Brussels unveils plans for a European Degree but struggles to explain why

European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas and European Commissioner for Education Iliana Ivanova present the blueprint for a European Degree
European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas and European Commissioner for Education Iliana Ivanova present the blueprint for a European Degree Copyright Jennifer Jacquemart/CCE
Copyright Jennifer Jacquemart/CCE
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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Graduates could soon be awarded a pan-European degree from a group of universities, as part of new plans unveiled by the European Commission.


Under the proposal, presented on Wednesday, universities from EU countries would team up to offer joint study programmes at Bachelor, Master or Doctoral levels that would then result in EU-branded degrees recognised across the bloc.

The scheme would be open to private and public institutions in EU member states, with the potential for universities in Erasmus+ partner countries to also join.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said while unveiling the plans that he was "convinced" the European Degree was the "next big thing" in terms of making the benefits of European integration tangible for citizens.

"I have no doubt (...) that in a few years from now, the European Degree will find its place next to Schengen, next to Erasmus, next to the single market, next to the euro, as concrete European accomplishments," Schinas told reporters.

Iliana Ivanova, the Commissioner for Education and Youth, said the plan was a response to the demands of students, universities and employers, and would boost Europe's competitiveness by "securing Europe's place in the global race for talent."

But despite their enthusiasm, the pair visibly struggled to explain the need for the new degrees or how they would work in practice, as journalists asked question after question in search of clarifications.

Currently, there is no automatic EU-wide recognition of academic diplomas, meaning students need to undergo often complex and pricey procedures to get their documents recognised in another country. 

Schinas asserted that the scheme is not intended to "replace the recognition of diplomas or professional qualifications" from a single institution but to offer an "optional track" of a European degree. He also said the prospect of studying for a European Degree across multiple member states could attract more talent from countries outside the bloc.

No new funding

To earn a European Degree, students would be required to study in enrolled universities in at least two different member states, but no extra budget would be freed up to support them to do so.

Asked by Euronews whether this could exclude students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and perpetuate elitism, Schinas said: "What we're doing here today is only, contrary to an elitist approach," claiming that such an approach would be to open the programme only to a certain class of universities in select countries.

"Contrary to elitist notion, it is all-inclusive and open to anyone, to any university, from any member state," Ilianova weighed in.

"Non-European Ivy League universities are genuinely interested in European degrees because they see this as an opportunity for them to move up the ladder," Schinas added.

Brussels believes the scheme will complement Erasmus+, arguably the EU's most popular and recognisable initiative that enables students to study or work in other European countries. The bloc has invested a hefty €26.2 billion in Erasmus over the 2021-2027 period, with students earning as much as €390 a month in EU-funded grants to support them to study abroad.

Prospective students would be able to use Erasmus funding to support them to earn the European Degree, Schinas said.

Doubts over national support

Under the Commission's initiative, universities would enrol in the scheme on a purely voluntary basis and would not receive any new funding. However, they would make savings by pooling resources.

The scheme involves two steps:

  • The first is a European label which would provide a stamp of approval to show that a joint degree programme meets the requirements of the European Degree. 
  • The second is a fully-fledged European Degree which would be awarded jointly by several universities from different member states. This would require member states to make changes to their national legislation.

The European University Association said they welcomed the Commission's blueprint but said that its success "hinges first and foremost on the implementation, across Europe, of the tools and instruments related to joint programmes that already exist."

The unveiling of the proposal is just a first step towards developing a comprehensive plan. Work will intensify in the second half of this year, one EU official said, meaning it will fall into the hands of the Hungarian presidency of the Council of the EU.


More than 30 Hungarian institutes are currently suspended from the EU's flagship Erasmus+ programme due to concerns about their autonomy from the government, in a showdown that has seen a further souring of relations between Brussels and Budapest.

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