Tag: European Commission

Consultation of EUs new modernisation agenda for higher education

Flag_of_Europe.svgIn the end of 2015, the European Union announced a new consultation in their plans for a new modernisation agenda.

The consultation is carried out in the form an online questionnaire and focuses on the following aspects:

  1. the current strengths and weaknesses of higher education in the EU
  2. the priority areas where those in charge of higher education should focus their attention and
  3. how you think the EU should support efforts to improve higher education.

The target audience is wide, including students, higher education institution staff and researchers, social partner organisations representing employers and workers, governmental bodies, relevant associations, and umbrella organisations. Read more here.

The consultation will be open until 29th of February and summaries of the views received can be expected about a month after that.

News: Establishing of ESAA met with both enthusiasm and critique

DG EAC formally announced the launch of Erasmus+ Students and Alumni Association (ESAA) this Friday, 12th of June with a kick-off conference. About 250 participants were invited, including founding associations, representatives from the European Comimsion, and stakeholder representatives who have been involved in ESAA.

The new association is supported by DG EAC and represent uniting for existing associations under one umbrella, Erasmus Student Network (ESN), Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA), the garagErasmus Foundation and Erasmus+ Oceans.

The website highlights ESAA aim to  be a “dynamic platform for networking, professional development and intercultural learning while promoting European Higher Education and worldwide cooperation”. On the press site, it is also highlighted that the foreseen aim is to develop projects and improve quality of education, in addition to providing an alumni network. You can view the presentations from the launch here, where they highlight the aims of the new organization.

The Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport,  Tibor Navracsics, said about ESAA in the press release: “Erasmus+ is one of Europe’s flagship projects, and rightly so. Studying in another country, whether for a short or longer period, is a great experience for young Europeans: It helps them to enhance their skills as well as to understand and accept cultural and other differences. Student and alumni associations offer crucial support to help young people make the most of this opportunity – before, during and after their stay abroad. That is why I am very pleased that ESAA will help to channel this support and know-how even more effectively. I am looking forward to seeing new activities that will further improve the mobility experience, encourage networking and help promote the opportunities Erasmus+ offers to a wider audience.”

It appears that the event was marked with enthusiasm by those attending, and in social media the role of networking amongst members was frequently highlighted. For discussions and photos from the event – follow the #ESAAkickoff hashtag on Twitter.

However, the establishment of ESAA has also been met with considerable critique from ESU – the European Student Union, who has raised concerns about the representative nature of ESAA, Commission involvement in shaping a student organization and the kind of policy agenda that is being pushed.

News: Education and training monitor 2014

ed2014The European Commision has issued the third “Education and Training Monitor” that examines the development of education and training systems across the EU. Its purpose is to follow up on the Europe 2020 targets for education and training. The two headline targets include: reducing early school leavers under 10% and increasing tertiary attainment to at least 40%. The monitoring exercise follows more indicators that are considered important to reach these targets and understand the context.

Regarding higher education attainment, it appears that participation rates in average in Europe are increasing. In 2010, average tertiary education attainment was at 33,6%, and this has now increased to 36,9% – not far off the 40% target. However, looking at the map of Europe, there are also great disparities in this area, and Italy and Romania have attainment levels at 22,4% and 22,8% respectively, a sharp contrast from Ireland, where tertiary education attainment is at 52%, and additionally UK, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Luxembourg where tertiary education attainment is over 45%.

Regarding employability, the target is that by 2020, the share of those who have graduated from upper secondary or tertiary education should be at least 82%. This number has however been steadily decreasing, from 77,4% in 2010 to 75,5% in 2013. Countries like Germany, the Nerthelands and Luxembour show employment rates of over 85% for their graduates. At the same time, and rather unsurprisingly countries in the South of Europe who have been hit hard by the economic crisis show employment rates that are under 60%, where employment rate in Greece is just 40%.

News: European Tertiary Education Register database published

eterYesterday, 2nd of July,  it was announced that the new European Tertiary Education Register (ETER) database is now published and accessible for users. The database represents a “new transparency approach to higher education“, according to the press release by the European Commission.

In the press release, Androulla Vassiliiou, the Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth commented on the potential of new register: “It will increase transparency in higher education and help develop a wider range of analysis and information, improve links between education and research, and support the diversity of higher education in Europe.“.

The ETER database provides detailed information on 2250 higher education institutions in Europe, including such information as:

  • Institutional descriptions, e.g. the name of the institution and founding year.
  • Geographical description such as region, city of the main seat and postcode.
  • Numbers of students and graduates at diploma, bachelor, master, doctoral level, gender, fields of education, nationality and mobility.
  • HEI expenditure and revenue.
  • Number of academic and non-academic staff, number of professors.
  • Research activities (PhD students, R&D expenditure)

European Commission report on quality assurance in Europe

EUQuality assurance is one of the areas where European cooperation has advanced in a relatively significant manner over the last decade. Recently, the Commission published a new report on issues related to quality and quality assurance in Europe. The report refers to the 2009 report that put forward three main aims: to make quality assurance (QA) more transparent for users, to link it closer to the wider aims of higher education, and to further develop cross-border cooperation. 

The current report sums up the most important developments in quality assurance in Europe since 2009 with various available reports from sources such as EHEA working group, EUA, EACEA, IBAR and ESU. While progress is reported on most areas, it is also highlighted that linking quality assurance to concrete quality improvement processes and strategic work of the institutions remains a challenge. The positive impact of the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) is noted, but it is also highlighted that their implementation has this far been rather uneven, and a revision process of ESG is now in process. 

The report highlights that the areas where more action is still necessary are in particular widening access, employability, internationalisation, improvement of doctoral training as well as human resource strategies. The need to shift attention to the content rather than the procedural aspects of quality assurance is highlighted in several parts of the document. Furthermore quality assurance issues are linked to mobility concerns and qualifications frameworks, perhaps a rather unsurprising linkage, considering that both of these topics have been a rather successful themes in European higher education for EU led joint cooperation.

New EU report: Best systems to promote student mobility in Germany, Belgium, Spain, France and Italy

eurydice reportThe EU has now launched a new mobility scoreboard to create an oversight over member state activities in relation to mobility of students. The Eurydice report published four days ago was a follow up to the 2011 Council Recommendation on mobility and is a product of cooperation with experts from the member states. The scoreboard focuses on five areas which we will briefly summarise below:

  • information and guidance
  • foreign language preparation
  • portability of public grants and loans
  • recognition of learning outcomes
  • and mobility support to students from a low socio-economic background

The data was collected in 2012 and 2013 from a questionnaire developed by Eurydice, member  states and the European Commission. The report covers all EU member states as well as Iceland, Turkey, Liechtenstein and Norway.  Based on selected indicators, scorecards were developed that ranked countries from “green” (best scores) to “red” (worst scores), with a total of six ranks of scores.

Education and Training in Europe 2020 – responses in member states

EUThe European Commission has published a new Eurydice report on the responses to Education 2020 from the EU member states. The report reviews all four key areas relevant to Education 2020 strategy: early school leaving (ESL), higher education, youth employment and vocational education and training (VET) and lifelong learning. The aims of the report are to provide a more cross-case analysis rather than a progress report by individual countries that can instead be  found here.

When it comes to higher education, the core benchmark used is the widely stated 40% of age cohort with tertiary education, and the policy ambitions are closely related to the 2011 Modernisation agenda with two main goals being: increased attainment rates and improvement of quality and relevance of higher education. While improvement is reported across the countries, one is still left with a question what that 40% participation rate means in terms of distribution within countries, and why is such a general benchmark useful in itself. Countries reporting growth or decrease can do that for very various reasons, some of which might be minor corrections or have little relevance for higher education policies. While the report also takes into account the equity and access aspects of widening participation, the report also refers to a recent Eurydice report and states that these are rarely a core element in higher education policies (p.37).

Regarding the quality and relevance, the report is primarily concerned with quality assurance systems, performance based funding, closer links to the industry and employability of graduates, following the core focus of the Modernisation agenda. While certain best-practice cases and initiatives related to these topics are highlighted across these topics, there also appears to be great diversity regarding the focus on these issues and the instruments employed, something to be expected considering the diverse higher education landscape in Europe.

Budget cuts and skills mismatches – doom and gloom in European higher education?

Tertiary education attainment  (Source: Monitor for )

Tertiary education attainment
(Source: EU Education and Training Monitor )

Last week, the latest Education and Training Monitor was published by the European Commission, highlighting the impact of budget cuts on European higher education.

The Commission has been calling Member states to focus on “growth friendly expenditure“, including education and training, issuing individual recommendations to 17 countries in July 2013. However, the tendency is that funding available for education and training has been decreasing and budget cuts are a common phenomenon across Europe.

Europe 2020 Strategy has specified a target of 40% of people aged 30-34 holding a higher education degree, and while progress is slow, there has been steady increase towards that number. However, despite the average number looking good, this increase might only lead to more disparity between countries. Clear differences can be identified between countries like Greece and Italy on the one hand, and the likes of Ireland on the other. With successful countries increasing their attainment levels, the gap with the countries not following this increase is only likely to increase.

The Education and Training Monitor further refers to PIAAC results to highlight problems with adult skills and competencies in Europe, and how this would be a serious concern for competitiveness in Europe. The issue is also closely aligned with EU focus on lifelong learning, as the key findings suggest: “Europe is facing a serious skills gap that risks hampering growth and employment in the future“. Furthermore, the ones participating in lifelong learning tend to be the ones who are young and highly educated. This is highlighted as an issue, as: “20% of 16 to 65 year-olds is unable to exceed a basic level of literacy and 24% is unable to do so in numeracy“.

Traineeship opportunities at the European Commission

The European Commission has recently announced a new application round for traineeships who will start their period in March 2014. These traineeships provide a unique opportunity to get to know the how the various EU institutions operate.

A number of graduates from the Hedda master programme in higher education have taken these traineeships and they have provided to be an important stepping stone for future career in Brussels.

The traineeships last for five months from March 2014, and the Commission provides a basic grant for trainees – currently about a €1,000 per month in addition to reimbursement of travel expenses. Every year 1300 trainees will be selected.

The applicants can be from all over the world, with three main criteria:

  • degree of at least 3 years of study (minimum a bachelor),
  • very good knowledge of English or French or German.
  • very good knowledge of a second EU official language (required for nationals of EU countries).

If you are interested in Community matters, this is a wonderful opportunity to build a network of acquintances and while there is no guarantee of further employment, high quality trainees can be recruited after completed traineeship following the general guidelines for employment. Read more about the rules for traineeships here.

The application procedure is explained here.  Application deadline 30.08.13.

High Level Group on Modernisation of HE in Europe: Universities need to put focus on teaching

teachingThe EU has for some time through various policy instruments getting increasingly involved in higher education across Europe. Initial progress through the Bologna Process has been followed up with activities such as the new multidimensional ranking – U-Multirank as well as an European Qualifications Framework.

Amongst else this resulted in September 2012 in the creation of a high level group on modernisation of higher education that had a specific focus on quality and excellence in teaching, in accordance with the general Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education the Commission has been promoting.

At the launch of the group in 2012 Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth emphasized thatWith the help of the high level group I want to ensure that every student, regardless of where they live or study in Europe, will benefit from quality teaching. This is a pre-condition for innovation, jobs and growth.”  The group was led by former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese and included a number of prominent members (rectors and university professors as well as representatives from the private sector). The activities of the group have been supported by wide scale consultation.

Last month, in June 2013 the high level group delivered its recommendations. At the launch of the report, Commissioner Vassiliou emphasized that the recommendations would not necessitate the use of substantial additional expenditure, and further highlighted the importance of teaching quality as well as Commissions commitment to “do all it can” to support implementation.

The core conclusion in the report is that institutions, while having its core mission divided by teaching and research, tend to focus on the latter. This is perhaps a fact that does not provide to be surprising to anyone studying higher education, provided the current excellence drive and increasing use of performance indicators that largely focus on research. However, the Commission has plans to change this as Vassiliou exmphasized: “The role of teaching in defining academic merit needs a stronger emphasis and recognition, especially in career terms” . Futhermore, greater focus has to be put on training of academics.