Europe needs modernised universities, says European Commission

May 11, 2006

Brussels, 10 May 2006

The European Commission has today taken a position on how best to modernise Europe’s universities. This is fundamentally important for them to make their contribution to the EU’s objective to become a leading global and knowledge-based economy. European universities have enormous potential, much of which unfortunately goes untapped because of various rigidities and hindrances. Freeing up the substantial reservoir of knowledge, talent and energy requires immediate, in-depth and coordinated change: from the way in which systems are regulated and managed, to the ways in which universities are governed. The Commission’s ideas are presented in a Communication adopted today which covers all activities of Europe’s universities: their delivery of education, their research activities, and their potential as drivers of innovation. This text responds to a request made at the informal meeting of the European Council in Hampton Court in October 2005 to identify areas for action on universities that can be used to drive forward the Growth and Jobs agenda.

Ján Figel’, Commissioner in charge of Education & Training, said: “Although they train and teach millions of people each year, Europe’s higher education systems remain hampered by a number of obstacles, many of which are decades old. The Communication adopted today is a contribution to the debate on the necessary modernisation of EU’s universities.”

”Universities are power-houses of knowledge generation” said Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. “They will need to adapt to the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy, just as other sectors of society and economy have to adapt. The ideas we are putting forward today should help kick-start a debate among Member States, and also within universities themselves.”

The European Commission identifies 9 areas where changes should be made so that Europe’s universities can contribute to the creation of a true knowledge economy. Each institution should find the balance of education, research and innovation which is best suited to its role in its region or country. This will necessarily mean a differentiated approach. The aim is to create a framework within which universities can become stronger players in the global knowledge society and economy. The primary goal must be to achieve excellence in the teaching and research functions of universities.

The proposals put forward by the Commission today include:

  • Boost the proportion of graduates spending at least one semester abroad or in industry.
  • Allow students to make use of national loans and grants wherever in the EU they decide to study or do research
  • Bring procedures for the recognition of academic qualifications in line with those for professional qualifications and make European degrees more easily recognised outside Europe.
  • Introduce training in intellectual property management, communication, networking, entrepreneurship and team-working as part of a research career
  • Refocus courses to allow greater participation at later stages of the life-cycle, thereby addressing the skills needs of Europe’s workforce, and ensuring that universities are able to adapt to Europe’s ageing population.
  • Review national student fee and support schemes so that the best students can participate in higher education and further research careers whatever their background.
  • Review systems for funding universities, to be more focused on outputs and give universities more responsibility for their own long-term financial sustainability, particularly in research.
  • Allow universities greater autonomy and accountability, so that they can respond quickly to change. This could include revising curricula to adapt to new developments, building closer links between disciplines and focussing on overall research areas domains (e.g. renewable energy, nanotechnology) rather than disciplines. It could also include more autonomy at individual institution level for choosing teaching and research staff.
The Commission stands ready to support the modernisation of EU universities through a process of identifying and sharing good practice, and through its funding programmes for education, research and innovation: the Lifelong Learning Programme, the Seventh Framework Programme for research and development, the Competitiveness and Innovation programme, and the Structural and Cohesion Funds.

More information:

Frequently Asked Questions: why European higher education systems must be modernised? http:/// TML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

Item source: IP/06/592 Date: 10/05/2006

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