What is this?

Through its Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes, the EU supports international exchanges for students, academic staff and researchers, as well as structured cooperation between higher education institutions and public authorities in different countries. The objective is to create new opportunities for people in higher education to learn from one another across national borders and to work together on joint projects to develop good learning and teaching, undertake excellent research and promote innovation.

Why is it needed?

Higher education and its links with research and innovation plays a crucial role in individual and societal development and in providing the highly skilled human capital and the articulate citizens that Europe needs to create jobs, economic growth, and prosperity.

Higher education institutions are crucial partners in delivering the European Union's strategy to drive forward and maintain growth. The Europe 2020 strategy has set a target that by 2020 40% of young Europeans have a higher education qualification.

Authorities in Member States remain responsible for the way higher education is organised and delivered in their countries. EU activities are designed to bring an additional international dimension to studying, teaching, researching or making policy in higher education.

What is the Commission doing?

The European Commission works closely with policy-makers to support the development of higher education policies in EU countries in line with the Education and Training 2020 strategy (ET2020). The renewed EU agenda for higher education, adopted by the Commission in May 2017, identifies four key goals for European cooperation in higher education:

  1. Tackling future 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.

To help achieve each of these goals, the Commission proposes specific actions at EU-level, primarily supported by different strands of the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes.

In order to ensure that these aims are met the European Commission is also developing and supporting tools to promote mobility (such as ECTS and the Diploma Supplement), increase the recognition of skills and qualifications, and provide better information about higher education in Europe.

The Commission also provides support to the Bologna Process, designed to promote higher education reform with a view to establishing a European Higher Education Area, and promotes the exchange of good policy practices between different countries through the ET2020 higher education working group.

What has been done so far?

The renewed EU agenda for higher education was developed taking into account the results of a public consultation completed in 2016.

It updates and supersedes the Agenda for the Modernisation of Europe's Higher Education Systems, adopted by the Commission in 2011.

It supports the implementation of the EU agenda for higher education through studies to provide policy evidence, exchanges of good practice and spending instruments such as the Erasmus+ Programme, Horizon 2020 and the European Structural and Investment Funds.

As part of the European Semester, the Commission also makes country-specific recommendations (CSRs) to individual EU Member States, which may cover issues related to higher education.