With so many predictions about what the future holds for global higher education, it is useful to draw breath and look at recent trends for guidance about what we can expect in the next decade.

That’s why I welcome the latest Trends 2015 report from the European University Association (EUA) – the representative body for universities and national rectors’ conferences from 47 European countries.

It looks back at the major trends in European higher education over the last five years and I’ve already penned two pieces about the report, which was written by the EUA’s senior adviser Andrée Sursock.

Global conflicts

For University World News, I led on her warning that “the impressive strides made in international higher education cooperation could be harmed by widespread global conflicts, including those based on religious fundamentalism and resurgent nationalism”.

EUA senior advisor Andrée Sursock

EUA senior advisor Andrée Sursock

When I interviewed Andrée, she said: “I wrote the latest Trends report between November 2014 and March 2015, when the most memorable events were the Charlie Hebdo attack and the string of catastrophes in the Mediterranean Sea together with the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in so many European countries.”

For University World News, I explained how internationalisation was second to quality assurance as a top priority for Europe’s universities and how 91% of them said they would like to see a European Union strategy to promote internationalisation to university leadership, national bodies and the wider university community.

Only 5% of universities saw internationalisation negatively and that was mainly because of the increase in bureaucracy and workload for administrative and academic staff.

Europe remains top target

Although much is written and spoken about the rising importance of Asia to global higher education, the number one geographical target for the majority of the 451 universities from 46 countries taking part in the EUA survey remains the European Union.

This was particularly true for universities in eastern and central Europe.

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is considered important to most European universities, with the biggest value being the promotion of transparency and comparability between degrees across education sectors, noted by 87% of UK institutions and 83% in Italy.

Quality assurance was cited as “highly important” by 100% of Lithuanian universities and 93% in Portugal.

How to measure teaching quality?

One of the biggest challenges for the future, according to the EUA report, was the lack of agreement in how to measure teaching quality.

“More needs to be done to clarify what teaching excellence is all about in the first place”, Sursock told me.

“If lack of agreement on how to measure teaching quality persists, this will preserve the pre-eminence of research as the determinant of quality in higher education”, she warned.

To Andreée, one of the most important priorities for the future is moving towards student centred learning and creating effective an environment that deepens understanding and critical thinking rather than just the transfer of knowledge.

Trends for comms to consider

I also looked at the Trends report from the point of view of members of the European Association of Public Relations and Information Officers (EUPRIO).

I argued in a blog for their website that communication and marketing professionals needed to lift their gaze beyond what higher education changes might mean for their departments and look at the changes being influenced by the economic crisis and demographic time-bomb that is draining many countries of their young home grown student talent.

The falling birth rate and migration trends within the EU are hitting some central and eastern European countries hard, as we looked at in a blog about Lithuania and the brain drain earlier this year.

Although most universities foresee continued growth in student numbers, 14% of European universities predict a decrease with the biggest declines expected in the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Poland.

Part-time students numbers have risen in 31% of institutions, but they have fallen back in 24% of universities surveyed.

The EUA report also had a word of warning that international student recruitment should not just be seen as a means to increase revenue by diversifying funding streams.

* You can read my report for University World News here.

* My blog for EUPRIO can be seen here.

Main photo: Under the microscope: European higher education excellence schemes.