The European Union has long been committed to a policy of promoting “global awareness of the high quality and the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of European higher education”.
Since 2014, a central tool has been Study in Europe. This initiative produces promotional material, offers expert guidance, organises real and virtual education fairs and hosts a one-stop portal on the EU’s official Europa website designed to drive traffic towards national sites.
A session at the European Association for International Education conference in Liverpool set out to explore the “results and lessons” so far “from a 33-country collaboration”.
Study in Europe chair Adrian Veale – who works at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Education and Culture – explained to Times Higher Education that the aim of the initiative is to “make Europe a more attractive and better-known destination for students” from elsewhere.
It is funded by the Erasmus+ programme and includes all 28 member states as well as three in the European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein) and two candidates for membership of the EU that have been willing to pay to be part of the initiative (Macedonia and Turkey).
All are being promoted as potential study destinations, said Mr Veale, through “a number of activities to get European universities better known”.
There have already been live fairs in South Africa and South Korea this year, with two planned for Ecuador and Peru later this month. Virtual fairs should follow in North America, Russia, Nigeria and elsewhere. Each gives national promotion agencies and sometimes individual universities the chance to display their wares.
“There is no common ‘European-ness’ in higher education we can sell,” admitted Mr Veale, so Study in Europe is “about raising the visibility of the entire range”. This should help potential students make comparisons about quality, fees level (which some parents, rightly or wrongly, tend to associate with quality), specialisations and value for money.
Yet in reality this is likely to be particularly effective in “providing a platform for countries which do not benefit from the resources and experience of the worldwide network of bigger countries. The British Council, DAAD [Germany’s academic exchange programme] and Campus France, for example, have extensive networks and do a lot of their own promotion.”
Those from Slovenia or Sweden being exhibited alongside them may well benefit disproportionately from the exposure, which Mr Veale believed is likely to “raise awareness of universities without current brand recognition, but with good track records or very good specialisation records”.
As of today, the Study in Europe initiative showcases all the major European states except for Switzerland. But, although this is unlikely to be a central issue in the Brexit negotiations, would a Britain outside the EU still be able to participate?
“The British university sector is adamant it should remain within European programmes such as Erasmus+,” responded Mr Veale, “and the mechanics for that do exist, for example in the case of Norway. It would be feasible for Britain too to continue to be part of Erasmus+ and therefore part of Study in Europe.”