Higher education on the European continent

Europe is a destination of choice for many people in the Middle East and North Africa who hope to further their studies abroad. Its centuries-old system of higher education—directly inspired by Islam’s even longer learning tradition—consistently ranks among the top hundred around the world.

For decades, too, studying in Europe has been less expensive than in the United States, Australia and Canada. A major reason for this is access to public funding and free higher education.

Opportunities and barriers

One reason foreign students often cite for choosing Europe as a study destination is proximity. Another is US visa restrictions. Current security measures in the United States have left the impression that American borders are closed to outsiders “until further notice,” that foreigners are not welcome.

This isn’t true, of course, but public perceptions can influence how people decide where abroad they should spend their years of study.

Still, Europe has its own challenges, a major one being language. Europeans have almost as many languages as nation states—from Ireland to Azerbaijan. Apart from English, French, Spanish, German and Italian, European languages are spoken almost exclusively on their native soil. The result is that English remains the most common language of communication, especially in business and science.

To compensate for the language barrier, several EU countries—notably, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany and Hungary—have introduced programs in science and engineering where English is the primary language of the classroom.

In a way, this measure reaffirms Europe’s long tradition of welcoming foreign students from other regions on the continent and beyond.

Recent reforms you should know about

The European states have undertaken a major collective effort to integrate their systems of higher education and to install a comprehensive quality-control process.

Since 1999, forty-seven states (including Russia) have joined what is called the Bologna Process, which seeks to make their educational systems more compatible. In March 2010, this initiative finally led to the creation of a continent-wide European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

The EHEA is a broad knowledge/research base that promises to expand the links among national higher-education systems. Rather than eliminate diversity, it facilitates the smooth transfer of coursework, qualifications and research opportunities across borders.

Among other steps, the signatories to EHEA have modified the undergraduate/postgraduate degree structure into a new three-cycle system. There is now more emphasis on employability, student-centered learning and learning outcomes, and transparency mechanisms.

In all this, tuitions and fees in European have remained very competitive compared to other study destinations.

Some recent statistics

globalization of higher education has significantly increased the number of graduate degrees granted to international students.

Between 2003 to 2005, 16 percent of Germany’s PhDs were non-German, up from ten percent in the previous rate. In the UK, the number of PhD graduates rose from 39 to 42%; in the US from 30 to 33%. Most of these growths were driven by international students, who have expanded their presence thanks to non-English-speaking countries, where graduate studies are increasingly offered in English.

Here are some links on this site, by geographical region