U.S. students are flocking to European higher education programs and institutions–but why?

According to a new report from the American Council on Education (ACE), there are unique new opportunities as well as challenges for increased innovative higher education collaboration between United States’ and European institutions.

Engaging with Europe: Enduring Ties, New Opportunities” represents the latest research in ACE’s International Briefs for Higher Education Leaders series, and explores trends that have emerged over the last three decades of significant changes in Europe’s higher education landscape. It includes eight full-length articles and a number of shorter features that provide a focus on different country contexts, with information about how region-wide programs and initiatives are playing out at the national level.

The report explores the impact of the Bologna process and the formation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), recent trends in student mobility, the role of European higher education associations, broader European internationalization initiatives and global interactions, and what all of this means for U.S. institutions. Of particular note, it addresses a number of European programs such as Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020, which are largely unknown by non-European audiences.

Reflecting European higher education’s overall internationalization efforts and desire to connect more deeply beyond its borders, these programs that were originally intended to spur intra-Europe collaboration are now being expanded to include opportunities for individuals beyond the region. The report thus details how U.S. institutions can utilize these initiatives to further their internationalization goals and activities.

(Next page: 4 trends to consider from European higher education)

Better Aligning Credentials Across Degrees

The Bologna Process began in 1998 and has evolved into a collective effort of public authorities, universities, teachers, students, stakeholder associations, employers, quality assurance agencies, international organizations, and other major institutions coming together to standardize learning quality and recognition of qualifications within the three cycle system of the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree process. Increased understanding surrounding qualifications makes it much easier for students to be prepared for and then find employment across Europe, and simultaneously makes European colleges and universities more competitive and appealing to international students. The EHEA was then launched in 2010 in order to build on the efforts of the Bologna Process and ensure more comparable, compatible and coherent systems of higher education in Europe.

Aiming for Public Responsibility and Employability

Key focus areas for the upcoming decade identified by the Bologna Process and EHEA include equitable access and degree completion, lifelong learning, employability, student-centered learning, research and innovation, international mobility for students and faculty, optimization and improvement of data collection methodologies, and diverse funding models. There are also four key topics that center on becoming more globalized, including: public responsibility for and of higher education within national and regional contexts; global academic mobility; global and regional approaches to quality enhancement of higher education; and the contribution of higher education reforms to enhance graduate employability.

All of these efforts have helped the United States to better understand the credentials of European students, and the increased openness has lead to a major rise in students crossing the Atlantic for college or pursing joint or dual degrees. While higher education faces similar challenges on both continents, this increased collaboration has helped both sides to work together to improve their systems and support a greater number of learners than ever before, notes the report.

A Drive for Global Outreach and Collaboration

Furthermore, other articles in the report provide background and insight on how European Union initiatives are supporting greater outreach to the rest of the world.

One such initiative is Erasmus+, which was founded in 2014 as the EU’s streamlined program to support education and training. The author points out that 2015 is the first time that the program will support mobility and opportunities that extend beyond Europe, which could provide important incentives for greater flows of students and faculty between Europe and other partner counties between now and 2020. Key aspects of the program encourage European higher education institutions to participate in more international exchange/mobility agreements, strategic partnerships, and joint creation of curriculum and degree programs.

(Next page: A European higher education focus on graduate research)

Focusing on Graduate Education and a Research Agenda

Similarly, the article on Horizon 2020 highlights the EU’s largest ever focus on graduate education and research opportunities. In addition to outlining the high priority research topics that will be pursued around “Excellent Science,” “Industrial Leadership,” and numerous “Societal challenges,” it also discusses the possibilities for collaborative research projects, joint training of graduate students and opportunities for early career researchers. This initiative shows that the historically robust research collaboration between the U.S. and Europe can grow even stronger through EU investment in a well-defined research agenda.

Overall, the report finds that academic mobility between Europe and the U.S. has been an important building block in the geopolitical landscape and the betterment of global education. However, while more U.S. students have been pursing degrees in Europe since 2000, the opposite is true of Europeans in U.S. degree programs. The downward trend may be the result of any combination of the aforementioned greater efforts to improve the quality of education within Europe, potential lack of familiarity with the English language, and rising tuition costs for American institutions.

Moving forward, colleges and universities on both continents were encouraged by the report to rededicate themselves towards understanding the needs of international students in order to better attract and accommodate them.

Finally, the report includes a number of shorter features called “postcards” that detail region-wide programs and initiatives within Italy, Croatia, Germany and Belgium, and how they play out at the national level. It also includes a few “snapshot” sections providing insight into the origins of the EU, information on international student fees in Europe, and the issue of quality assurance and accreditation for internationalization.

For more on all of these topics and more, read the full report here. ACE’s Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement also hosted a webinar about the report in partnership with the Boston College Center for International Higher Education that is currently available for download.

About the Author:

Ronald Bethke


Add your opinion to the discussion.