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Commission rolls out blueprint for European degree

The European Commission has presented a blueprint for a European degree, set to boost learning mobility within the EU and enhance students' transversal skills.
April 5 2024
4 Min Read

The European Commission has presented a blueprint for a European degree, set to boost learning mobility within the EU and “cut red tape” for universities setting up joint degree programs at all levels.

Published on March 27, the plan for the degree paves the way for a new type of joint program, delivered on a voluntary basis at national, regional or institutional level, and based on a common set of criteria agreed at European level.

Such a European degree would allow higher education institutions from different countries to cooperate seamlessly across borders and set up joint programs that will be recognised across the EU as a European degree.

Not only does it plan to tackle the legal and administrative barriers that universities face when setting up joint degree programs at all levels, it aims to do so while allowing universities to build on institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Other predicted benefits include making graduates more attractive for future employers, meeting labour market demand and boosting European competitiveness by attracting students from around the world.

“Education is a key building block of our European way of life and a promise to our younger generations,” said Margaritis Schinas, vice-president for Promoting our European Way of Life at the European Commission.

Universities serve as “beacons of a European brand of academic excellence” and the European degree is “the next step and will empower our universities to work together, for the benefit of students, teachers, employers and Europe’s competitiveness”.

“Our vision is to make European higher education even more competitive and interconnected. And to secure Europe’s place in the global race for talent,” Iliana Ivanova, commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth at the European Commission added.

The blueprint for a European degree builds on six Erasmus+ pilot projects involving more than 140 higher education institutions from across the EU.

The European Commission has proposed a gradual approach for member states, with two possible entry points to the degree.

The first is a preparatory European label, which would allow joint degree programs to meet the proposed European criteria and students would receive a European degree label certificate together with their joint degree.

The second possible entry point is a European degree. This new type of qualification, based on the common criteria and anchored in national legislation, would be awarded either jointly by several universities from different countries or by a European legal entity established by such universities.

Students would receive a ‘European degree’ that is automatically recognised.

“It’s good that a flexible approach is chosen, where member states and institutions can progress at their own pace and in a voluntary way,” said Piet Van Hove, president of the European Association for International Education and senior policy advisor for internationalisation at the University of Antwerp.

“The availability of the label as a first step will allow a progressive convergence towards the most ambitious and integrated scenario envisaged by the package,” Van Hove told The PIE.

The Commission will facilitate and support member states in the work towards the European degree through a number of concrete actions, including a European degree policy lab supported by Erasmus+ program, to be set up in 2025. It aims to develop guidelines towards a European degree.

Van Hove believes the package represents the “best approach” the Commission could take at this point in time, without having legal authority to regulate higher education directly.

“It is an important step in leadership towards a European degree as a meaningful and attractive brand, representing high-quality and innovative programmes with a true international and European added value,” said Van Hove, who is also involved in the European Degree Label Pilot Project FOCI, representing the University of Antwerp and the YUFE Alliance.

Van Hove commends the Commission’s process so far which has seen it collaborate with the sector, including many practitioners from the EAIE community. He is also pleased to see this approach extended to the European Degree policy lab, where member states will be guided in removing legal obstacles which “currently make it so difficult to set up real joint programs and joint degrees”.

“This has the potential to be a real game changer,” he added.

“The European Degree Label and future European Degree have the potential to become a brand which guarantees the innovative nature of a program, where strengths of different universities are combined, where an international perspective is the norm and where innovative methods are used for building a unique mix of competences.”

In the coming months, the initiative will be discussed with the Council of the EU and key stakeholders in higher education.

In 2025, the Commission plans to launch ‘European degree pathway projects’ within Erasmus+ program to provide financial incentives for member states, together with accreditation and quality assurance agencies, universities, students, economic and social partners, to engage in the pathway towards a European degree

Mirko Varano, senior advisor international projects at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and chair of the EAIE expert community ‘European Collaborative Programmes’, told The PIE one of the main benefits of the process has been for member states to become more aware of the barriers faced by institutions when trying to develop true international joint programs.

Additionally, it creates a better understanding of what kind of measures, legal changes or exceptions to the rule should be taken in the implementation phase of the package.

“If this will happen, the whole initiative would have already been a success, regardless of the status that the Joint European Degree will manage to achieve in the future,” said Varano, who represents his university and the Unite! Alliance in ED-AFFICHE, another pilot project towards the European Degree Label.

According to Varano, the package incorporates “most” of the remarks of ED-AFFICHE and other pilots, which he said “can only be seen as a very satisfying outcome from the point of view of the practitioners”.

“The pragmatic solutions to envisage different co-existing parallel pathways should be seen positively since they will allow member states and HEIs to move towards the European degree objective at their own speed, depending on the changes needed in the legislation and in the regulatory provisions and level of ambition at institutional level.”

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