Scenarios for European Higher Education and Research in 2015

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Written by Bernd Baumgartl   
Thursday, 23 November 2006
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5 Scenarios of EU development in the next 10 years underlie this paper on the future of higher education and research in Europe in general, and in particular their consequences for recognition of studies abroad.

Four scenarios stem from the supra-position of two continua, on the one hand between European Integration and Nationalisation, on the other between the focus on a Europe of Economic Priority (only) vs. the enhancement of a Europe of Knowledge. Scenario five, featuring partly European and partly national competences, implies the abolishment of the principle of subsidiarity for the sake of the principle of excellence in all policy fields – and a “retreat of the state”.

SCENARIO GRIDEuropean IntegrationNationalisation
Economic Priority 2 Self-Governance5 Privatisation
Europe of Knowledge 4 Europeanisation1 Re-Nationalisation
Europe of Excellence/Retreat of State3 Mega-Centres

Each scenarios depicts first an imagined state of the Union, secondly its repercussions for higher education, and thirdly the resulting institutional choices for recognition (which at the time of writing is with NARICs [1] in the EU, and ENICs [2] in the Council of Europe/UNESCO-CEPES framework – in EU countries they are situated often in one and the same institution).


1 Scenario “Re-Nationalisation”
Scenario 1 has at its starting point the enormous impact which accession has meant for the EU. By 2015, the Union is in severe crisis. Since the accession of the first countries of Central and Eastern Europe in 2004, the uncompleted reform has meant serious financial implications for the Commission’s budget. The Constitution is still pending dead. For five years, the most recent 2 accession countries await ratification of their Accession Treaties, but since the Slovenian “No” to the Croatian entry in 2009 they are ever more unlikely to find majority in the national parliaments. “Enlargement fatigue”, although not substantiated in Eurobarometre’s research, is the key word of justification in the European Council and Parliament to further delay Macedonia’s accession negotiations. At the same time, the reduced funding to the old Member States of the EU-15 has provoked a ferocious opposition from the population. Conservative governments, during their presidencies in the first half of the 2010 decade, have slowed down the integration process, and several policy domains are being nationalised – and obviously no new competences have been assigned to the European level. The most visual consequence of widespread Euro-scepticism has been the abolishment of the Euro and the re-introduction of national and regional currencies in 2012.

European education and science have been amongst the victims of a blocked reform, and already in the Košice Treaty agreed during the Slovak presidency in 2010 education had been close to completely eliminated from the Commission’s agenda through referenda in 8 Member States. DGs EAC and RTD (education and research respectively) were merged as part of the “Grande Réforme” of the Commission in 2009, and their staff drastically reduced. The tasks still carried out limit the CEC to an information point, where information produced by the Member States is processed, harmonised and made available. CEC staff provides the structures for national reporting, function as a clearinghouse and run a data warehouse for education provision at national level. The special agencies set up during the 1990s had been closed, and the Commission since FP 8 – which delegated decision-making on priorities and selection of projects to the National Science Boards – commissions only research related to its own agenda and needs (which are very modest).

However, the internationalisation of education and research has continued meanwhile – albeit at a much slower pace than anticipated in the Bologna Process. It mainly took the form of export of programmes from prestigious and successful universities to other countries. Due to a demographic decay resulting in less applicant students (especially in the 12 New Member States), the surviving universities see an increasing number of foreign students, and in the absence of a common European framework, recognition of certificates awarded by universities under Member State legislation is a major issue. Especially the joint curricula agreed between some individual universities across national borders stimulate mobility, despite the ongoing difficulties to nostraficate periods of study and degrees.

NARICs are more active, and produce guidelines and country reports for foreign students. Exchange at the European level has remained at the same level as at the beginning of the millennium, and an upgraded ICT use via a communication platform takes place – it had been the last EU-funded activity in 2011. Non-virtual networking is organised by the NARICs of the respective EU presidency, and paid for by the Member States as the main (and only) communitarian educational activity of each presidency.


2 Scenario “Self-Governance”
The second scenario is based on an integrating EU, which however limits itself to its re-affirmed “core competences”, i.e. economic and monetary integration. The reinforcement of the principle of subsidiarity had exacerbated the cleavage between policy areas within EU responsibility, and those where the Commission is explicitly excluded. Following the recommendations of the Convention, the Treaty of Plovdiv in 2012 had in fact lead to the abolishment of national Ministries of Finance, Foreign Relations, Economic Affairs, Transport, Environment, and also National Banks – by creating European Ministries for the whole Union based on the results of the elections to the European Parliament. In contrast, other policy areas like Social Policies, Culture, Agriculture, Education and Sports are being dealt with exclusively at national level.

On the one hand, the complete abolishment of borders, tariffs and other barriers, and the worldwide success of the Euro as a lead currency, has meant a stimulus for transnational research and education in Europe; but these developments take place in the Schengenland/Euroland only – and entirely outside of any EU-driven input or regulations: institutions and networks are the carriers of transnational activities which are self-governed and managed by the institutions’ stakeholders. A competition between national education systems and universities, and the concomitant marketisation of education has meant a boost for the whole sector, which now relies on solid funding from diversified sources. While some small universities were forced to close down in the middle of the 2000s, others have grown into flexible and well-managed entities, often run by CEOs recruited from business. Like in China, the population recognised the remarkable return on investment of education, and in 2010 the average European family spends 8-12% of their income on lifelong learning. The increased cash flow in the sector has attracted banks and insurances, and despite the absence of direct EU funding – or due to the availability of these funds for other initiatives – non-governmental education actors have flourished.

The EUA, since it became the guardian of the UNESCO Bologna Convention in 2010, has taken over many coordination functions in Higher Education previously assigned to the Commission. Its main leitmotiv is “Networking the Networks” or “System of Systems”. Similar agencies exist in all educational sub-sectors, and for different research disciplines. Scientific associations (like the ECER for education) are important, though constrained to rely on a very unequal financial support. Corporate sponsoring of education is limited to economically viable themes, and soft-policy subjects are under-resourced. In the spirit of the Bologna Convention, European Consortia of universities award joint degrees, and the EU only finances research and education on an ad-hoc basis via pre-defined projects and infrastructure. The resulting fragmentation of education means a separation of sub-domains, and few synergies exist between Higher Education, General Education or Vocational Education and Training. At the same time, a rich fauna of communities of interest and practice emerges and disappears flexibly, according to funding provided.

National NARICs ceased to exist at the beginning of 2009, due both to the increasing overlap between NARIC and ENIC competences, and the fact that the issue of recognition was assigned to the strengthening of the ENIC network within a reinforced Council of Europe. The EUA hosts yearly conferences on transnational recognition (often co-financed by the Council of Europe), and regional networking between autonomous universities, but this is organised by educational and scientific sectors. Recognition, although strong in some fields, and weaker in others, is following the universally accepted UNESCO rules. Continuation...

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In memoriam
In memoriam
After a long battle against the disease Franck Biancheri passed away 30th of October 2012, at the age of 51. A great European, a militant democrat, a wonderful person.
Franck Biancheri was founder of AEGEE and founding fathers of the ERASMUS programme. He also was research director of the European thinktank LEAP 2020. In 2005, following the no of the Dutch and French to the Constitutional Treaty, Franck Biancheri founded the European citizens movement Newropeans.