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Concluding Remarks of the Meeting of Directors General for Higher Education in Vilnius

The objective of the Meeting of Directors General for Higher Education in Vilnius was to debate on higher education funding focusing on the issues of sustainability, efficiency and equity, addressing reforms of the modernisation of higher education in the Member States.

Europe has around 4000 universities with over 19 million students and 1,5 million staff. And in the light of global challenges governments, higher education institutions and other stakeholders aim to create effective governance and funding mechanisms in support of higher education excellence. The Modernisation of Higher Education Agenda in which funding was identified as the one of challenges for increasing accessibility, equity and efficiency in higher education, stresses the need to monitor and assess the effectiveness of changes in the way higher education is funded.

There have been significant changes in all Member States in terms of funding mechanisms in the area of higher education, with the majority linking these to far reaching goals such as improving employability and labour market relevance, increased autonomy of higher education institutions, with greater accountability or internationalisation of higher education.

The discussion of these two days show the diversity of funding mechanisms and reforms in this context, reflecting both the growing importance of higher education for economic, social and cultural prosperity and the different traditions, cultures and starting points. One of the key dimensions of this diversity is the level of different forms of private funding in a system. While national traditions and political realities vary, there was general agreement on the need to diversify institutional funding. Discussions on efficiency demonstrated that whatever Member states' different starting points, many are in the direction of performance based funding in order to reach higher quality and reach greater diversity.

Decisions about funding models are the responsibility of each member state.  However, given the importance of the issue for the future development of education, the meeting considered it warranted further in depth discussion. The discussions underlined that careful selection of incentives and measures, with clear targets and relevant indicators, is essential but challenging and worthy of further study together.

During the Meeting participants expressed the support for TWG mandate and thematically oriented cooperation, however suggesting also to look at the impact of the coming technological challenges, like MOOCs. Discussions on students’ drop-out rate pointed out the conceptual differences in this context and stressed the importance of students’ smooth and quick integration into higher education institutions, influence of their socio-economic and cultural background. So far, the challenging issues in this area remain evidence-based policy making and application of single metric for Member States. 

The participants  of this Meeting expressed their concern regarding the drop-out rate and the need for comprehensive strategies for increasing the number of students, challenging the most talented, making the higher education system more flexible to properly serve the various needs of students and labour market. It was suggested to strengthen the dialogues between the Ministries in charge and higher education institutions, to implement the coherence of various policy goals and governance mechanisms, and to maintain the standards in the area of higher education.

We have seen that a lot is going on in the field of higher education funding and completion not only in Europe but also outside, but still a lot could be done and the answers on „what“ or „how“ should be found by Member States themselves.