks, including innovating and effective teaching; 
  • Promote competitive, safe, fair, free and non-discriminatory conditions to attract and retain staff. 

First stakeholder reactions to the proposed ‘higher education package’ (such as by EUA) warmly welcome the initiative while highlighting the need to advance the implementation of all agreed reforms in the entire European Higher Education Area (EHEA), and not only within the EU, and to underscore the diversity of international activities, with a European degree being one of them.