New Effort Seeks to Make European Universities More Global

July 18, 2013

This is an article from University World News, an online publication that covers global higher education. It is presented here under an agreement with The Chronicle.

In an effort to bolster Europe’s position in international higher education, the European Commission has launched a new strategy for the internationalization of higher education. It promises stronger policy support and financial incentives, and calls on countries to use immigration rules to enhance rather than create obstacles to mobility.

Published on July 11 as a "communication," European Higher Education in the World, the strategy is a comprehensive effort to tackle the challenges of globalization; it does not simply focus on attracting more foreign students to Europe but also stresses the need to work harder for European students, who for the most part are still missing out on the international dimension in higher education.

“We must promote the international dimension among the 85 percent of EU students who are not mobile today,” Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said, presenting the communication.

She added that the European Commission viewed internationalization not simply as a matter of increased mobility. “Universities need to develop more international curricula, promote language skills, and expand digital learning opportunities,” said Vassiliou.

New Strategies

The new strategy addresses such issues.

“It proposes measures aimed at ensuring that EU graduates gain the international skills they need. Universities must have comprehensive strategies that go beyond mobility.”

Answering questions from the media, Vassiliou made it clear that the aim of the new strategy was not to expand Europe’s position in the international education landscape but to maintain it. Europe can be content with receiving 45 percent of the world’s international students today but, according to Vassiliou, should not rest on its laurels.

The number of higher-education students is still increasing rapidly – by a factor of four between 2000 and 2030, according to the estimates the commission uses. The estimates foresee an expansion in the number of internationally mobile students from the current four million to seven million by the end of this decade, with growth mostly expected from China, India, and South Korea.

Just maintaining the EU’s leading position would require a considerable expansion of absorption capacity, which is a challenge in a region whose own young population is not expanding at the same rate as elsewhere in the world.

According to Vassiliou, “there is not a one-size-fits-all model for internationalisation,” so money will be set aside for peer learning among European universities.

The European Commission wants institutions to look at what others are doing and with the help of this experience put together their own internationalization packages.

“EU countries must work closely together to ensure that higher-education institutions offer better and more internationally oriented courses. They should be more attractive to students and more responsive to social and business needs. In turn, European students should be given better opportunities to study in non-traditional study destinations.”

Approximately €400-million ($523-million) a year, from 2014 to 2020, will be earmarked for European universities to fund cooperation and mobility with non-European partners. A pan-European campaign to promote Europe as a study and research destination is also on the cards.

Support will be channelled through new EU programs for internationalization in higher education that take off in 2014: the Erasmus+ program and new research actions under the Horizon 2020 program.

The Erasmus+ program is the grand scheme that will collect the EU’s fragmented education support actions under one large umbrella from January 2014. Until last month, the European Commission referred to this by its working title "Erasmus for All."

Erasmus+ will mainstream opportunities for students from beyond Europe's borders to spend part of their degree studies at a European university or vice versa.

Some 135,000 student and staff exchanges between the EU and the rest of the world will be funded – 100,000 more than under the existing Erasmus Mundus program – in addition to three million student and staff exchanges within the EU.

Key Priorities

European Higher Education in the World outlines key priorities for institutions and countries in developing comprehensive internationalization strategies, grouped into three categories: international student and staff mobility; internationalization and improvement of curricula and digital learning; and strategic cooperation, partnerships, and capacity building.

With increasing mobility flows, the document says, “the transparency and recognition of learning acquired elsewhere should be a key priority.” Immigration rules should support university efforts “rather than creating obstacles to mobility that weaken Europe's image abroad.”

The document also argues: “New trends in digital education and the emergence of MOOCs should be an incentive for higher-education institutions to rethink their cost structures and possibly also their missions, and engage in worldwide partnerships to increase the quality of content and of the learning experience through blended learning.”

The report goes on to argue that institutions should position themselves according to their strengths and forge partnerships in and outside Europe, involve business in international strategic partnerships for cross-border innovation, and cooperate with developing countries and their higher-education institutions.

For its part, and among other things, the commission will pursue bilateral and multilateral policy dialogues with key international partners, strengthen evidence-based policy-making in the field of international education, and present an initiative to promote digital learning and better use of information and communication technologies and open educational resources in education.