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A new era for European Higher Education?

Recent moves by the European Commission to create a European Degree were launched with little fanfare but offer a groundbreaking vision for the future of European universities. The ambition is bold: to transform the educational landscape by fostering deeper collaboration and creating a universally recognised qualification. But what do the plans mean for institutions and why are they being proposed now? 


What is the European Degree? 

In short, it’s a qualification that is an instantly recognisable symbol of tertiary academic excellence, accepted across the continent. The Commission’s plans highlight their commitment to:   

  • Strengthening a European identity in higher education and fostering a sense of cooperation amongst universities. 
  • Equipping Europe with a competitive edge by nurturing graduates with future-proof skillsets for the digital and green transitions. 

Whilst the initiative will be delivered on a voluntary basis at national, regional and institutional level, everything will be based on a common set of criteria agreed at European level. The Commission proposes a two-step approach for implementing its plans:  


  1. Preparatory European Label: This recognises joint degree programmes that meet European standards. Students receive their joint degree and a European Degree label certificate. 
  2. European Degree: This is a new qualification awarded by either a group of universities from different countries or a new European legal entity. Students receive a single European Degree instead of separate degrees from each university. 

What difference will the plans make? 

For Margaritis Schinas, Commission Vice-President, the plans are a next step towards a “people’s Europe”, empowering “universities to work together, for the benefit of students, teachers, employers and business.” The launch outlined some expected benefits. 


  • For students: Increased mobility and flexibility in their studies; access to innovative learning opportunities across Europe and a truly unique and internationally recognised degree. 
  • For employers: A clear and reliable indicator of a graduate's skillset and qualifications, and access to a diverse talent pool with a range of international experiences. 
  • For universities: Streamlined processes for creating joint programmes; wider and better opportunities for staff and students plus the increased competitiveness and attractiveness of EU universities. 

Of course, university leaders will play a crucial role in realising this vision. It is clear that the European Degree will need advancements (and standardisation) in three key areas: 


  • Robust IT systems will be needed to ease seamless collaboration and data exchange across borders. 
  • The system will require streamlined online applications, virtual mobility options and multilingual support systems.
  • Clear and harmonised frameworks must be implemented to keep the European Degree’s integrity. 

Why are these plans being proposed? 

At the programme launch, Iliana Ivanova from the European Commission makes the rationale crystal clear: “Our vision is to make European higher education even more competitive and interconnected. And to secure Europe’s place in the global race for talent.”  


The plans aim to help EU universities compete with established global powerhouses in the US and UK by: 

  • Elevating the overall brand and reputation of European universities. This helps attract a wider pool of international students seeking a prestigious, globally recognised qualification. 
  • Encouraging joint programmes helps foster collaboration among European universities, making them a more compelling proposition for prospective staff and students.
  • Emphasising future-proof skills and diverse learning experiences enables European universities to better respond to the evolving needs of the global workforce. 

What happens next? 

In the coming months, the initiative will be further discussed with the Council of the EU and key stakeholders across higher education in the EU.  


More concretely, the Commission has committed to help and support member states in working towards a European degree, including with financial incentives. By 2025 a European degree policy lab will also be set up to “develop detailed guidelines and action plans for the implementation of a European degree.”  


Although the plans are voluntary, it’s clear that the Commission view the initiative as a necessity, not an option given that the need for transnational education is more critical than ever. The challenges of our time are global – so the European Degree must be seen as an ambitious, but necessary response, developing a more collaborative, internationally-focused higher education landscape in the EU. 


However, the European Degree’s exciting vision clearly presents challenges for university leaders looking to adapt their institution for seamless digital, cross-border collaboration.  


At Academic Software, we understand the complex IT infrastructure that will be needed to deliver the plan. Schedule a free consultation with our higher education experts to discuss how we can help your university thrive.