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European Higher Education Area and the European Union

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) covers those countries that have volunteered, by signing the Bologna Declaration, to pursue its shared objectives. The European Union is different in that it is based on international treaties which are legally binding on EU Member States.

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA)

The EHEA is based on a voluntary declaration made by its current 48 member countries to commit to its shared objectives and on the commitments countries make to implement these at national level. The Bologna Process involves shaping and implementing the European Higher Education Area. The Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG) assists with this and drives it forward. The European Commission is a voting member of the Bologna Follow-Up Group and is involved in the Bologna Process.
The Bologna Process is implemented using the ‘Open Method of Communication’, which means that the EHEA member countries agree shared objectives and priorities jointly at European level. The countries themselves decide whether and to what extent they will follow up these tasks at national level. Progress made on implementation within ‘active’ Bologna countries provides an incentive for less committed countries to become similarly active within this European cooperative framework. The fundamental value of the EHEA lies in the synergy it generates between simultaneous, joint efforts at many different levels. It is only when all these efforts are made in all countries that the EHEA can achieve its full potential.

The European Union

In contrast to the EHEA, the European Union is based on international treaties which are legally binding on the EU Member States.
Although education policy is a policy area in which decision-making lies firmly with the individual EU Member States (under the principle of subsidiarity), and the EU merely has a coordination and support role, education and therefore higher education policy has nevertheless become a specific focus within European policy-making. The European Union is helping to develop high-quality education by fostering cooperation between Member States and supporting Member States’ activities. However, this work is done while strictly observing Member States’ individual responsibilities for the content of their teaching and the organisation of the (higher) education system, as well as their cultural and linguistic diversity. The impressive success of the EU programme Erasmus+ demonstrates this policy in action.

Given the EU’s long-term obligation to facilitate lifelong learning and mobility, improve the quality and efficiency of education and training and promote creativity and innovation, Article 165 (2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) explicitly states the objectives which the EU’s measures in education, training, youth and sport hope to achieve.

The following objectives are particularly important to higher education:

  • Developing the European dimension in education
  • Encouraging mobility of students and teachers by encouraging, inter alia, the academic recognition of diplomas and periods of study
  • Promoting cooperation between educational establishments
  • Developing exchanges of information and experience on issues common to the education systems of the Member States, and
  • Encouraging the development of distance learning.

In addition to Member States’ own policy initiatives, the EU actively supports the objectives of the Bologna Process, in the context of which since its inception in 1999 work has been done towards a comparable, compatible and coherent higher education system in Europe.

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