Higher education: Universities must deliver their full potential to contribute to the Lisbon strategy (plus link to MEMO)

April 21, 2005

Brussels, 20 April 2005

The European Commission adopted today a Communication on “Mobilising the brainpower of Europe: enabling universities to make their full contribution to the Lisbon Strategy”. Accompanied by a Commission Staff Working Paper on “European Higher Education in a Worldwide Perspective”, this text is a follow-up to the Communication on “The role of universities in the Europe of Knowledge” [1] and to the subsequent consultation of stakeholders. It underlines the fact that European universities are faced with many challenges and that, if nothing is done, the gap with the EU’s main competitors in the field will continue to widen.

“Knowledge and innovation are the engines of sustainable growth in Europe today, said Ján Figel’, commissioner in charge of Education & Training, at a press conference, and universities are crucial for achieving the goals set out by the Spring European Council. However, the Communication adopted today emphasises that there are important weaknesses in the performance of European higher education institutions compared to those of our main competitors, notably the USA. Although the average quality of European universities is rather good, they are not in a position to deliver their full potential to boost economic growth, social cohesion and more and better jobs. The Commission invites national decision makers to set out measures that would enable universities to play a full role in the Lisbon strategy”.

With only 21% of the EU’s working-age population attaining tertiary education, the EU does not compare well with the US (38%), Canada (43%) or Japan (36%). Furthermore, access to tertiary education is now stabilising in Europe at a comparatively low level, except in a few countries. The Commission finds that this reflects a lack of responsiveness of higher education to changes in society and to the lifelong learning paradigm.

Europe’s lower performance is also related to a huge funding gap. EU countries spend on average just 1.1% of GDP on higher education, which is on a par with Japan but much less than Canada (2.5%) and the US (2.7%). If Europe were to match the total US figure, it would need to spend an additional 150 billion € each year on higher education [2] . This situation has affected European universities’ performance in world-class research, with a lower share of scientific publications, patents and Nobel prizes than in the US. A major difference is that while European higher education continues to rely almost exclusively on (limited) public funds, much stronger and lasting expansion has been possible in competitor countries thanks to a greater diversity of funding sources, with much higher contributions from industry and households.

The Communication identifies three priority areas for reform of European universities: (1) enhancing the quality and attractiveness of Europe’s universities, (2) improving their governance and systems, and (3) increasing and diversifying their funding (with or without a substantial contribution from students).

The Commission urges all Member States to ensure that their regulatory frameworks allow university leadership to undertake genuine change and pursue strategic priorities.

Universities will also have a crucial role to play, including better communication with society about the value they produce and more investment in their presence and marketing at home and abroad. They must also enhance their human potential, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

The Commission invites the Council to adopt a Resolution backing its call for a new type of partnership between public authorities and universities and for sufficient investment in higher education. Investing more in the modernisation of Europe’s higher education and research, and improving its quality, is a direct investment in the future of Europe and Europeans.

For further information see:


[1] Com (2003), 58 final, 5 February 2003

[2] See Commission Staff Working Paper, § 44

EU’s Higher Education achievements and challenges: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Item source: IP/05/445 Date: 20/04/2005 Previous Item Back to Titles Print Item

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