2024 Apr/09

“Strong coordination” from European Commission needed to advance European Degree, says higher education consortium

ED-AFFICHE, a leading higher education consortium piloting the European Degree, is calling on the European Commission to take a proactive role in coordinating collaboration between all major actors across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) to make the European Degree a reality. The call comes in response to the European Commission’s new Higher Education Package including a blueprint for a European Degree, which was unveiled on 27 March.

ED-AFFICHE is a powerhouse consortium of 51 higher education institutions (HEIs) from six European Universities alliances (Una Europa, 4EU+, CHARM-EU, EC2U, EU-CONEXUS, Unite!). In consultation with higher education ministries, quality assurance agencies, students and employers, the consortium has spent the past year co-developing a vision for the European Degree and identifying concrete steps towards its realisation as an instrument to overcome existing legislative and administrative obstacles to developing transnational joint degrees in Europe. Now, the consortium calls on the European Commission to develop processes to support the continuation and scaling up of the close collaboration initiated under ED-AFFICHE and all European Degree pilot experimentation projects.

The European Commission’s blueprint for a European Degree proposes several actions for supporting Member States and the wider EHEA, including a policy lab ‘to develop detailed guidelines and action plans for the implementation of a European degree’; an annual forum for monitoring progress; and new support from Erasmus+ for Member States and HEIs to work on realising the European Degree. While these steps demonstrate the European Commission’s commitment to facilitating the path towards a European Degree, significant questions remain over how the Commission will take up and support the collaboration and dialogue among key stakeholders already established by pilot experimentation projects like ED-AFFICHE. It is also unclear how the knowledge and expertise gained through these projects will be utilised and implemented moving forward.

Neringa Narbutiene, EU-CONEXUS institutional coordinator at UCV and ED-AFFICHE coordinator, said

“The European Commission’s blueprint on the European Degree offers Member States a distinct chance to examine how they can enhance and streamline the creation of joint programmes and degrees within their borders. We warmly welcome a proposal to continue the dialogue with various national and regional authorities, students and employers for further development of European Degree related policies, procedures and financial incentives, coordinated by the EC. EU-CONEXUS firmly believes that the European Degree will enable the development of new joint EU-CONEXUS study programmes, leveraging the complementary strengths of our universities and providing our students with unique study opportunities.”

ED-AFFICHE and other consortia piloting the European Degree have pooled essential knowledge and expertise, translated into actionable tools to facilitate the Degree’s development and implementation for all key actors. As the European Degree pilot projects end, ED-AFFICHE urges the European Commission to take advantage of the project’s achievements as a basis for scaling up and deepening collaboration between key actors to make the European Degree a reality for Europe’s students.

Unprecedented collaboration across the EHEA

ED-AFFICHE has worked in continuous collaboration with 19 regional and national higher education ministries, 15 accreditation and quality assurance agencies, around 60 employment representatives, and two student representation organisations, as well as collecting feedback from over 2,500 students from across Europe, to shape a shared vision for the European Degree that meets the needs of Europe’s students, academics and employers while integrating with existing processes and tools for developing and implementing joint degrees. The collaboration has resulted in concrete recommendations for Member States, the European Commission, quality assurance agencies and HEIs on actions they can take to pave the way for the European Degree and joint degrees in general, many of which can be actioned right now.

Benjamin Dagot, Head of European Affairs at HCERES, said, “The work being done on the European diploma label is confronting us with the many limitations and challenges we face as Europeans. The ED-AFFICHE project has embodied in the best possible way the iterative and collective process that is crucial and a prerequisite for any progress.”

By engaging a diverse range of stakeholders, ED-AFFICHE’s vision for the European Degree meets the needs of the market and embodies students’ priorities, ensuring that the future European Degree will have real added value to the students who receive it.

Rita Dias, President of the Erasmus Student Network and member of the ED-AFFICHE External Advisory Committee, said, “The European Degree, apart from striving for international cooperation and supporting the achievement of seamless mobility, is an initiative that originates directly from the ground, from the higher education institutions.

“For the Erasmus Student Network, it has been a privilege to be involved in the ED-AFFICHE pilot project and to contribute to shaping one of the most ambitious higher education policies of our time. Being part of ED-AFFICHE also means being part of something that will hopefully be available to millions of higher education students in Europe in the future: the European Degree. The steps taken by this pilot project were not only significant but also well thought out, considering perspectives from all stakeholders involved. Formulating good policy requires consulting every voice at the table, and we want to thank the ED-AFFICHE team for taking into account all our perspectives and singularities.”

Collaborating with Member States to enact change

Recognising the critical role of Member States in overcoming obstacles to developing and implementing the European Degree, ED-AFFICHE partnered with higher education ministries to identify existing legal hurdles to transnational collaboration across the EHEA and co-develop solutions to facilitate the development of joint programmes.

Zuzanna Hazubska, Head of Minister’s Political Cabinet, Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland, says, “Following the ED-AFFICHE workshop, Polish universities and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education reconvened and translated ideas into tangible outcomes. This collaborative effort culminated in a precise and comprehensive proposal for legislative amendments regarding transnational joint programmes.”

ED-AFFICHE has facilitated dialogues in 19 of the EU’s 27 Member States with legal experts at their higher education institutions on obstacles to transnational collaboration and how the European Degree could act as an enabler to overcome these hurdles. The outcomes of these dialogues have already been taken up by the European Commission the shape the blueprint for a European Degree. With proactive facilitation from the European Commission, Member States will be empowered to leverage the recommendations developed under ED-AFFICHE to streamline the implementation of the European Degree, and joint degrees in general, in dialogue with HEIs as initiated under the pilot experimentation projects.

Next steps for the European Degree

The European Commission blueprint on a European Degree proposes two entry points: a joint European Degree Label; or a European Degree qualification awarded either jointly by several universities from different countries, or by a European legal entity established by such universities.

To ensure the European Degree has real impact, ED-AFFICHE strongly recommends the European Commission take the following actions:

  • Integrate the European Degree with established quality assurance mechanisms already in place through the Bologna Process and European Approach, to ensure the initiative actively supports and enhances existing frameworks and therefore fostering coherence and effectiveness.
  • Develop funding mechanisms directly linked to the European Degree, building on the commitment to dedicate Erasmus+ support as included in the blueprint. These mechanisms should prioritise inclusivity, bolster recognition, and promote the advancement of high-quality programmes.
  • Establish and continuously update a database of legal obstacles to developing joint programmes within the EU and EHEA, as initiated under ED-AFFICHE.
  • Develop a dedicated strategy to enhance the visibility of programmes that receive the label.

ED-AFFICHE and its fellow consortia piloting the European Degree have amassed a wealth of essential knowledge and expertise, translated into comprehensive, actionable tools to facilitate development and implementation for all key actors. As the European Degree pilot projects draw to a close, it is crucial that the Commission take a coordinating role for the European Degree to ensure the collaboration continues and all key actors remain engaged in the co-creation process.

ED-AFFICHE strongly encourages the European Commission to take advantage of the project’s achievements as a basis for scaling up and deepening collaboration between key actors – from HEIs to Member States, quality assurance agencies to employers – and together cultivate and consolidate the European Degree into a reality for the benefit of Europe’s students.

Author: Heather McComb (Una Europa)

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ED-AFFICHE project deliverables:

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