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Modernising higher education in the EU

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Modernising higher education in the EU


European Commission communication (COM(2011) 567 final) — an agenda for modernising the EU’s higher education systems



It sets out the key priorities for higher education in the EU. The agenda is designed to enable higher education systems to contribute better to the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth.

The communication has been followed by 2 reports to the European Commission in 2013 and 2014 on improving the quality of teaching and learning in Europe’s higher education institutions, and on new ways of teaching and learning in higher education.


The communication sets out 5 key priority areas for action by EU countries and higher education institutions, as well as the measures the EU will take to support their efforts.

  • 1.

    Increasing attainment levels — one of the targets of the Europe 2020 strategy is that, by 2020, 40 % of young people should have completed higher education studies. It is also estimated that one million job openings will require high-level research skills.

  • To achieve this, the communication recommends:
    • reducing early school leaving and attracting more people into higher education, particularly through outreach and financial support for school students from disadvantaged groups and adults;
    • improving the conditions for industry to invest in research and innovation, and equipping the existing workforce with better research skills;
    • developing clear ways of progressing from vocational and other types of education into higher education, and outside academia for researchers.

A 2015 study set out the completion and dropout rates for higher education across Europe.

  • 2.

    Improving the quality and relevance of higher education

  • The communication recommends:
    • curricula, including researcher training, to respond to current and future labour market needs through skills and growth projections as well as through involving employers and labour market institutions in their design and delivery;
    • new technologies to be exploited for more effective research methods and more flexible and personalised teaching (e.g. eLearning);
    • better working conditions, including continuing professional development and introduction of incentives to reward excellence for institutions to attract and retain high quality teaching and research staff.
  • 3.

    Promoting mobility and cross-border cooperation — a target has been set by European higher education ministers to increase the number of students completing a period of study or training abroad up to 20 % by 2020.

  • To achieve this, the communication recommends:
    • systematically building mobility into curricula;
    • improving the recognition of diplomas and credits or portability of grants through comparable and consistent use of ECTS and the Diploma Supplement, and linking qualifications to the European Qualifications Framework;
    • enhancing access, employment conditions and opportunities to progress for students, researchers and teachers from other countries.
  • 4.

    Strengthening the ‘knowledge triangle’ linking education, research and innovation

  • The communication recommends:
    • public policies to encourage partnerships between higher education institutions and businesses through:
      • reward structures and incentives for regional development,
      • multidisciplinarity,
      • cross-organisational cooperation and
      • the reduction of regulatory and administrative barriers to intersectoral partnerships;
    • higher education institutions to use the results of research and innovation in their educational offer to stimulate the development of entrepreneurial, creative and innovative skills.
  • 5.

    Improving governance and funding

  • The communication recommends:
    • increasing cost-effectiveness of public investment in higher education by linking funding to performance with an element of competition;
    • increasing investment in higher education by diversifying funding sources, and facilitating access to alternative resources, including private funding;
    • investing in professional management;
    • making funding and governance systems more flexible to increase higher education institutions’ autonomy and allow them to develop their own strategic direction.

EU contribution

The EU intends to support the efforts undertaken by national authorities and institutions in these 5 domains by:

  • monitoring the Europe 2020 strategy and
  • making sure that its financial framework for 2014-2020 enables the different policies concerned to support the modernisation of higher education.

Actions to be taken by the Commission include:

  • enabling students to make informed choices by means of a ranking tool (U-Multirank) for universities based on performance in 5 areas;
  • improving the recognition of studies abroad by strengthening the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS);
  • introducing a loan guarantee facility (Master Loan Erasmus+) for students taking a master’s degree in another EU country;
  • adopting a Strategic Innovation Agenda;
  • proposing a quality framework for traineeships with a single platform for traineeship offers in Europe;
  • developing relations with higher education in non-EU countries (see 2013 communication on European higher education in the world);
  • amending the directives on students and researchers to make the EU even more attractive to the latter.


For more information, see


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Supporting growth and jobs — an agenda for the modernisation of Europe’s higher education systems (COM(2011) 567 final of 20.9.2011)


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Tackling early school leaving: A key contribution to the Europe 2020 Agenda (COM(2011) 18 final of 31.1.2011)

Council Recommendation of 28 June 2011 on policies to reduce early school leaving (OJ C 191, 1.7.2011, pp. 1–6)

Council conclusions on reducing early school leaving and promoting success in school (OJ C 417, 15.12.2015, pp. 36–40)

last update 14.06.2016