Higher Education for a Digital and Inclusive Europe

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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As the skills needed in Europe continue to rapidly evolve, the higher education sector plays a crucial role in driving the continent towards a more digital and inclusive future. Recognizing this, the European Union has launched two initiatives to support the transformation of higher education: a European Strategy for Universities and a Commission proposal for a Council Recommendation on building bridges for effective European higher education cooperation.

The Key Role of Higher Education

The green and digital transition requires a strong focus on education, research, and innovation, making higher education institutions pivotal in this process. They are tasked with achieving the European Education Area (EEA) and the European Research Area (ERA) by 2025. Moreover, they play a vital role in shaping sustainable and resilient economies, fostering a greener, more inclusive, and more digital society. These institutions also have a responsibility to provide highly skilled Europeans with excellent employment prospects and engage citizens who actively participate in democratic life. Remarkably, 80% of recent tertiary graduates in the EU secure employment within three months after graduation.

The European Strategy for Universities

The Digital Decade sets ambitious targets, aiming for 80% of people to possess at least basic digital skills and for 20 million ICT specialists to be employed by 2030. The European strategy for universities aligns with these targets and aims to support over 5,000 higher education institutions in Europe in reaching these goals. The strategy is built upon four key objectives:
Strengthening the European dimension in higher education and research.
Supporting universities as lighthouses of our European way of life.
Empowering universities as actors of change in the twin green and digital transitions.
Reinforcing universities as drivers of Europe’s global role and leadership.

To facilitate the implementation of this strategy, the EU has planned four flagship initiatives:
Expanding the European Universities Initiative to 60 European Universities with over 500 universities by mid-2024.
Working towards establishing a legal statute for alliances of higher education institutions, enabling them to pool resources, competencies, and capacities.
Exploring options and necessary work towards a joint European degree by mid-2024.
Scaling up the European Student Card Initiative by deploying a unique European Student Identifier available to all mobile students in 2022 and to all students in universities in Europe by mid-2024.

Building Bridges for Effective European Higher Education Cooperation

In addition to the European Strategy for Universities, the Commission has proposed a Council Recommendation to promote closer cooperation among European higher education institutions and facilitate the creation of joint transnational programs or degrees. The primary objective of this proposal is to encourage Member States to support the provision of high-quality lifelong learning opportunities for all individuals, with a focus on upskilling and reskilling in areas of high demand.

The Recommendation aims to enhance the quality and scope of transnational cooperation, directly benefiting students by improving their skills and employability. It will provide easier access to modern and innovative transnational campuses, opportunities for studying abroad, and transdisciplinary learning.

These initiatives set the stage for higher education institutions to play a significant role in driving the digital and inclusive transformation of Europe. By equipping individuals with the necessary skills and promoting collaboration among institutions, these initiatives pave the way for a more prosperous and equitable future.

References for further reading:

Source: EC. Europa. Education
European Commission: European Universities Initiative – 
European Commission: Building Bridges for Effective European Higher Education Cooperation 

Author: Niloufar Gharavi