Our Position

Review of the EU agenda for modernisation of higher education systems

Eurocadres has submitted a written contribution to the European Commission’s public consultation on a renewed Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education in the European Union. 

1. What do you see as the main challenges faced by your national higher education system(s) (or higher education systems in the EU in general) in reaching their potential?

The main challenge is to make our higher education systems attractive enough. Our institutions are in need of new talents and therefore, Europe has to be the number one destination for international students. There is also room for improving access and equality for European citizens aspiring tertiary education. Eurocadres believes that a strong European economy will be reached by supporting higher education and research.

Sadly, many HEIs are facing large cuts, endangering the quality of education. There are cuts in the number of teaching staff, which again leads to less teaching. Education has to be the top priority for governments and not the first austerity target. We are worried that the quality of teaching will be affected negatively. Also, some countries struggle reaching the graduation target of 40 per cent among young people.

2. What do you see as the priority areas where institutions and governments should concentrate reform efforts in higher education?

Education should always be considered as a common good with a public interest. Institutions and governments should ensure access to higher education to all, regardless of financial resources, thereby avoiding social inequality.

Europe has to claim its position at the top in quality higher education by modernising curricula and investing in research and teaching. Our educations systems, graduates and employers need to be responsive for the fast-changing labour market. Therefore, we support closer cooperation between the higher education institutions and the labour market.

Higher education largely focuses on the young, but there is an increasing need to adapt or complement curricula and financial support for professional employees in need of upskilling or reskilling; this should be taken into account in both EU and national policies. For example, digitalisation is changing the skills requirements on the labour market. The HEIs do not have enough incentives to educate adults already on the labour market. We think that this needs attention.

European transparency tools, such as credit systems and qualification levels, have to be more coherent. Also, member states have to be made more engaged in implementing the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). Recognition of degrees and qualifications is at the core of a functioning cross border labour market. We call for more pressure from EU side for this to happen.

3. Taking into account experience with the existing modernisation agenda and actions, where and how can the EU add value? Please reflect on

a) how useful you think European cooperation in higher education has been since 2011.

The HEIs are the ones in the end that make the decisions on cooperation with other actors on national, European and international level. The EU can, however, provide incentives for cooperation.

There has been great value from the EU side in introducing the Erasmus+ programme and Horizon 2020. We largely support financial support programmes of this kind, which foster mobility and exchange of knowledge. The two Bologna Ministerial Conferences have also played a significant role in European higher education cooperation. The Bologna targets are not yet reached and there is room for the EU to promote cooperation between HEIs and stakeholders to reach the goals.

b) the relevance for future EU cooperation of the three "priority areas to explore further" and types of action highlighted above.

Enhancing "relevance" in learning and teaching: Higher education institutions should involve social partners in designing curricula to equip students with the right skills for the modern labour market. We see it as worrying that Europe is suffering from substantial skills mismatch, where workers are either under- or over-qualified. The aim of all kind of teaching is to reach good learning outcomes. These should be clearly defined and comprehensive to ensure that the teacher-student goals are reached. There is also a gender-dimension to it. More women enrol to and graduate from higher education institutions than men. In spite of this, men have faster access to the labour market. However, we also have to encourage young men to pursue tertiary education and not let them become marginalised.

Helping HEIs become strong regional innovators: Having more knowledge leads to innovations, job creation and higher stability. In the context of the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the share of education and research resources must be raised considerably to support job creation, innovation and high-level life-long learning. High quality of and equal access to education are of capital importance. The share of educational and research programmes should be at least one fifth of the EU budget (for the moment around one tenth). Education and economy foster each other in strength and in times of austerity measures, education is always a good investment. By taking these supportive measures, we can help the HEIs to become stronger regional innovators.

Ensuring education and research activities within higher education are mutually reinforcing: We strongly support the European Research Area (ERA) as well as a stronger European Higher Education Area (EHEA), which can strengthen our capacities across member states. Funding instruments for exchange periods abroad for teachers, researches, students and staff are needed to increase cooperation and share best practises.

c) other priority areas and types of action you would like to see as part of EU cooperation in higher education.

The added value from the EU side to promote cooperation is the investment in financial support mechanisms such as the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes. Horizon 2020 is one of the big flagship initiatives with an aim to foster jobs and sustainable growth, as well as academic excellence and innovation. The money dedicated to research, science and innovation is vital for European research institutions. We therefore encourage the EU to continue supporting such programmes.

We highly recommend internship programmes during studies as well as after studies. Internships are the best way for graduates to obtain work experience. However, we condemn underpaid internships; everyone is entitled to a decent pay.