European Higher Education Area

The EU contribution to the European Higher Education Area

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is the result of the political will of 48 countries which, step by step, have built an area on common values and using common tools.

These 48 countries implement reforms in higher education on the basis of common key values – such as academic freedom, institutional autonomy and the participation of students and staff in higher education governance. Through this process, known as the Bologna Process, countries, institutions and stakeholders continuously adapt their higher education systems making them more compatible and strengthening their quality assurance mechanisms.


In 1999, the Ministers in charge of higher education from 29 European countries agreed to introduce a set of reforms in their national higher education systems with a view to setting up a European Higher Education Area by 2010. This is called the Bologna Declaration. The Declaration set in motion a series of actions to make European higher education more compatible and comparable, more competitive and more attractive for Europe’s citizens and for students and scholars from other continents.

For many years, the European Commission has been supporting the Bologna Process. Its objectives are fully in line with the EU’s modernisation agenda for universities. The Bologna vision of a European Higher Education Area without borders owes a great deal to the Erasmus mobility programme, launched in 1987, and to related EU initiatives and tools such as the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System. In turn, the Bologna Process has inspired many EU initiatives in the area of higher education.

In 2015, we can look back at one and a half decade of intensive reforms all across Europe. It is true that in some areas not all objectives have yet been fully realized but the European Higher Education Area has become a reality. This was possible because European governments have committed themselves to taking a European approach to the modernisation of their national higher education systems.

A lot has been achieved during the first decade of Bologna, but for the European Higher Education Area to become fully operational, further substantial efforts from governments, institutions, students and staff are needed. Good progress has been made so far, as can be seen in several EU surveys, such as the Bologna Stocktaking Reports, the Eurydice reports on Bologna, EUA (Trends Reports) and ESU (Bologna with Student Eyes).

There is strong commitment at national, regional and institutional levels to maintain this momentum. The EU has played an important role in supporting this process until now and will continue its support in those areas where synergies can be expected between the EU’s policy objectives and those of the European Higher Education Area.

Bologna action lines and reference tools

Bologna Declaration (1999)

  • 1. Adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees
  • 2. Adoption of a system essentially based on bachelor/master
  • 3. Establishment of a system of credits
  • 4. Promotion of mobility
  • 5. Promotion of European cooperation in quality assurance
  • 6. Promotion of the European dimension in higher Education

Prague Communiqué (2001)

  • 7. Lifelong learning
  • 8. Higher education institutions and students
  • 9. Promoting the attractiveness of the European Higher Education Area

Berlin Communiqué (2003)

  • 10. European Higher Education Area and European Research Area – two pillars of the knowledge based society

After Berlin, no new action lines were identified, but some important reference tools were put in place:

Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (Bergen 2005) – linked to the EQF for lifelong learning (EU 2007)
Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (Bergen 2005)
European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) (London 2007)
Strategy on The European Higher Education Area in a Global Setting (London 2007)
Mobility benchmark for 2020 (Leuven/ Louvain-la-Neuve 2009)
Benchmark for widened participation by 2020 (Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve 2009)

Why is higher education important?

The higher education sector has a unique position at the crossroads of education, research and innovation, serving society and economy.

It plays a critical role

  • in achieving the European Education Area (EEA) and the European Research Area (ERA), in synergy with the European Higher Education Area
  • in shaping sustainable and resilient economies, and in making our society greener, more inclusive and more digital
  • in providing highly skilled Europeans with excellent prospects for employment, and engaged citizens participating in democratic life - 80% of recent tertiary graduates in the EU gain employment in less than 3 months after graduating

Because Europe needs more people with high level skills, EU Member States have set the target that by 2030, at least 45% of 25-34 year-olds should obtain a higher education qualification.

Read the Council Resolution on a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training

Working group on higher education

Under the European Education Area strategic framework, a new Working Group on higher education has been established for the period 2021-2025. The Working Group will facilitate synergies between the higher education sector and key actors in research and innovation in the context of the European Education Area and the European Research Area, while ensuring consistency with the European Higher Education Area.

Find out more about the Working Group on higher education



Policy, programmes and tools

Information portals


International organisations in the Bologna Process