ETUCE’s Analyses on the new “European Degree” Package


Is the future of higher education at risk? ETUCE's latest analysis of the European Commission's "European Degree" package voices pressing concerns over market-driven reforms and the potential erosion of academic freedom. Dive into a compelling critique that questions the balance between education as a public good and the push for labor-market alignment.

Recently the European Commission presented its new higher education package, which includes initiatives on:

The blueprint for a European degree
The path towards a European quality assurance and recognition system
Attractive and sustainable careers in higher education

Higher education and research trade unions have been discussing about these initiatives and expressed their opinion on the development of these policies. ETUCE has already warned that there has been huge pressure on higher education institutions and universities to provide more labour-market oriented programmes and to link publicly-funded research more closely with business interests. In addition, universities have been given new tasks such as to arrange/provide lifelong learning to adults. We worry that these trends lead to such quasi-market policies, governance and organisational models that undermine even more the protection for academic freedom and collegial governance. Unfortunately, ETUCE sees this trend strongly appearing in the Communication from the European Commission on a blueprint for a European degree.

ETUCE regrets that the initiative sees higher education mostly from the perspective of reducing labour and skills shortages in the EU also by attracting talents to the EU labour market from other continents without mentioning how to avoid global and intra-EU brain-drain. Trade unions strongly believe that “Education is a public good and the right to access to education goes beyond the employability and the quickly changing needs of the labour market. If employers need a highly skilled work force for specific professions, they should invest in it, by providing trainings themselves. Education has a key role in teaching key competences which can be adapted later in life as part of lifelong learning. Most importantly, education needs to equip learners to take an active role in society as democratic citizens. This is essential in light of the upcoming elections.”

The Communication underlines that the initiative is voluntary in light of EU Member States’ national competences for education and in respecting institutional autonomy and academic freedom. Still, its approach is to motivate governments to adjust their national legislations on qualifications and quality assurance processes. The initiative will be also linked to other EU instruments and to the next Multi-Annual Financial Framework (2027).

Higher education and research staff have been suffering from increased precarity due to short-term project-based contracts which is a result of reduced or unstable public investment to higher education institutions. Unfortunately, the Commission’s initiative does not answer to this problem, and it is not clear how the European Degree initiative would realistically support less workload, eg. less administrative work of the staff.

Participation of staff in decision makings at different levels, underlined by the Rome Communique is one of the fundamental values of the Bologna Process. Social dialogue and collegial governance are essential to shape higher education policies and programmes in a way that they ensure decent working conditions and permanent contractual situation with attractive salaries for quality teaching and research. However, the proposed Revised list of criteria for a European degree suggests to involve only the students’ representatives and not the staff in the decision making process to define the joint policies and procedures and / or arrangements.

ETUCE welcomes that the Proposal for a Council Recommendation on attractive and sustainable careers in higher education attempts to achieve high quality teaching and transnational cooperation by focusing on free, safe, predictable, stable working environment and the wellbeing of the academic staff. Right to collective bargaining, effective social dialogue with education trade unions, academic freedom, inclusiveness and gender equality in work, job security and decent working conditions need to guaranteed in order to support academics’ work for quality teaching and research. We welcome that the Proposal is for staff “working at higher education institutions who do both teaching and research, and staff who do teaching only or mostly, regardless of their status.” We warmly support also the recommendation of the European Commission to the Member States to “respect of collective agreements, effective social dialogue, and the autonomy of social partners, and to take support action so that employers provide attractive, inclusive and competitive working conditions, where academic staff are valued, encouraged and supported.” At the same time, it is questionable why to duplicate the work of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Education, where education trade unions and employers’ organisations have been discussing also with the European Commission on higher education and research policy development with the intention of “supporting the organisation of a dedicated social dialogue at Union level on the careers of academic and professional services staff.” ETUCE requests continuous work between the European Commission and the European Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Education to achieve the goals of the Proposal, and joint work in the framework of the European Higher Education Sector Observatory.