new European Commission report, on Progress towards the common European objectives in education and training – Indicators and benchmarks 2010/2011, highlights that out of the five EU education benchmarks set for 2010– on early school leavers, low achievement in reading, upper secondary completion, maths science and technology (MST) graduates, and on adult lifelong learning – only the MST benchmark has been attained. The number of MST graduates in Europe increased by 37% since 2000, i.e. well above the set target of 15%. In the other areas, despite steady progress, performance remains below expectations at the aggregate European level. Apart from the average figures, the report also provides individual country records, showing which countries score below or above the EU average, as well as which European states are frontrunners or lagging behind in a comparative perspective.
The findings of the report are equally informative for the newly-set education targets, within the Europe 2020 strategy. The two headline targets – of raising the share of the young adult population with tertiary level education attainment to 40% and of reducing early-school leaving to less than 10% – are achievable, assesses the report. Nevertheless, the authors underline that the ‘conservative’ targets, set at the national level in some EU member states, might undermine this European-level objective. The report further emphasises that increased investments into education are needed, if European states want to be successful in this strategy. As much as EUR 10 000 more per student would be necessary to catch up with the levels of the US spending on higher education.
As for the next steps, the Commission is expected to launch the two remaining benchmarks – on learning mobility and employability, while all the EU member states are expected to spell out the EU-level targets in their national reform programmes.
Download the COMMISSION STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT, Progress towards the common European objectives in education and training (2010/2011), Indicators and benchmarks.

3. Higher Education (pp.54-66)
Higher education is crucial to Europe's ambitions to be a world leader in the global knowledge economy. The Europe 2020 Strategy aims to support the further modernisation of European higher education systems, to allow higher education institutions to reach their full potential as drivers of human capital development and innovation. In order to respond to the demands of a modern knowledge-based economy, Europe needs more highly skilled higher education graduates, equipped not only with specific subject knowledge, but also the types of cross-cutting skills – such as communication, flexibility and entrepreneurial spirit – that will allow them to succeed in today's labour market. At the same time, higher education institutions must be able to play their full part in the so-called "knowledge triangle", in which education, research and innovation interact.
Europe 2020 has established the headline target that 40% of 30-34 year olds should have tertiary education qualifications by 2020. Closely linked to this is the headline target that Europe should spend 3% of GDP on research. Other EU-level objectives for higher education include the education benchmark for 2010 to increase the number of mathematics, science and technology graduates by at least 15% over 2000 level and the Bologna process objective that, by 2020, 20% of all university graduates should have undertaken learning mobility as part of their university education. When it comes to funding, the European Commission has proposed an objective that 2% of GDP should be spent on higher education.
The first section of this sub-chapter examines progress in the European modernisation agenda in higher education and the related inter-governmental Bologna Process to create a European Higher Education Area. The following section focuses on quality in higher education institutions and the remaining sections look at progress in participation in higher education by analysing growth in the number of students and graduates.
3.1 The Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education and the Bologna Process
The European Commission presented an over-arching strategy for European higher education in its 'Modernisation Agenda for universities: education, research and innovation' Communication of 2006. The Modernisation Agenda sets out three core priorities: curriculum, governance and funding reform. The issue of degree structure and curriculum reform was established as a key priority with the intergovernmental Bologna Process. Launched with the signature of the Bologna Declaration in 1999, the Bologna Process aims to create a European Higher Education Area, in which national higher education systems are more coherent and compatible. 47 European countries now participate in the Process, which has expanded in scope and geographical coverage over the years since 1999. On 28-29 April 2009, Ministers responsible for higher education met in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve to establish the priorities for European Higher Education until 2020. The importance of lifelong learning, widening access and mobility were underlined. The goal was set that by 2020 at least 20% of those graduating in the European Higher Education Area should have had a study or training period abroad. The Ministerial Anniversary conference, held in March 2010, confirmed the priorities set the year before but acknowledged that some of the Bologna aims and reforms have not been fully implemented and explained and that an increased dialogue with students and staff is necessary. Ministers committed to step up efforts to accomplish the reforms to enable students and staff to be mobile, to improve teaching and learning in higher education institutions, to enhance graduate employability, and to provide quality higher education for all...
3.2 Current International University Rankings

There are currently three worldwide university rankings initiatives regularly published and subject to much public debate: the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) from Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University, the World University Ranking from the Times Higher Education (THE) and since addition the QS World University Ranking (in previous years QS prepared the Times ranking). In the "Shanghai" ranking institutions are ranked according to six criteria mainly related to their scientific production. The "THE" ranking on the other hand applies criteria covering the international dimension of staff and students, teachers to student ratios and peer reviews...
3.3 Investment in higher education

The economic crisis, which has resulted in sometimes drastic cuts in higher education budgets, has had an impact of many higher education systems. The full extent of effects still remains to be seen, which will make further monitoring and analysis important. Whilst no specific target for investment has been agreed at European level, the European Commission has repeatedly stressed that in order to fulfil their potential, universities and other higher education institutions need to be adequately funded, and at least 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should be invested in a modernised higher education sector, public and private sources combined. Current levels of investment are substantially below this level: 1.2%, for the EU as a whole, of which public investment accounts for by far the largest part, about 1.12% of GDP (due to data lag these figures do not take into account recent cuts in budgets). Levels of investment in higher education vary significantly between Member States, for example, in Denmark, public spending on higher education already surpasses 2% of GDP ; a large share of this, however (as in Finland and Sweden) is direct financial aid to students and direct public spending on higher education institutions in these countries is hence considerably lower. Seven EU countries have a share of direct public spending below 1%, including Italy, Spain and Romania...
3.4 Graduates in higher education

The knowledge-based society on which the EU bases its hope for future prosperity and social cohesion requires a considerable supply of highly skilled people. High private returns to tertiary education - evidenced by relatively high wage levels and low unemployment rates for tertiary graduates as a whole - demonstrate that there is strong demand for tertiary graduates. Demand is particularly strong for graduates in science and engineering, but also in other fields like languages and economics...
3.5 Higher education attainment of the population: meeting the Europe 2020 headline target

As already discussed in section 2.3 and the Introduction (Figure 2.8), the new Europe 2020 headline target for tertiary attainment levels among the young adult population foresees that by 2020 at least 40% of 30-34 year olds should hold a university degree or equivalent. In 2009, 32.3% of 30-34 year olds in the EU had tertiary attainment, compared to only 22.4% in 2000. The trend since 2000, shown in Figure 2.8, suggests it will be possible to reach the target level by 2020. However, Member States' targets, as set out in their first provisional National Reform Programmes, are by and large very cautious and would lead to a lower rate of progress and possibly failure to meet the target by 2020. In 2009, eleven EU countries had already exceeded the 2020 target of 40%. Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg and Finland show the highest tertiary attainment, with rates of over 45%. Southern European countries (with the exception of Spain) and Central European countries, despite the fact that they have very high secondary education completion rates, tend to lag behind. Progress in tertiary attainment rates in the period 2000-2009 was strongest in Luxembourg, Ireland and Poland (more than 20 percentage points increase)...