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About the EU higher education policy

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

EU activities are designed to bring an additional international dimension to studying, teaching, researching or making policy in higher education


Education and culture are essential to develop a more inclusive, cohesive and competitive Europe. In 2017, at the Gothenburg Social Summit, the European Commission laid out its vision for 2025 of a European Education Area in which the free movement of learners is guaranteed: “A continent where spending time in another Member State – to study, to learn or to work – has become the standard and where, in addition to one's mother tongue, speaking two other languages has become the norm. A continent in which people have a strong sense of their identity as Europeans, of Europe's cultural heritage and its diversity.”

To take forward this work in the field of higher education, the European Commission is currently working on three key priorities that will boost mobility and student exchanges for all:

  1. A Network of European Universities

  2. The automatic mutual recognition of diplomas

  3. A European Student Card

Why does higher education matter?

Higher education and its links with research and innovation play a crucial role in individual and societal development and in providing the highly skilled human capital and the engaged citizens that Europe needs to create jobs, economic growth, and prosperity.

Higher education institutions are crucial partners in delivering the European Union's strategy to drive forward and maintain sustainable growth. The Europe 2020 strategy has set a target that by 2020 40% of young Europeans have a higher education qualification.

How does the European Union support higher education in Europe?

Sustained and substantive investment is required in order to turn education into a driver of development. Authorities in Member States remain responsible for the way higher education is organised and delivered in their countries. EU activities are designed to bring an additional international dimension to studying, teaching, researching or making policy in higher education.

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

The objective is to create new opportunities for people in higher education to learn from one another across national borders and to work together on joint projects to develop good learning and teaching, undertake excellent research and promote innovation.

What is the European Commission doing?

The European Commission works closely with policy-makers to support the development of higher education policies in EU countries in line with the Education and Training 2020 strategy (ET2020). The renewed EU agenda for higher education, adopted by the Commission in May 2017, identifies four key goals for European cooperation in higher education:

  • Tackling future skills mismatches and promoting excellence in skills development

  • Building inclusive and connected higher education systems

  • Ensuring higher education institutions contribute to innovation

  • Supporting effective and efficient higher education systems.

To help achieve each of these goals, the Commission proposes specific actions at EU-level, primarily supported by different strands of the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes. In particular, the European Commission supports:

  • the exchange of good policy practices between different countries through the ET2020 higher education working group;

  • the Bologna Process, designed to promote the internationalisation of higher education in Europe.through more mobility, easier recognition of qualifications and streamlined quality assurance mechanisms;

  • the development and use of mobility and recognition tools, such as the ECTS system and the Diploma Supplement, to increase transparency and facility exchanges in Europe.

More recently, in the context of the European Education Area, the European Commission has taken a number of further initiatives:

  • the concept of Networks of European Universities brings a major change to higher education practices, through integrated curricula and mobility, thus fostering quality, excellence and innovation;

  • the proposed Council recommendation on automatic mutual recognition of higher education and school-leaving diplomas helps to remove barriers to student mobility within Europe;

  • the future European Student Card will facilitate the secure exchange of student information and reduce administrative burden for higher education institutions, serving as a concrete example of the emerging European Education Area.


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