Scenarios for European Higher Education and Research in 2015

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Written by Bernd Baumgartl   
Sunday, 26 November 2006

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. (scenarios 3, 4 & 5).

3 Scenario “Mega-Centres”
This scenario foresees the implementation of the concept of “European Excellence” in all policy domains – substituting the principle of subsidiarity. Rather than functioning as a government, the European Union institutions and actors aim at supporting Europe’s institutions, companies and actors with international standing to become more competitive on the global market. Not unlike a programme to develop gifted children (and completely opposite to the idea of Equal Opportunities), Community action and budget is reserved for the big or the smart players. Instead of dispersing budget and impact via myriads of small grants and projects, a leaner Commission is fostering the success of those most likely to succeed. In the educational field, this leads to the creation of a comprehensive (i.e. EUR-48) European Education and Research Area.

In the spirit of the Eighth Framework Programme, and Socrates 4, education is now tuned by the parallel introduction of identical study programmes at universities in the Member States. The incentives provided by the EU programmes have created a number of huge and powerful Centres for Education and Research (European Knowledge Centres – EKC), which act as coordinators of European programmes and projects. They attract the best researchers and teachers from national universities that face huge budget constraints. Starting from FP 8, every 5 years each of the domain-specific Centres issues a research and education guideline, and invites for proposals from minor universities. The European budget allocated to each centre is then distributed according to the priorities agreed for each scientific domain. Inter-disciplinarity and policy relevance has been become a four-letter words. Major higher education players run European scientific disciplines (e.g. the European University Institute in Florence – European Political Sciences, the London School of Economics – European Economics, the MPI-BF or University Bremen – European Education Sciences, etc). There are less EU officials in DG Research, and the EKCs decide on programming and distribution themselves.

National NARICs have been abolished for the sake of the European DORICs (Domain-specific Recognition and Information Centres), which are usually located in the same country as the EKCs. They deal with recognition but have limited – and decreasing – influence and scope, due to the existence of multi-lateral agreements between EKCs and their affiliated universities as conditionality for EU funding.

4 Scenario “Europeanisation”
This scenario assumes the undertaking of serious measures to implement the “Europe of Knowledge”. The policy goals agreed in Feira, Lisbon and Gothenburg had been brought forward, and the Estonian presidency 2011 had selected “Structuring European Knowledge Development and Mutual Learning” as the main priority for the EU integration and enlargement. Instead of economic competitiveness, the shared objective of democratisation of the EU and good governance is the manifest priority. Hence, enhanced attention for social policy and life quality. Boosting of lifelong learning and knowledge development to underpin the policy objectives resulted in the need to draw on - and recruit - substantial expertise from the academic community into EU management and policy-making. A vivid exchange between policy and research and civil society is managed with powerful electronic fora, and means for participation by citizens.

As a consequence, the Commission also initiated the careful “Europeanisation” (i.e. attracting and absorbing ever more competencies at the EU level) of the Bologna Process, and embarked on an ambitious re-structuring of European Knowledge Development – through the re-grouping, re-shaping, re-focussing of programmes, agencies, institutions and networks. The convincing step towards “Unionisation” was the designation of powerful institutions funded by EU budget for its implementation: EURIC + EUKNOWS as twin institutions for European education and research, with their outlays and windows in all European countries.

EURIC (founded in 2012 – with its seat in Bucharest) stands for a comprehensive clearinghouse and coordinator of all educational matters in the European Education Area, instead of previous agencies and networks on recognition, mobility, system monitoring, and quality assurance. By 2009 the ex ENIC, ex CEDEFOP, ex NARIC, ex Eurydice, ex ETF, ex EURES, and ex ENQA, ex-EUA had become new departments of EURIC. It covers all educational sub-domains from pre-school to lifelong learning, and certifies primarily short-term studies, experiences from prior learning on-the-job, and distance education certificates into EU professional and academic grades.
EUKNOWS (located at Dobris Castle near Prague) is assigned the task to enhance the Europe of Knowledge: a European Knowledge Development Support Centre to coordinate European Centres of Excellence and to support European Research Networks in European the Research Area. It maintains antennas in all European regions, the Knowledge Resource Centres, and guides European Learning Processes supported with the new European Framework Programme for Research and Knowledge Development.
NARICs, like other educational actors and institutions proved superfluous in European Higher Education Area as a separate European network (and their tasks now sit with the RID – Recognition and Information Department on extra-European studies and diplomas – within EURIC).

5 Scenario “Privatisation”
The last scenario stems from the assumption of a general “retreat of the state”. Both on national and EU level, government has become less important. Like in the Italy of Berlusconi at the beginning of the decade, all states have continued their privatisation and de-regulation policies started in the 1990s, and powerful corporate and commercial interests have taken over the leading role in most policy fields. Governments have become increasingly a curative supplement to the market, and regulate mostly social aspects of life – those the “invisible hand” fails to address. Also the Commission spends most of its budget on “Providing the Framework for European Business”, policy areas like security, control, and policing on the one hand, and unemployment and poverty reduction. The sharp polarisation amongst European populations has lead to a reinforced – and closely monitored – Schengen 3 Agreement of 2008, which assigns Europol significant budgets and powers. Major budgetary decisions for the Commission budget and EU programmes are now regulated by the European Central Bank (ECB) as policy is subordinate to the overall targets of economic growth and prevention of inflation, and instead of EU Regulations and Directives, the European associations of firms and multi-national companies negotiate economic rules in the form of “binding voluntary agreements”.

In the education field, the failure of living up to the priorities of good governance, lifelong learning and the Europe of Knowledge has resulted in a close to complete privatised European knowledge management and research. Corporate influence in educational institutions has skyrocketed. The Europe of Knowledge, though an uncompleted policy intention, has become a realised commercial activity. In the climate of de-politisation of education, MNCs run the most prominent universities (e.g. the former Humboldt University now re-baptised Daimler-Chrysler Academy). The growing importance of corporate certificates like “Nokia software programmer level 4” has substituted academic titles on the labour market. The GATS framework is often used by USA-based universities to challenge European legislation – arguing against protective measures and claiming that education is just another commodity. Their subsidiaries have taken over 24% of the European Higher Education market, especially on the upper end of quality and income. Also in the EU, the re-privatisation of certificates and degrees, and the withdrawal and refusal of states to regulate increasingly economic considerations and competition had been legally sanctioned (e.g. the 2013 over-arching “freedom of competition principle” which had been ruled by the new European Court of Justice and Competition of higher relevance than the right of member states to regulate education).

Of course, accreditation and recognition are crucial in such a marketised environment, and the CARICs – Career Advancement Recognition and Information Centres, in most cases units of the European Branch Chambers of Commerce – translate specific skills and corporate or private certificates awarded in one corporation, branch or sector into accepted categories in other economic branches. The European network of CARICs has its seat at the European Chamber of Commerce and oversees production of career space documents, transferable e-portfolios, compilation of corporate academy guidebooks and provides individual educational consumer advice – against a fee.

Scenarios 1 & 2

Bernd Baumgartl PhD 

Developing VET Scenarios in Central and Eastern Europe and Their Added Value for Policy-Making”, European Journal of Education, No. 1/98, Institute for European Educational Policy, Paris.

Last Updated ( Monday, 22 January 2007 )
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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.