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Information gaps holding back higher education in many EU countries

European Commission - IP/14/592   22/05/2014

Other available languages: FR DE DA ES NL IT SV PT FI EL CS ET HU LT LV MT PL SK SL BG RO HR

European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 22 May 2014

Information gaps holding back higher education in many EU countries

Not 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. 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 Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

The report shows that:

  • 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.

  • About 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 Modernisation 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.

The Commission's Agenda for Modernisation 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 organised 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, cooperation, 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, see http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice.

For more information

The full report is available in English on the Eurydice website

European Commission: Education and training

Androulla Vassiliou's website

Follow Androulla Vassiliou on Twitter @VassiliouEU

Contacts :

Dennis Abbott (+32 2 295 92 58); Twitter: @DennisAbbott

Dina Avraam (+32 2 295 96 67)


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