Effective and efficient higher education

Effectiveness and efficiency in higher education relates to governance and funding, as well as to the promotion of a quality culture in the higher education systems and institutions.

What is it?

Effectiveness and efficiency in higher education relates to governance and funding, as well as to the promotion of a quality culture in the higher education systems and institutions. The way higher education systems are organised and funded has an important impact on their overall effectiveness.

The EU's Europe 2020 strategy stresses that:

  • Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as a growth-enhancing area of spending, public investment in higher education should be protected;
  • The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to all stakeholders.

Under the Bologna process Member States are also working closely together to develop a quality culture. Quality assurance raises confidence in higher education. Every higher education institution should have a rigorous system of internal quality assurance, assessed by Quality Assurance Agencies which make external checks.

Why is it needed?

While spending levels on higher education vary substantially between EU countries, total investment in higher education in Europe is too low, with additional pressure on public investments. It is important to diversify sources of funding to higher education and maximise the value gained from resources invested.

The reform and modernisation of Europe’s higher education depends on the competence and motivation of teachers and researchers, yet staffing levels have often not kept pace with expanding student numbers, putting further pressure on already strained capacities.

Better working conditions, including transparent and fair recruitment procedures, better initial and continuing professional development, and better recognition and reward of teaching and research excellence, are essential to ensure that Europe produces, attracts, and retains the high quality academic staff it needs.

Such challenges require greater flexibility, and autonomous institutions can specialise more easily, promoting better educational and research performance while fostering excellence within higher education systems. But legal, financial, and administrative restrictions often limit institutional freedom to define strategies and structures and to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

What has been done so far?

Through its support for research and policy cooperation, the European Commission assists EU countries to develop effective models of governance and funding in higher education. The European Commission is cooperating with the OECD on a review of funding, incentive and reward structures for higher education systems.

The European Commission is also fostering mutual learning on good practices in governance and funding among EU Member States through the peer counselling instrument.

In the programming period 2014-2020, 17 EU Member States invested European structural and investment funds into higher education. Overall, EUR 5.2 billion from the European Social Fund were spent on training individuals, reforming programmes and aligning education with the labour market.

Additional EUR 1.5 billion from the European Regional Development Fund were spent on revitalisation or building new education infrastructure (student dormitories, laboratories etc.) Some loan-based support is available through the EIB group for higher education institutions to upgrade their facilities or to develop innovative funding options.

In relation to a European culture of quality, the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (as revised and adopted in 2015 by Member States and other Bologna countries) set a common framework for quality assurance systems at European, national and institutional level to ensure accountability.

The European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR) for higher education helps to develop a European dimension to quality assurance. These quality assurance agencies need to comply with the principles of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG) in order to be registered in EQAR. The European Commission publishes progress reports on developments in quality assurance at European level.