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European Commission


Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Why European universities must become more international

Press conference on European higher education in the world /Brussels

11 July 2013

Good afternoon.

I am pleased to announce that the Commission has just adopted a communication on European higher education in the world. It proposes measures aimed at ensuring that European graduates gain the international skills they need to work anywhere in the world and that Europe remains the most attractive destination for international students.

Even if Europe continues to attract around 45% of all international students, there is no room for complacency. The international higher education landscape is changing rapidly; the number of students in the world is expected to quadruple, from 100 million in 2000 to 400 million in 2030, with particularly strong growth in Asia and Latin America.

By 2020 we estimate that there will be 7 million internationally mobile students compared with 4 million today. Most come from China, India and South Korea. China alone hosts 7% of the world's internationally mobile students.

This changing landscape means that European universities will have to compete to attract more talent from around the world, and that further internationalisation of European universities will require stronger cooperation with new higher education hubs on all continents.

Universities and Member States need to have comprehensive strategies that go beyond mobility and encompass many other types of academic cooperation, such as joint degrees. They will have to step up their support for strategic partnerships, capacity building, joint research projects and distance learning programmes.

The Communication underlines that we also need to promote internationalisation among the 85% of students who are not internationally mobile. We need to do this so that they can also acquire the international skills required in a globalised world. This means universities need to develop international curricula, promote language skills and expand digital learning opportunities.

The EU will continue to support efforts in this direction:

As you know, the Erasmus programme has been a driving force for international cooperation between higher education institutions in Europe for over 25 years. It has promoted student and staff mobility and has been a catalyst for higher education reforms.

Its impact has been complemented by other successful programmes such as the Marie Curie Actions, Tempus and Erasmus Mundus. Each of these programmes has a global focus, helping universities to internationalise and offering more opportunities for students, researchers and staff to gain experience abroad, as well as helping non-EU countries to develop their capacities.

With Erasmus+, our new programme for education, training and youth, which will enter into force on 1 January, we are gathering all our existing international programmes into one to increase synergies, simplification and visibility. We will open up Erasmus mobility to and from non-EU countries.

More than €400 million per year will be made available under the new programme to support mobility and cooperation between European universities and their partners worldwide.

We will also step up our efforts to promote the EU as a high-quality study and research destination. More focus on quality and modernisation, and making the most of the rich cultural and linguistic diversity which European higher education offers, will help us to compete with Asia and Latin America.

International competition and cooperation is an opportunity; it can bring significant benefits for Europe, for the Member States and for individual higher education institutions.

I must stress that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to internationalisation. It will mean different things for different institutions, according to the national context and their own priorities, whether these are teaching, research and innovation, outreach in the local community or a mix of all three.

But I am convinced that we all have a part to play in ensuring that young Europeans are educated and equipped with the skills they need to excel in an increasingly global, open and competitive labour market.

Communication: European higher education in the world

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