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Modernisation of higher education

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Modernisation of higher education

The Commission presents a programme for the modernisation of higher education systems, to enable them to contribute better to the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy.


Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 20 September 2011 - Supporting growth and jobs – an agenda for the modernisation of Europe's higher education systems [COM(2011) 567 - Not published in the Official Journal].


The Europe 2020 strategy (the European Union’s (EU) action plan for growth for the next ten years) makes knowledge an essential cog in the wheel of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The EU needs more highly skilled, competent and innovative people in order to respond to global competition. Higher education institutions therefore have a crucial role to play.

However, Europe is lagging behind in terms of investment in higher education and the number of researchers. To rectify this situation, the Commission outlines the key targets to be achieved by Member States and higher education institutions, as well as the measures the EU will take to support their efforts.

National targets

The reforms must be led by the Member States and higher education institutions themselves. The Commission identifies several targets and the ways to achieve them.

  • Increasing attainment levels: one target of the Europe 2020 strategy is that 40 % of young people should complete higher education studies by 2020. To achieve this, the EU needs to attract more people into higher education, particularly through outreach to school students from disadvantaged groups and adults. To increase the number of researchers, the prospects for careers outside academia must be developed and the obstacles encountered by women in this profession must be eliminated.
  • Improving the quality and relevance of higher education: curricula, including researcher training, must be attuned to current labour market needs. New technologies must be exploited for more effective research methods and more flexible and personalised teaching (e.g. eLearning). Better working conditions and the use of continuing education are necessary in order for the EU to attract and retain high quality teaching staff.
  • Promoting mobility and cross-border cooperation: the number of students completing a period of study or training abroad must double by 2020. To achieve this, mobility must be systematically built into curricula and obstacles to mobility such as problems of recognition of diplomas and credits or portability of grants must be eliminated.
  • Linking higher education, research and business: partnerships between higher education institutions and business must be encouraged. It is also important that universities should use the results of research and innovation in their educational offer and promote entrepreneurial, creative and innovative skills.
  • Improving governance and funding: it is necessary to increase investment in higher education and to diversify funding sources, drawing to a larger extent on private funding. In addition, funding systems must be more flexible, enable institutions to set their strategic direction and be results-based in order to introduce an element of competition.

EU contribution

The Union intends to support the efforts undertaken by national authorities and institutions by monitoring the Europe 2020 strategy and by making sure that its financial framework for 2014-2020 enables the different policies concerned to support the modernisation of higher education.

For its part, the Commission will adopt a number of measures. Specifically, it will:

  • launch a ranking tool for universities based on performance in five areas, which will enable students to make an informed choice;
  • improve the recognition of studies abroad, by strengthening the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS);
  • develop a loan guarantee facility for students taking a Masters degree in another Member State;
  • adopt a Strategic Innovation Agenda;
  • propose a quality framework for traineeships accompanied by a single platform for traineeship offers in Europe;
  • develop relations on higher education with non-EU countries;
  • propose amendments to the students and researchers Directives to make the EU even more attractive to the latter;
  • establish a high-level group for the modernisation of higher education.


Council Recommendation of 28 June 2011 on policies to reduce early school leaving [OJ C 191 of 1.7.2011].

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 31 January 2011 - Tackling early school leaving: A key contribution to the Europe 2020 Agenda [COM(2011) 18 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Last updated: 29.11.2011