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Work in progress: Common criteria for a joint European degree label

The European Commission gathered higher education stakeholders and experts to discuss possible common criteria for a joint European degree label to be piloted in 2022.

The European Strategy for Universities adopted by the European Commission earlier this year emphasized the importance of a joint European degree (referenced as one of four flagship initiatives), which would attest learning outcomes achieved as part of transnational cooperation among several institutions and help tackle barriers to transnational cooperation in higher education.

To support this goal, the European Commission has started another co-creation process, to develop a common set of criteria for the award of a European Degree label, as a complementary certificate to the qualification of students graduating from joint programmes, with the ambition to pilot them later in 2022.

A dedicated meeting with higher education stakeholders, including ACA, was convened on 3 March 2022, to discuss such possible European criteria along with the rationale and benefits of a European joint degree.

According to preliminary results from the Commission’s contracted study on the opportunities and feasibility of different approaches to a European degree, which were presented at the meeting, many obstacles in delivering joint degrees remain, despite the existence of multiple tools supporting recognition, quality assurance, transparency of learning outcomes and levels of qualification. And although the related benefits of a European degree could be ample. The full study zooming into the added value of a European degree label for students and employers, as the preferred option, will be published in June.

The Commission’s expectation is to come up with the common criteria that are “operational, easy to check and to monitor, imposing the least burden as possible on higher education institutions to prove compliance with”. The following tentative set of criteria setting minimum requirements were proposed for the discussion with the experts:

  • Transnational dimension (of the consortium delivering the joint programme; of the joint programme, of the joint degree and of the joint campus);
  • Flexibility and innovative dimension of the curriculum (flexible mobility arrangements; multilingualism; innovative learning and teaching; labour market relevance);
  • Inclusiveness and sustainability (green and digital components and actions; inclusiveness of the joint programme; possibilities for civic engagement).

The experts broadly welcomed the pilot initiative as a way to attract attention to the topic and to understand the specific characteristics a European Degree should have, providing substantial feedback on the proposed criteria. At the same time, many stressed the overall importance of relying on the existing EHEA tools, particularly the European approach to quality assurance of joint programmes, which already covers many related aspects, while referring to the challenge of triggering the required legal changes for the European degree to become a key feature of European higher education.

The related progress and way forward will be discussed by Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council (EYCS) on 5 April 2022, when the Council Recommendation on building bridges for effective European higher education cooperation is expected to be adopted.