Universities have a regional and national function, but most are also engaged in transnational activities at European or even at global levels. Universities enrol students from other continents, exchange students and staff, and engage in projects in education or research with partner institutions from other regions of the world.
Bologna reforms contribute to putting European higher education on the global map. The division of long academic programmes into two cycles (bachelor/master) makes these programmes more accessible and more attractive to local and foreign students. Institutions and programmes are regularly evaluated and the reviews are published on the Internet. Many courses, particularly at master and doctoral levels, are now taught in English. All these factors help European universities to become global players.
Bologna Ministers have agreed upon an external dimension strategy, focusing on information, promotion, cooperation, recognition and policy dialogue. The European Commission supports the external dimension strategy through its policies and programmes. The EU external policy aims at establishing close cooperation with all world regions and in particular with neighbouring countries through the European Neighbourhood Policy, which includes almost all Bologna signatory states. EU programmes cover a broad range of capacity building measures in higher education through the external assistance instruments for pre-accession countries, neighbourhood countries and developing countries and more particularly through the Tempus programme, which has an annual budget of approximately € 55 million.
Relations with other continents are supported through a series of bilateral cooperation programmes: EU-USA/Canada, EDULINK, and ALFA for Latin America and the new Nyerere Programme for Africa. A new multilateral framework for supporting cooperation with industrialised countries has been launched by the Commission in 2007.
Of special importance in this context is the EU’s flagship programme for worldwide academic cooperation, Erasmus Mundus. Highly integrated European masters and doctoral courses, consolidated international academic partnerships, and competitive scholarships are making a powerful contribution to improving the attractiveness of ‘destination Europe’.
The Marie Skodlowska-Curie Actions offer opportunities to individual researchers to participate in a research team in another country. Funding is available for researchers to move both within Europe and internationally.
Within the framework of the Erasmus Mundus programme, the Commission launched the ‘Global Promotion Project’, which aims to strengthen the image of European higher education worldwide. Outputs included: a user-friendly website ‘Study in Europe’, a pilot network of European education advisers, competence-building workshops for those involved in higher education marketing at institutional and national levels and a ‘Study in Europe’ presence at international education fairs.
Third countries show an active interest in European higher education reform and policy dialogue. The EU is having regular policy dialogues with countries around the world and sees the Bologna Policy Forum as a useful opportunity for exchange on higher education issues on a global scale.