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Commission launches debate on Europe’s universities

6 February 2003 - The European Commission has published a Communication on the role of universities in creating a ‘Europe of knowledge’. This examines the current state of Europe’s universities and calls for a debate on the challenges they face in reaching the target set by the European Council in March 2002 to make European systems of education a ‘world reference’ by 2010.

At the launch of the Communication, the EU's Research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin said: "If we want to be a leading player in the global knowledge-based society, Europe has to nurture its universities. Universities are centres of research and education and poles of regional economic development at the same time. Investing in universities is one of the best investments we can make for our future."

The EU's 3,300 higher education institutes are mainly organised at national and regional levels. Many of these institutes face similar challenges, such as adapting to a constantly changing and increasingly globalised market and coping with spending cuts. Universities' income is a major issue addressed by the Communication. It reveals that the level of private investment (family funding) in higher education in Europe is well behind its main international competitors. Private income for universities in Europe amounts to only 0.2% of GDP, compared with 0.6% in Japan and 1.2% in the United States.

The Commission believes the under-funding of European universities jeopardises their capacity to attract and keep the best talent and to strengthen the excellence of their research and teaching activities. New ways of increasing and diversifying universities' incomes will have to be found to close this funding gap. The Commission has announced plans to undertake a study on this matter in order to examine the main trends and to identify best practices.

In addition to the funding issue, the Communication identifies a number of areas that need "reflection and action". For example, how to ensure autonomy and professionalism in academic as well as managerial affairs, how to concentrate enough resources on excellence, and create conditions within which universities can attain and develop excellence, how to make universities contribute better to local and regional needs and strategies, and how to foster the European higher education area called for by the Bologna Declaration.

For information on how to get involved in the debate, log on to the following website:

last update: 17-02-2003