Relevant and high-quality higher education

Relevant and high-quality higher education equips students with the knowledge and transferable core skills required to succeed after graduation.

Why is ensuring the relevance of higher education important?

The EU faces skills shortages, in particular in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and maths, but also in some medical professions and teaching. 

The Union needs to act if it is to ensure the continuous development of skills and to remain economically competitive. More citizens must be encouraged to study subjects in which skills shortages and labour demand exist. Furthermore, all students need to acquire advanced transversal skills and key competences that will allow them to succeed after graduation. 

These skills include high-level digital competences, numeracy, critical thinking and problem-solving. There is also a strong need for flexible, innovative teaching and learning techniques designed to improve the effectiveness of education while creating more capacity for students in higher education institutions. 

One way of facilitating this could be the applied use of ICT and emerging technologies to enrich teaching and support personalised learning, as detailed in the Commission Communication on Rethinking Education

What is the EU doing to ensure the relevance of higher education?

As part of the ET 2020 framework for European Policy Cooperation in the fields of education and training, EU leaders have agreed to a target of 40% of 30-34 year olds obtaining a higher education (or equivalent) qualification by 2020. 

Yet, while higher education enhances the employability of its graduates, its curricula often prove too slow to anticipate and adapt to changing needs on the labour market. The Commission study Promoting the relevance of higher education determines that higher education remains relevant if it:

  • promotes sustainable employment
  • fosters personal development
  • encourages active citizenship

To improve knowledge at national and EU-level on the career progression of graduates, the Commission has launched a European initiative to track graduates after the completion of their studies. The data collected can support the provision of career guidance, the design of more relevant higher education programmes, as well as better targeted institutional strategies and policymaking. 

The Council Recommendation on tracking graduates initiated international cooperation to improve graduate tracking. This activity has been furthered by the establishment of an informal expert group set up by the Commission.

In addition, the Commission has established a pilot European graduate survey, which aims to collect comparative data from eight pilot countries on the relevance of skills and qualifications acquired in higher education on an evolving labour market. The pilot survey will prepare the ground for full deployment across all EU Member States.

The Commission is also championing the STEAM approach, which incorporates interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral aspects into the teaching and learning of STEM subjects. This approach encourages the inclusion of transversal skills, digital competencies, critical thinking and problem-solving, management, and entrepreneurial skills into education. 

The STEAM approach also promotes the integration of creativity and design into education curricula to drive innovation, as well as incorporating contemporary socio-economic and environmental issues into higher education studies to foster progress in these areas. 

In support of this, the Commission has launched a STEAM action to bring together diverse higher education, business and public sector stakeholders to promote the uptake and modernisation of relevant STEM subjects and other curricula, including studies related to ICT and artificial intelligence.