Why ensuring the relevance and quality of higher education is important
The European Union (EU) faces skills shortages, in particular in the STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and information and communications technology (ICT) fields. Women especially are underrepresented in these fields.
New skills needs are emerging as a result of the ongoing green and digital transitions of society. The EU needs to act if it is to ensure the continuous development of skills required to remain economically competitive at the global level.
More people should be encouraged to study subjects in which skills shortages and labour demand exist. All students need to acquire advanced ‘transversal skills’ that can be applied in a wide range of settings, such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The acquisition of key competences, such as numeracy and digital skills, is also essential.
Reflecting on how national higher education systems can encourage learners to develop relevant skills will help to support people’s personal and professional development – two factors promoting a high quality of life.
What the EU is doing
Championing the STEAM approach
The European Commission is promoting the development of more fit-for-purpose STEM and ICT higher education programmes based on STEAM – science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics – approaches to education.
STEAM is a set of multidisciplinary approaches to education removing traditional barriers between subjects and disciplines to connect STEM and ICT education with the arts, humanities and social sciences. Doing so fosters knowledge transfer between STEM and non-STEM fields. It also helps to better contextualise STEM subjects in political, environmental, socio-economic and cultural terms.
STEAM approaches are being championed through the work of the EU STEM Coalition and the actions outlined in the European Skills Agenda. The EU STEM Coalition is an EU-wide network that works to build better STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education in Europe, funded under the Erasmus+ programme.
The European graduate tracking initiative
The EU is encouraging Member States to improve the quality and relevance of their higher education and vocational education and training (VET) by regularly tracking the career paths of graduates.
This is being promoted through the European graduate tracking initiative and by efforts to make the information collected on graduates more easily comparable at the European level.
Graduate tracking helps to
- improve student experiences and identify opportunities to enhance the effectiveness and relevance of teaching and learning
- determine inequalities in education and find ways of addressing them
- strengthen the employability of recent graduates by improving skills planning and matching with the needs of employers, curricula design and career guidance
- provide insights into cross-border mobility patterns, including emerging regional surpluses and deficits in skills – so-called ‘brain drains’ and ‘brain gains’
- efficiently target investment in high-quality education tailored to society’s needs using an evidence-based approach
- identify practices that best prepare graduates for active citizenship
What the EU has done so far
Supporting harmonised graduate tracking
Following the Commission Communications ‘A renewed agenda for higher education’ and the 'A European Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience', in November 2017 EU Member States adopted through the Council a Recommendation on tracking graduates.
In this Recommendation, Member States, committed to collecting comparable graduate tracking information in higher education and VET (with the support of the Commission).
In 2020, the Commission published a benchmarking study mapping graduate tracking policies and practices in EU Member States and European Economic Area (EEA) countries against five key dimensions identified in the Council Recommendation.
The Commission also published a 'how to do it well' guide detailing effective practices for conducting graduate surveys and using administrative data.
Between 2018 and the end of its mandate in 2020, the Commission expert group on graduate tracking served as a forum for cooperation and exchange. Its activities culminated in the publication of a final report containing recommendations to the Commission on the future of the European graduate tracking initiative.
In 2020, the Commission undertook a Eurograduate Pilot Survey of graduates in 8 pilot countries – Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Malta and Norway – evaluating and comparing data at the national level. A second phase of the Eurograduate pilot survey of higher education graduates in 17 countries is taking place in 2022. This will provide a more detailed evidence-base to policy-makers and higher education professionals developing curricula.
Between 2020 and 2021, the Commission launched tailor-made capacity-building activities in each EU Member State to prepare national administrations and research teams for a coordinated European graduate tracking mechanism. These activities include building ownership of the graduate tracking project among stakeholders, boosting IT and statistical capacity and more.
Based on the exchanges and recommendations of the expert group, in 2022 the Commission created the European graduate tracking network to promote cooperation and mutual learning between countries participating in the European graduate tracking initiative.
In 2023, the Commission will take stock of progress made towards the implementation of the Council Recommendation. It is expected that there will be an 80% uptake among Member States of graduate tracking providing comparable data by the end of 2024.
The Commission expects to achieve Europe-wide implementation of graduate tracking by 2025.