Higher education qualification’s recognition: towards European degree label

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A year-long EU project, initiated and guided by the European Commission, advised the European Universities Alliances to examine and facilitate the delivery of the joint European degree “label”. The European approach for joint programs, adopted by the member states’ education ministers can ease external quality assurance, based on Bologna process’ criteria, and bring more coherence to the EU-wide higher education systems.  

It is obvious that systemic changes are needed to make the implementation of joint degrees in Europe a reality. On top of all, it requires closer collaboration among national governance and EU-wide education facilities, including the efforts through the European Higher Education Area, EHEA.

More incentives are also needed for a full implementation of the Bologna process and more efforts to support the education institutions that are already investing in the development of joint programs. For example, legal barriers for the implementation of joint programs arising from national education policies in the EU member states still greatly tarnish efficient adoption of the EU-wide degrees. However, presently, according to the University World News, about 80 percent of the joint programs involving the project’s partner universities in the pilot phase have been at masters level, with 62 percent nationally accredited.

More in: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?, in Mitchell N. European Degree label eases legal path to joint programs. 14 March 2024.

Common degree, a “label”

The label is going to be a complementary certificate to the qualifications students obtain when graduating from joint programs and a vital step towards a joint and common EU-wide degree. The project would cover as much EU member states as possible, and designed to encourage student mobility and cooperation.

The project has brought together six university alliances (Una Europa, 4EU+, CHARM-EU, EC2U, EU-CONEXUS, and Unite!), representing 51 European higher education institutions (so-called HEIs) from 22 different countries. It was supported by 19 national and regional ministries in charge of higher education, as well as 15 national accreditation and quality assurance agencies across Europe.

The project’s ultimate aim, however, was not to change legislation in a single year ; the work is deemed complicated and requires a longer and more intensive process to overcome a long list of potential obstacles. The latter include around the EU states, for example, different curricular regulations, quality assurance arrangements, diploma formats, tuition fees, academic-year’s start-end-dates, as well as restrictions on teaching in different languages.

However, as organizers of the project confirmed, it was a surprise to witness how quickly some issues have been resolved and things actually changed in several countries during project’s meetings.

Visualizing problems

In some countries, education ministries (e.g. in Austria) were not aware of the obstacles and proposed “immediate and practical solution”; in other countries (e.g. Poland), the ministries acknowledged the existence of some obstacles and the national HEIs drafted together concrete proposals to overcome them. 

It was evident that some issues could not be resolved within the project’s conferences, but the HEIs and the EU education ministries recognized being “on a very clear path to changing the legal framework” (e.g. France and Italy). In other national HEIs the ministries and universities were looking for “more than a quick fix” and wanted to broaden the scope of the problem to help all types of HEIs collaboration, e.g. by Flanders. However, some ministries were reluctant and not ready “to form an opinion”; they just wanted to see where the Commission would follow the alliances’ recommendation and adopt a European degree.

One of the alliance’s project member –Una Europa, which already runs joint programs such as the Joint Bachelor of Arts in European Studies and Doctoral Program in Cultural Heritage as acknowledged that “it took tremendous effort, flexibility, trust and unprecedented levels of collaboration between partner universities to find creative solutions to these emerging challenges”.

Citation from the University World News in: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20240314123921813&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=GLNL0777.

European University Association, EUA expressed satisfaction with the work of the project including a “strong recommendations” on “full and correct” implementation of the Bologna Process tools and commitments, such as the use of the European Approach for Joint Programs. Thus, coordinated efforts by the European Commission, national education authorities and quality assurance agencies are needed to ensure that “added reporting and evaluation requirements” are balanced in delivering the added value of a European Degree certificate (so-called, label).

Our comment. The European integration needs common approaches to education and preparing “new workforce” adaptable to resolving modern challenges. However, according to the EU basic law, the education and training is within the member states’ competence: thus, the EU institutions can only provide support, recommendations and assistance in optimal conduct of national education policies. Therefore, the essence of the common EU-wide education “degree-label” can only be solved efficiently with changing the EU legislation, which is an extremely complex and difficult issue. So far, it is true, the only feasible solution is a EU-wide “collaboration” among HEIs and national education ministries based on a “good will” and common sense.

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