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European Education Area

Quality education and training for all

Higher education initiatives

The European Union is cooperating with higher education institutions and EU Member States to support and enable the higher education sector to adapt to changing conditions, to thrive and to contribute to Europe’s resilience and recovery.

What is our objective?

The objective is to develop a genuinely European dimension in the higher education sector, built on shared values, with excellence and inclusion as a distinctive feature of European higher education. 

Europe can build on a diverse and flourishing higher education sector, deeply enrooted in European culture. Europe is home to close to 5,000 higher education institutions, 17.5 million tertiary education students, 1.35 million people teaching in tertiary education and 1.17 million researchers. 

Be it research universities, institutes of technology, schools of arts or higher vocational education and training institutions – the different types of higher education institutions are all hallmarks of our European way of life.

Why is higher education important?

The higher education sector has a unique position at the crossroads of education, research and innovation, serving society and economy.

It plays a critical role

  • in achieving the European Education Area (EEA) and the European Research Area (ERA), in synergy with the European Higher Education Area
  • in shaping sustainable and resilient economies, and in making our society greener, more inclusive and more digital
  • in providing highly skilled Europeans with excellent prospects for employment, and engaged citizens participating in democratic life - 80% of recent tertiary graduates in the EU gain employment in less than 3 months after graduating

Because Europe needs more people with high level skills, EU Member States have set the target that by 2030, at least 45% of 25-34 year-olds should obtain a higher education qualification.

Read the Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training

What is the EU doing?

A European Strategy for Universities

The Strategy proposes to focus on achieving four key objectives

Strengthen the European dimension in higher education and research 

Implement a set of flagship initiatives that aim to become the visible expression of a European approach, backed by appropriate financial support, to help universities building bridges and take transnational cooperation to the next level.

Support universities as lighthouses of our European way of life

Support universities to deliver quality and relevant future-proof skills, foster diversity and inclusion, promote and protect democratic practices, fundamental rights and academic values. 

Empower universities as actors of change in the twin green and digital transitions

Support the full engagement of universities in unfolding green and digital transitions. The EU will only meet its ambitions on equipping more young people and lifelong learners with digital skills and skills for the green transition, or developing green solutions through technological and social innovation, if the higher education sector pulls its weight.

Reinforce universities as drivers of Europe’s global role and leadership

Through deeper international cooperation within Europe and beyond, support universities in becoming more outward looking and competitive on the global scene. This will help in turn boosting Europe’s attractiveness not only as a study destination, but also as an attractive global partner for cooperation in education, research and innovation.

Four flagship initiatives will underpin the delivery of the Strategy

  • Further roll out of the European Universities Initiative to 60 European Universities with more than 500 universities by mid-2024, supported under Erasmus+ with an indicative budget of EUR 1.1 billion for the period 2021-2027. The aim is to develop and share a common long-term structural, sustainable and systemic cooperation on education, research and innovation, creating European inter-university campuses where students, staff and researchers from all parts of Europe can enjoy seamless mobility and create new knowledge together, across countries and disciplines.
  • Work towards the establishment of a legal statute for alliances of higher education institutions by mid-2024
  • Examine options and necessary steps towards a joint European degree by mid-2024 to recognise the value of transnational experiences in the higher education qualification the students obtain and cut the red tape for delivering joint programmes 
  • Scale up the European Student Card Initiative by deploying a unique European Student Identifier available to all mobile students in 2022 and to all students in universities in Europe by mid-2024, to facilitate mobility at all levels. 

The effective implementation of the strategy requires coherence of policy priorities and investments at EU, national, regional and institutional levels and closer cooperation with and between Member States, higher education institutions and other stakeholders.

See the European strategy for universities

A proposal for a Council Recommendation on building bridges for effective European higher education cooperation

The proposal for a Council Recommendation on transnational cooperation aims to enable deeper and more sustainable transnational cooperation among higher education institutions, to address the current challenges and ensure more effective implementation of joint educational programmes and activities, pooling capacity and resources, or awarding joint degrees.

Challenges hampering seamless cooperation have many sources and require action both at national and at EU level.

The proposal for a Recommendation is a first step in providing solutions for the entire higher education sector and aims to support the adaptation of the higher education institutions across all four missions of education, research, innovation and service to society, and to impact positively the society and ecosystems. 

The proposal is an invitation to Member States to set more coherent and compatible policy priorities and create appropriate conditions at national level for enabling such closer and sustainable transnational cooperation, for more effective implementation of joint educational and research activities, as well as of the European Higher Education Area (Bologna) tools, and to commit to investments at EU, national, regional and institutional levels.  

The Recommendation aims to take transnational cooperation to a new level of intensity and scope and to directly benefit the students to improve their skills and employability by getting easier access to modern and innovative transnational campuses, to mobility abroad, and to transdisciplinary learning.

Read the proposal for a Council Recommendation on building bridges for effective European cooperation in higher education

Further actions

In addition, the Commission will also continue working with Member States and stakeholders on the following actions to progress the transformation of higher education in the EU

  • working towards automatic recognition of academic qualifications
  • enhancing quality assurance
  • pursuing graduate tracking for better comparability of higher education outcomes
  • developing new STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts mathematics) and Information and communications technology (ICT) curricula
  • fostering research and innovation through the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)
  • developing a European framework for attractive and sustainable academic careers
  • developing a European framework for diversity and inclusion
  • enhancing support for green and digital skills

Erasmus+ programme

Through its Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes, the EU supports international exchanges for students, academic staff and researchers, as well as structured cooperation between higher education institutions and public authorities in different countries.

Find out more about the Erasmus+ programme

Working group on higher education

Under the European Education Area strategic framework, a new Working Group on higher education has been established for the period 2021-2025. The Working Group will facilitate synergies between the higher education sector and key actors in research and innovation in the context of the European Education Area and the European Research Area, while ensuring consistency with the European Higher Education Area.

Find out more about the Working Group on higher education