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European Education Area

Quality education and training for all

European higher education in the world

Why is international cooperation important in higher education? 

Higher education institutions recognise the need to reach outside the campus into the wider world, and across borders, to serve their purpose of developing effective skills among tomorrow’s practitioners and decision-makers. 

While the EU has a long history of higher education cooperation between its Member States, this international academic networking is increasingly involving partner countries outside Europe. The EU, therefore, needs to foster this international dimension through support for cooperation and policy dialogues.

The benefits are for all parties. Giving an international dimension to the EU’s higher education policies supports the achievement of the EU’s internal policy objectives concerning education and training. In particular, collaboration between universities both within and outside the Union helps to attract the best talent in higher education to the EU, and to promote peer learning and international comparison. This, in turn, fosters excellence in research and teaching.

Furthermore, international cooperation in this field supports innovation and job creation in the EU by enabling skills mobility across countries. A study or teaching period abroad is universally recognised as enhancing individual employability. And globally, this mobility encourages future next generations to think beyond national borders with an international outlook.

More than this, international cooperation in the field of higher education is an effective tool for bolstering the EU’s public diplomacy efforts around the world. It acts to encourage support for EU policies beyond the Union’s borders, notably those in the fields of enlargement and the neighbourhood, international development, migration and intercultural dialogue. It develops and maintains lasting people-to-people contacts among academics and graduates who are seeking to tackle common challenges. 

For partner countries worldwide, supporting cooperation in higher education is key to strengthening skills acquisition and development in line with the United Nation's (UN) Sustainable Development Goals – especially, Goal 4: Quality Education. Many higher education cooperation projects are developing skills that are required to make effective progress towards other goals, too; for example, in improving energy efficiency, protecting the marine environment, and ensuring food security.

In 2014, all countries worldwide were granted access to the Erasmus+ programme, which now forms an essential part of the EU’s regional cooperation across the world, with the aim of contributing to poverty reduction and promoting inclusive growth. 

Erasmus+ supports the modernisation of education curricula, helps to improve the quality of teaching and education, supports more transparent governance of education and cooperation in the public and private sectors in this field. 

Learn more about the role of Erasmus+ in international cooperation worldwide through regional factsheets for the EU’s flagship education programme.