European countries need to adapt their higher education systems to meet the challenges resulting from rapid societal change

According to a Commission report, Europe urgently needs to address the social dimension of higher education more forcefully and coherently, particularly in view of the economic downturn. Member States need to open up opportunities for more people to benefit from higher education, matching this objective with coherent measures, funding and monitoring to evaluate their impact.

The European Commission published a report in which it reveals that approaches to meet shared European objectives vary greatly between countries and have different impacts on the performance of higher education. For example, there seems to be an East-West divide regarding routes to higher education for non-traditional candidates such as adult learners and people entering university on the basis of skills gained in the workplace rather than school qualifications.

The report also shows the tuition fees and grants which apply in each country. It does not single out any particular approach as the best option because what works well in one country does not always work in another. In addition, it highlights changes in higher education spending in response to the crisis. Over the past academic year, budgets were most increased in Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Austria, France, Finland and Malta, while the deepest cuts were made in Greece, Ireland, Iceland, (8-10% decrease), as well as in Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (up to 3% decrease).

The study, produced for the Commission by the Eurydice network, focuses on three key topics: policies to widen participation in higher education; funding trends; and the impact of student fee and support systems. The Eurydice Network provides information on and analyses of European education systems and policies. It consists of 37 national units based in all 33 countries participating in the EU's Lifelong Learning Programme (EU Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). It is co-ordinated and managed by the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, which drafts its studies and provides a range of online resources.