Androulla Vassiliou: Opening up higher education to the world and the new university ranking, U-Multirank

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

European University Association Annual Conference/Ghent (Belgium)

Ghent, Belgium, 12-4-2013 — / —

Dear President Nazaré,

Dear Rector of the Ghent University

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon for the annual conference of the European University Association. It’s an honour to address such a distinguished audience. I would like to thank the EUA for inviting me to speak and congratulate it for organising the event.

Today we are here to discuss the internationalisation of higher education. This is very timely since we, at the European Commission, are currently working on a new strategy for this, and I will be presenting it to European education ministers within the next few months.

I am actually very grateful to the EUA for its contribution to this work in progress.

The findings of the online survey that you organised on internationalisation have been of great help. I thank all those who replied. It is good news to know that over 50% of you already have an internationalisation strategy and more than 90% believe an EU strategy can bring added value.

Yes, we need to be prepared at European level to take on educational challenges that go beyond national borders.

The labour market is changing. It is becoming more and more global, open and competitive. The demand for high skills is growing, and higher education – with its links to research and innovation – has a crucial role to play in equipping students with those skills. Europe’s growth and prosperity depend on it.

Students’ expectations are changing too. In today’s digital era, students want to choose what they learn, how and where they learn and when they learn.

Courses offered online or blended forms of learning are becoming new ways to satisfy their individual needs and interests.

And the international higher education landscape is changing. Students from China, India and Korea have become the most mobile in the world. And the number of students in higher education worldwide is expected to increase fourfold, from around 100 million in 2000 to an estimated 400 million in 2030 – with Asia and Latin America in the lead. If there are today around 4 million internationally mobile students in the world, estimations indicate that it might grow to 7 million by 2020.

But the internationalisation of higher education is no longer just about students leaving their country to study abroad.

It is about a whole change in mind set. Universities need broader strategies that go beyond mobility and cover many other types of academic cooperation such as joint degrees, support for capacity building, joint research projects, distance learning programmes. The concept of “internationalisation at home” is also key to ensure that the majority (98%) of students, who are not in a position to study abroad, can nevertheless enjoy the benefits associated with international exposure.

European universities will have to attract more talent from around the world, and they will have to engage in cooperation with the new higher education hubs on other continents.

The EU has an important role to play in helping universities respond to these challenges, even if many already are. But it is our combined efforts at all levels that will enable us to ensure quality higher education across Europe.

Over the past two decades, EU programmes have changed the face of higher education in Europe: the Erasmus Programme has been a driving force in making mobility part of the regular academic life of millions of students. It has also been an important catalyst in the reform and internationalisation of higher education systems. It paved the way for the Bologna Process and for associated tools such as learning outcomes, transferability of credits, and the EU-wide transparency and recognition tools; these have all contributed to better understanding and mutual trust between institutions in Europe, and beyond. Other EU programmes, like Erasmus Mundus and Tempus, have followed but with a more global outreach.

[Erasmus for All- international dimension]

For the next EU funding period 2014-2020, we plan to deepen our support for European universities. The new “Erasmus for All” programme that I have proposed will provide a policy framework and financial incentives for the internationalisation strategies of European universities.

This is actually one of the main novelties of the new programme. Our aim is to put an end to the current fragmentation of the various existing external higher education programmes and to increase the synergies between the internal and external instruments.

Our objectives are twofold: Enhance the attractiveness and excellence of EU higher education and support the development and the modernisation of higher education systems in third countries.

Concretely, the new ‘Erasmus for All’ will support three types of actions:

First, a stronger support will be put on degree mobility and more specifically on Joint Master degrees which will be offered by consortia of EU and non EU universities.

Second, for the first time, we are opening the internal Erasmus programme to non-EU universities, students and staff.

Third, we will focus part of our action on the capacity building of high quality higher education systems in Third Countries.

[Horizon 2020 – Marie Curie]

The Erasmus for All programme will be complemented by the Horizon 2020 programme and its Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions for researchers. We will indeed continue to support their training and mobility at all levels in Europe and the rest of the world.

To date, more than one fifth of the researchers recruited under Marie Curie have been non-Europeans. They bring much needed skills and talent to European universities and enterprises. We want to maintain this strong international dimension.

All in all, these new programmes will help to attract talents to Europe and strengthen Europe’s reputation as a provider of high quality, socially responsible higher education & research.


However, this high level of ambition requires appropriate means. In this perspective, the Commission proposed to allocate €17 billion to the new Erasmus for All programme (an increase of 63.6% based on 2011 prices) including a strong increase for the international dimension of the programme. We also proposed a 21% increase for the Marie Curie programme.

Despite the agreement at the European Council, the investment for research and education will globally increase however to a lesser extent that expected. In particular, the money coming from the external dimension instruments for Erasmus for All might be seriously decreased and the Marie Curie programme might face serious budgetary adjustments. All this will surely undermine the impact of our actions. I therefore call on the European Parliament to support the internationalisation of higher education by allocating sufficient means.

[Visa regulation]

Besides the budgetary question, one recurrent issue when discussing with non-EU student about the attractiveness of Europe as a place to study and do research is the visa regulations. I note that this is also one of the three important factors identified in the survey launched by EUA.

Today too many non-EU students entering the EU are facing unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles as current rules for obtaining a student visa or a residence permit are often complex, lengthy and unclear.

The Commission, through my colleague Cecilia Malmström and with my strong support, has proposed three weeks ago to make it easier and more attractive for non-EU national students and researchers to come to Europe by modifying the relevant visa directives. Concretely, the new legislation will set clearer time limits for national authorities to decide on applications (maximum 60 days), provide for more opportunities to access the labour market during and after their studies and facilitate intra-EU movement. This is a very ambitious proposal which is now in the hands of the Member States and the European Parliament for adoption.

[U- Multirank]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to take this opportunity to also speak about an important instrument we just launched as part of our modernisation agenda of higher education but also of our internationalisation strategy: the new multidimensional ranking instrument – U-Multirank.

U-Multirank is aimed at giving us a better picture of our higher education landscape. Because what we need above all else, in order to raise quality, are institutions that know what they are doing and why – for this they need objective information about their strengths and weaknesses.

The predominant focus of existing rankings on research does not help improve the overall quality of higher education – which is much more than research excellence.

Rankings are never perfect, as your valuable analysis has shown. Even if some are more transparent than others, there is always a subjective element which can distort the picture. However, rankings are here to stay, so I consider important to try to raise their quality and relevance.

I am very pleased that you will present in your plenary session tomorrow afternoon the results of the second EUA rankings review. We all need a clear and unprejudiced view of the methodologies that different rankings use.

What is new about U-Multirank is it will be a tool for all types of institution, not just the top 500. An institution – of whatever type – will be able to benchmark itself against its peers across borders in all corners of the world; for many, it will be the first time.

U-Multirank is not an end in itself. Our purpose is not to provide another blunt instrument on which reputations fall or rise.

It won’t give us a perfect view; but it can give us a much more rounded, fairer and more accurate image. It will help us see how international our institutions are – because it is through international networks that we can deliver quality. It will help us know how well they deliver teaching and learning; or transfer knowledge; or how they interact with their regions, to create skills and job opportunities and plough these back into the region.

And it will be user-driven; individual users will be able to produce their own personalised rankings, from a selection of institutions that meet their needs. In this way, U-Multirank will help students find the university or college that is right for them.

It will help institutions make strategic decisions based on knowledge about what they do well, or what they need to improve, compared to their peers. It will provide information that policy makers can use to guide their decision-making.

U-Multirank will not be a one-shot exercise. It is an evolving instrument that will need to improve over time. But it is there for you. I am delighted that the EUA has agreed to join the Advisory Board of U-Multirank. Your input will be of great value.

The next six months are a key opportunity for universities to participate in the first round of the ranking to be published in 2014. I hope that not only will we see the EUA on the Advisory Board, but also that many individual members will join U-Multirank. We want all stakeholders to be part of the process. U-Multirank is not an initiative which is done to the universities but with the universities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is not one approach to internationalisation – it can vary widely, depending on the context of the institution. What is important is that all institutions of higher education realise that they have to position themselves one way or another in the face of globalisation.

Internationalisation is an opportunity not a threat. It can bring significant benefits for Europe, for the Member States and for individual institutions.

And we all have a part to play in ensuring that young Europeans are educated and equipped with the skills they need to succeed on a rapidly changing employment market.

I know all of us here are working hard in that direction – today’s conference is already proof – and I look forward to the stimulating debates that will come out of this event.

Thank you.


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