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Reform programme for higher education - 26/09/2011

Students in a classroom facing a blackboard and teacher © iStock/Dr. Heinz Linke

The EU can help national governments raise the quality of higher education, make curricula more relevant to market needs and open access to students from a wider variety of backgrounds.

Europe is home to about 4 000 universities and other higher education institutions, some of which rank among the best in the world. But some have not kept pace with economic and social change.

According to a recent forecast , 35% of jobs in the EU are likely to require a higher education qualification by 2020. But today, only 26% of the workforce holds a degree, far below the levels in the US, Japan and Canada.

A new strategy to modernise higher education pinpoints the reforms EU governments need to make so enough people graduate with the skills needed to contribute to innovation, economic growth and job creation.

The reforms would also help young people get the education they desire and find the jobs best suited to their achievements.

They aim at:

  • boosting the number of graduates to 40% by 2020 (the current EU average is about 34%)
  • enabling young people from a broader cross-section of society to attend university and reducing the number of drop outs
  • improving the quality and relevance of university courses to meet the needs of individuals and labour markets
  • stimulating and rewarding excellence in teaching and research
  • providing more opportunities for students to gain additional skills through studying or training abroad
  • training more researchers so Europe has the talent available to meet future needs
  • strengthening the links between education, research and business
  • ensuring that funding is efficient and achieves its aims.

While national governments are responsible for education, the EU can do a lot to support their modernisation programmes.

This support includes establishing an EU-wide system to rank universities and provide students with information on the most appropriate place of study for them – wherever it is in Europe. A new loan guarantee scheme would help students get access to finance when taking a Masters course in another EU country.

Commission proposals for the next EU budget for 2014 to 2020 also include substantial increases for education, training and youth (+73%), and for research (+46%).

More on higher education in Europe

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