education plays an essential role in society, creating new knowledge, transferring it to students and fostering innovation. EU-level actions help higher education institutions throughout Europe in their efforts to modernise, both in terms of the courses they offer and the way they operate.
Europe has around 4 000 higher education institutions, with over 19 million students and 1.5 million staff. Some European universities are among the best in the world, but, overall, potential is not being fully realised. Curricula are not always up to date, not enough young people go to university, and not enough adults have ever attended university. European universities often lack the management tools and funding to match their ambitions.
In the light of these challenges, governments and higher education institutions are looking for ways to create better conditions for universities.
National governments are responsible for their education and training systems and individual universities organise their own curricula. However, the challenges facing higher education are similar across the EU and there are clear advantages in working together.
The role of the European Commission is to support national efforts. This is done in the following ways:
* By working closely with policy-makers from Member States to help them develop their higher education policies. The Commission published a modernisation agenda for higher education in 2011, identifying five priority reform areas for action. Read more about the agenda.
* The Commission actively supports the Bologna Process, the inter-governmental process which promotes reforms in higher education with 47 countries, leading to establishing a 'European Higher Education Area'.
* By encouraging the exchange of examples of good policy practice between different countries – in particular, it gathers together a group of national experts – the 'cluster' on the modernisation of higher education – to share experiences and look at common challenges.
* The Erasmus Programme funds around 200 000 students every year to study or work abroad, along with other projects to increase co-operation between higher education institutions and other relevant institutions.
* There are a number of European programmes to promote co-operation in higher education with countries beyond the EU, including Tempus and Erasmus Mundus. Read more about these external co-operation initiatives in higher education.
* The Commission launches studies on specific areas relevant to higher education policy by gathering, analysing and sharing information on the state of play across Europe. Find EU studies and research on higher education.
More information

* Documents on EU actions in higher education.
* Summaries of EU legislation/initiatives relevant to higher education:
o Modernising universities
o Reform of universities in the framework of the EU2020 Strategy and the Education and Training 2020 initiatives
o The role of universities in the Europe of knowledge
o The Bologna Process: make higher education systems in Europe converge
o Quality of higher education.

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