Reform of the universities in the framework of the Lisbon strategy

If the stakeholders fail to react, the gap which separates European universities from their main global competitors risks growing wider. The communication addresses three aspects of university reform: improve the universities' quality and make them more attractive, improve their governance, and increase and diversify their funding with or without major contributions from students.


Communication from the Commission of 20 April 2005 - Mobilising the brainpower of Europe: enabling universities to make their full contribution to the Lisbon Strategy [COM(2005) 152 final - Not published in the Official Journal]


Despite reasonably good teaching quality, European universities have failed to unleash their full potential so as to stimulate economic growth, social cohesion and improvement in the quality and quantity of jobs. The Commission invites the Member States to present measures which will allow the universities to play their full role in the relaunched Lisbon strategy. It also calls on the Council to adopt a resolution to establish a new type of partnership between governments and universities and to invest sufficiently in higher education.

Europe must strengthen the three poles of its knowledge triangle: education, research and innovation. Universities are essential in all three. Investing more and better in the modernisation and quality of universities is a direct investment in the future of Europe and Europeans.

This Communication is largely based on converging messages from the consultation process, which identified three main challenges for European higher education: achieving world-class quality, improving governance, and increasing and diversifying funding.

Within the Lisbon strategy, the Commission focuses on three pillars:

The quality and attractiveness of the universities

The rate of access to higher education and its attainment is higher in the United States, Canada and South Korea. Although it accounts for the largest number of researchers, the European Union does not employ enough. A tendency to uniformity in the national systems often privileges the academically best-qualified learners and excludes those who do not conform to the standard model. The fragmented nature of the European university system and its insularity from industry also adversely affects entrepreneurship on the part of graduates and keeps them remote from the labour market.

Following consultation with the European universities, the Commission stresses the need to:

The Commission encourages quality, notably via the Marie-Curie programme for the career development and mobility of researchers and by supporting the post-doctoral programme at the European University Institute in Florence. It also intends to create a European Institute of Technology.


Over-regulation and nationally defined courses hinder modernisation and the effective management of universities in the EU. To reform their governance, European universities are calling for more autonomy in preparing their courses and in the management of their human resources and facilities. They also want to reinforce public responsibility for the strategic orientation of the whole system. Hence it is not a call for the withdrawal of the State but for a new allocation of tasks.

The Commission invites the Member States to relax the regulatory framework so as to allow university leadership to undertake genuine change and pursue strategic priorities.


Although on a par with Japan, European university funding represents 1.1 % of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is considerably less than that of the United States or Canada. To bridge this gap, the Commission calls for the investment of an additional EUR 150 million each year at European level. The Commission estimates that a total investment of some 2 % of GDP is the minimum required to achieve the desired objectives. While in the European Union (EU) the higher education system is mainly based on public funding, in competing countries funding is diversified, with a larger contribution on the part of industry and households.

Universities should first try to ensure that existing resources are efficiently used in order to obtain fresh funding. Additional funds should encourage innovation and reform so as to deliver high quality in teaching, research and services. The Commission also addresses the question of tuition fees accompanied by a sound student aid system for those from lower income groups and the development of lasting partnerships between university and industry.

The Commission invites the Member States to close the funding deficit in higher education to achieve the Lisbon strategy. The mix of funding should vary depending on the university traditions of the individual Member States. It is also important to encourage partnerships between businesses and universities via tax incentives. In all cases, fair access should be guaranteed for all.

The Commission calls for reinforcement of Structural Fund aid and aid from the European Investment Bank (EIB). In the context of the programme " Education and Training 2010 " it will support reforms via the exchange of best practices, surveys and studies or mutual learning between policy makers. The proposed Integrated Lifelong Learning Programme for 2007-2013 will in particular stimulate mobility and university-industry cooperation.


This text follows up the Commission Communication on " The role of universities in the Europe of knowledge " and the subsequent debate. Its aim is to ensure that European universities play a key role in achieving the strategic objective laid down at the Lisbon European Council, namely to make the European Union the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

If the birth and growth of the economy and the knowledge society depend on the combination of four interdependent elements, namely production of new knowledge, its transmission via education and training, its dissemination via ICT and its use in new industrial procedures or services, European universities are the main players in this new process.

The Commission will supplement this Communication with an action plan on university research.


Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2006 on further European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education [Official Journal L 64/60 of 04.03.2006]

Communication from the Commission of 5 February 2003 - The role of the universities in the Europe of knowledge [COM(2003) 58 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

Communication from the Commission - Investing efficiently in education and training : an imperative for Europe [COM(2002) 779 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

Council Recommendation (EC) No 561/98 of 24 September 1998 on European cooperation in quality assurance in higher education [Official Journal L 270 of 07.10.1998]

Last updated: 23.10.2006