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Information gaps holding back higher education in many EU countries

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1165-mediumNot enough countries are using the information they collect on higher education to improve their universities and the opportunities they offer for students. This is shown in a Eurydice report published today (22 May). The report 'Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe: Access, Retention and Employability' investigates what governments and higher education institutions are doing to widen access to higher education, increase the number of students that complete higher education (retention), and give guidance to students on entering the labour market (employability). More than 30 countries took part in the survey - all EU member states, with the exception of Luxembourg and the Netherlands, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway and Turkey.

"Higher education needs to do more to respond to areas of weakness: for example, we want to encourage more diversity in the student population. Universities need to attract more disadvantaged students, especially people from low-income backgrounds, with disabilities, of migrant status or different ethnicities. As well as inspiring greater diversity, relevant data can help us to better assess the impact of our policy priorities and to alter course where necessary. We must move to a more proactive use of data and feedback to inform decision making," said Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.

The report shows that:

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  • Although many countries collect information about their student populations, data analysis is often not linked to concrete objectives (such as ensuring access of disadvantaged students to higher education), and many countries are unaware if their student population is becoming more diverse (see Figure 1).
  • Very few countries (BE(fl), IE, FR, LT, MT, FI and the UK (Scotland)) have set targets for improving access to higher education for people from underrepresented groups such as low-income backgrounds.
  • Around half of European higher education systems have bridging programmes for entrants not coming directly from secondary education (BE, CZ, DK, DE, IE, FR, AT, PL, PT, SI, SE, SK, UK, IS, HR) and award higher education credits that recognise the value of students' prior learning (also ES, IT, LI, FI, NO). A clear geographical divide is visible regarding measures to widen access to higher education, as they remain most prevalent in the north and the west of Europe.
  • A significant number of countries do not systematically calculate completion and/or drop-out rates. This includes countries that have policies addressing retention and completion, but clearly lack basic data to analyse the impact of these policies.
  • In most countries, higher education institutions have to submit information on employability (e.g. employment rates of their graduates, how they develop the skills necessary for their graduates to find a job) for quality assurance. However, graduate tracking information is as yet rarely used to develop higher education policies.
  • Using quality assurance to promote crucial policy goals for wider access and better retention and completion rates can help in monitoring students' progress, and identify how higher education institutions (e.g. universities, colleges) use this information to feed back into a cycle of quality enhancement.

Figure 1: Changes in the diversity of students in higher education, 2002/03-2012/13

Background

The Modernization of Higher Education in Europe: Access, Retention and Employability examines policy and practice related to the student experience of higher education through three stages: access, which requires awareness of the offer of higher education, the requirements to be admitted, and the process of admission; progression through the study programme, including support that may be provided when problems are encountered; and transition from higher education into the labour market.

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The Commission's Agenda for Modernization of Higher Education underlines the issues of flexible pathways into higher education; how to assure effectiveness and efficiency in higher education; and provision of employable skills to students for easy transfer to the labour market after graduation.

Eurydice

The Eurydice Network's task is to understand and explain how Europe's different education systems are organized and how they work. The network provides descriptions of national education systems, comparative studies devoted to specific topics, indicators and statistics. All Eurydice publications are available free of charge on the Eurydice website or in print upon request. Through its work, Eurydice aims to promote understanding, co-operation, trust and mobility at European and international levels. The network consists of national units located in European countries and is co-ordinated by the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. For more information about Eurydice, click here.

More information

The full report is available in English on the Eurydice website

European Commission: Education and training

Education

2021 university ranking show that European universities have a strong degree of co-operation

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U-Multirank, initiated by the Commission and co-funded by Erasmus+, has published its 8th university ranking, scoring almost 2,000 universities from 96 countries across the world. Among other results, it shows that European universities cooperate more intensively in comparison to other regions, especially in the performance areas of teaching & learning, research, knowledge exchange and internationalisation (staff & student mobility, joint diplomas & publications, etc.). Generally, universities working together with other institutions, businesses and industries, governments, regional bodies or across borders generally perform better than those that are less focused on cooperation. Seven aspects were taken into consideration for the ranking: strategic partnerships, international joint degrees, internships, international co-publications, co-publications with industrial partners, regional co-publications and co-patents with industry.

Every year, U-Multirank compares higher education institutions' performance in areas that matter most to students, providing the world's largest customisable online rankings. Universities can use U-Multirank data to assess their strengths and weaknesses and find ways to create or strengthen their strategic plans, including aspects on cooperation. The European Universities initiative is one of the flagship action led by the Commission towards the European Education Area. The objective is to create transnational alliances where students, staff and researchers can enjoy seamless mobility – physically as well as virtually, to study, train, teach, do research, work, or share services in any of the cooperating partner institutions. So far, there are 41 such alliances bringing together more than 280 institutions of higher education across Europe. In total, a budget of up to €287 million from Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe is available for these 41 European Universities. More information is available online.

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Education

Statement by Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič on the International Day to Protect Education from Attack

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On the occasion of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack (9 September), the EU reaffirms its commitment to promote and protect the right of every child to grow in a safe environment, have access to quality education, and build a better and more peaceful future, says Janez Lenarčič (pictured).

Attacks on schools, students and teachers have a devastating impact on access to education, education systems and on societal development. Sadly, their incidence is increasing at an alarming rate. This is all too clear from the recent developments in Afghanistan, and the crises in Ethiopia, Chad, Africa's Sahel region, in Syria, Yemen or Myanmar, amongst many others. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack has identified more than 2,400 attacks on education facilities, students, and educators in 2020, a 33 percent increase since 2019.

Attacks on education constitute also violations of International Humanitarian Law, the set of rules seeking to limit the effects of armed conflict. Such violations are multiplying, while their perpetrators are seldom called to account. In this view, we are putting compliance with International Humanitarian Law consistently at the heart of the EU's external action. As one of the largest humanitarian donors, the EU will hence continue to promote and advocate for global respect for International Humanitarian Law, both by states and non-state armed groups during an armed conflict.

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Beyond destruction of facilities, attacks on education result in long-term suspension of learning and teaching, increase the risk of school dropouts, lead to forced labour and recruitment by armed groups and forces. School closures reinforce exposure to all forms of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence or early and forced marriage, levels of which have increased drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated the vulnerability of education worldwide. Now, more than ever, we need to minimise disruption to education disruption, and ensure that children can learn in safety and protection.

Safety of education, including further engagement on the Safe Schools Declaration, is an integral part of our efforts to protect and promote the right to education for every girl and boy.

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Responding to and preventing attacks on schools, supporting protective aspects of education and protecting students and teachers requires a coordinated and inter-sectoral approach.

Through EU-funded projects in Education in Emergencies, we help reduce and mitigate the risks posed by armed conflict.

The EU remains at the forefront of supporting education in emergencies, dedicating 10% of its humanitarian aid budget to support access, quality and protection of education.

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Factsheet - Education in Emergencies

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Education

European Commission report on adult education and training in Europe

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The European Commission's Eurydice network has published a report on ‘Adult Education and Training in Europe: Building inclusive pathways to skills and qualifications'. The report examines current approaches to promoting lifelong learning, with a particular focus on policies and measures supporting the access of adults with low levels of skills and qualifications, to learning opportunities. It looks at 42 education and training systems across 37 European countries.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “This pandemic has shown that many adults do not have adequate basic skills. In particular, it has revealed the large digital divide among the adult population. It is essential to create systematic learning opportunities allowing people to improve their basic skills at any stage of life. We also need to address the fragmentation of the adult learning sector, so that adults can make straightforward transitions between different types and forms of education.”

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “To adapt to the rapidly-changing world of work, we must focus our attention and resources on lifelong learning. By 2030, we want at least 60% of adults in the EU to participate in training every year. EU leaders welcomed this ambition and their national recovery and resilience plans include large investments in upskilling and reskilling of adults. Together with Social Partners and all stakeholders, we need to ensure access to learning opportunities especially for people who would benefit from upskilling and reskilling the most. This aspect is central to the Upskilling Pathways initiative which pays particular attention to the most vulnerable.”

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In addition to looking into how adult education and training initiatives are coordinated at national level, this report also presents a unique mapping of publicly-funded and co-funded adult education and training programmes, and the existing guidance and support measures for the least qualified. The Eurydice Network consists of national units in European countries, and is co-ordinated by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.

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