Education policy’s integration: an issue of an EU-wide graduation certificate

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Educating new workforce to tackle modern challenges has become a vital issue at the contemporary level of European integration. Dealing with a complex composition of climate, sustainability and green transition issues in socio-economic growth requires fundamental reform of national education policies, including acceptance of a “commonly” agreed European graduate certificates.

Socio-economic integration among the EU states is a complex and rather complicated issue, involving numerous spheres, one of them is education. The complexities are real and they are grounded in the fact that according to the EU basic law, education issues are almost entirely in the competences of the member states. However, modern challenges (digital, climate, etc.) require quick and effective new workforce to deal with the new issues, and commonly recognized education certificate would be a great helping hand. Universities have to develop the physical environment, social and community spaces and other enabling structures, processes, and technologies necessary to attract and inspire staff and students in a transformative future. A European “common diploma” is supposed to resolve the complexities; but the unanimous solution is still difficult to achieve…

The common certificate’s main goal is establishing an effective (though voluntary, due to the lack of common legal ground) cooperation among universities and high education institutions, HEIs. In order to make the EU-widely recognized universities’ degrees (at bachelor, masters end/or doctoral levels), the process has to overcome some “technical” and substantial problems: on the former there have to be resolved some legal and administrative barriers towards “jointly recognized” degree programs; on the latter, there are still fundamental differences in the quality of education providers in various EU states.
Presently, “educational integration” proceeds through extensive “sectoral cooperation” among the same types of national HEIs, e.g. there are already six Erasmus+ pilot projects involving more than 140 higher education institutions in Europe and discussing the “common diploma’s” options ; besides, since 2019, there have been established about twenty university alliances.
The “common diploma” issue has been EU-wide active during 2023: 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.
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:

The issues’ complexities
The issue is deemed to be quite complicated: it requires a longer and more intensive process to overcome a long list of potential obstacles including e.g. different curricular regulations, quality assurance arrangements, diploma formats, tuition fees, academic-year’s start-end-dates, restrictions on teaching in different languages, etc. Though, the major one is the almost exclusive member states’ competence in formulating and implementing education/training policies.
It was already mentioned that the EU-wide educational integration needed common approaches to education in order to prepare 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 (certificate) 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 an EU-wide “collaboration” among the HEIs and national education ministries based on a “good will” and common sense.

Other aspects of the problem have been revealed in our article (19.03.2024):

Present situation
The pathway towards the “European Degree” is accompanied by a new EU-wide “degree policy” group composed of experts from higher education institutions and the EC to develop guidelines to implement European degrees, followed by an annual European Degree Forum to monitor progress; the first one is to be held in 2025.
European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said that the issue of the common diploma “was a response to the demands” of students, universities and employers, and would boost European competitiveness by “securing Europe’s place in the global race for talent”.
According to the Commission, the “working scheme” towards a common degree involves two steps:
= the first is a European degree (called label), which would provide a stamp of approval to show that a joint degree program meets the requirements attached to the European degree.
= the second is a fully-fledged European degree process; the degree would be awarded jointly by several universities from different member states, which would require member states to make changes to their national education policy’s regulations.

Citations from: /29.03.2024.

The European University Association (EUA) welcomed the idea and underlined that “successful introduction of a European Degree”, whether as a label or a fully-fledged new degree type, depended generally on implementing EU-wide “tools and instruments” related to already existing education/teaching joint programs.

The perspectives and our comment
European inclusive and transformative socio-economic development is facing numerous global challenges and requires new knowledge, workforce and education providers. But historically, the European integration has been a top-down process with strong executive efforts, followed by a very week bottom-up initiatives; the same is happening with the new type of educational “taxonomy”.
The development of the EU-wide “joint degrees” has already been advocated for several years and it still encounters many obstacles due to varied member states’ regulations; some experts insist that the creation of the European degree in the form of a “European label” could be an easier step to take; the opponents doubt it and argue that it would be quite difficult and time consuming (if at all possible) to “marriage” educational culture, experience and traditions in tens of member states. It is almost clear to all that the quality of education providers is much lower in the eastern EU parts; hence the desire to acquire a “western” type of diploma. Thus, it is more than “just” eliminating legal and other “technical” differences among the EU states; and the differences are reducing very slowly…
Besides, certain distinctions have to be seen between three associated issues: already existing double degrees (between acknowledged HEIs, usually between eastern and western HEIs), joint programs and the EU-wide joint degrees. Although all three are of a “European” dimension, the “label”, degree and joint programs shall not be confused. It has to be understood that the EU-wide “value” to all three is based on common approach to the European quality assurance and standards for education providers; and in particular, it doesn’t matter, actually whether the EU-wide certificate is called a diploma or a label. But the final word in all that shall be by the member states’ education policies.
The EU member states are having quite different national political-economic priorities; however, the EU is trying to integrate them in order to provide for an EU-wide “recovery/resilience” future, e.g. orienting the states’ resources towards green and digital transition. But, it is obvious that the pace of national reforms and their “quality” is not only varied among the states, but the need for skills and new workforce shall be adequate for all member states.
Bottom-line: the present level of European integration requires on one side, closer cooperation and coordination (i.e. through the EU-wide policies and directions in national priorities), on another side, so far, there are dramatic differences in priorities that could hamper the “common diploma”. Therefore a sound balance shall be somehow “arranged” between the need for further integration and specific new workforce’s requirements in the member states; some positive steps could be taken, for example, through the existing EU universities’ alliances.



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