L5Missing – Level 5 the Missing Link; Short cycle Higher Education in Europe

EURASHE is leading the L5Missing project on Level 5 the Missing Link; Short cycle Higher Education in Europe.

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Short Cycle Higher Education (SCHE) as first level in higher education and as level 5 of the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) has become more and more important in the last decade. As ‘missing link between Vocational Education and Training (VET) and higher education’ a growing number of countries involved in the Bologna Process are giving the underlying programmes a formal position in their education system, linked to a national qualifications framework.

The objective of this project was to make a detailed analysis of existing Short Cycle Higher Education (SCHE) in 32 of the Bologna signatory countries. The summative version of the report can also be ordered upon request. With this new publication, ‘SCHE in Europe – Level 5: The Missing Link‘, EURASHE wanted to re-open the discussion with the different stakeholders in the wider European Higher Education Area, stating the progress achieved since the 2003 publication on this topic (read the 2003 study here).


The European Commission asked EURASHE to survey Short cycle higher education (generally two-year associate degree types of studies in higher education) in Europe. The association turned to Magda Kirsch and Yves Beernaert to write the following report. The authors had done so before, when in 2003 they made the Europe-wide survey of ‘existing tertiary short cycle (TSC) education in Europe’. (Learn more on the 2003 study here). This was also produced on behalf of EURASHE, and similarly commissioned by the European Commission. The above-mentioned study was the first to map this type of higher education in the Bologna signatory countries.

The general objective of the present comparative study was to make a detailed analysis of existing Short Cycle Higher Education as an intermediate level of the first level of higher education (or at level 5 of the EQF) in 32 of the Bologna signatory countries: the 27 member states of the European Union, the EFTA countries and Turkey. One of the specific objectives was to find out what changes had taken place in the short cycle higher education landscape since 2003 when the former EURASHE study on SCHE was made.

Another objective was to see to what extent the development and implementation of SCHE is contributing to the implementation of the strategic framework for Education and Training 2020 (ET 2020) of the European Union and the objectives outlined in the Leuven Communiqué of 2010 after the meeting of the ministers of higher education. Overall, the comparative study attempts to highlight the major developments in SCHE over the past 7 years, focusing on similarities and differences across Europe.


Key Questions

Some of the key questions addressed in the study are: have more countries developed SCHE? Is it always seen as an intermediate level within the’ first level of higher education? Is it always situated at level 5 of the EQF? What is the profile of the students and the lecturers in SCHE? What is the contribution of SCHE to lifelong learning? Is SCHE seen as a means of progression towards further degree studies? How are SCHE institutions cooperating with industry and other social partners? What about student and teacher mobility and internationalisation in SCHE? What about QA in SCHE? What about employability, multilingualism, active citizenship and social commitment in SCHE?


Main Conclusions

SCHE – level 5 studies (associate degree level) are definitely gaining ground in Europe compared to the situation in 2003. At the moment 19 of the European countries (or regions) studied do have SCHE – level 5. A few of those countries have just started up SCHE – level 5 studies and others intend to do so in the near future. 1,694,080 students at least are studying in SCHE-programmes. Especially non-traditional and mature students are increasingly participating in SCHE.

SCHE can be considered to be the missing link between secondary and higher education. The fact that the Bologna process has led to the introduction of the Qualifications Framework for the EHEA (including, within national contexts, the possibility of intermediate qualifications) has definitely enhanced the status of SCHE. SCHE enables students to climb the ladder of higher education step by step.

SCHE level 5 is provided by various public education providers such as universities, university colleges, universities of applied sciences, regional technical institutes, further education or adult education organisations or even upper secondary schools. In all countries surveyed SCHE is subsidised by the State or other authorities.

The main objective of level 5 SCHE studies is professional specialisation focusing on employment. Although the bulk of the study programmes offered in SCHE are in the area of business studies, administration, building, catering and hospitality, engineering and mechanics, it is interesting to point out that new programmes are being developed in areas such as logistics, ecology, forestry, security, entrepreneurship, wine sales, aquaculture, driving instructor, aircraft mechanics etc. This indicates that SCHE is a thriving sector which quickly responds to the needs and demands of industry.

In all countries SCHE level 5 HE has a very strong focus on cooperation with industry and other economic and social partners. In some cases cooperation with companies is compulsory. The key argument to do so is the need to have more highly educated and trained technicians that are required by industry and who respond to the explicit needs of industry. The fact that SCHE focuses on immediate and concrete employment results in industry being closely involved in outlining the contents of level 5 SCHE studies. It also results in the fact that SCHE-courses put considerable emphasis on employability in various ways. This study also reveals that students are employed at their level as highly skilled technicians in various kinds of jobs and that most of them find employment fairly easily not long after graduating.

As has been demonstrated in the study, many of the students in SCHE are non-traditional and mature students who return to education at a later stage in life, thus enabling them to make lifelong learning a reality. An important number of these mature students combine work with education and training. Europe needs more highly educated and trained people and SCHE can make a major contribution to this. It should be highlighted very strongly that SCHE is a unique opportunity to attract more students (and especially students of a socially disadvantaged background) and widen access to higher education.

For all the reasons given above it can be stated that SCHE contributes to reaching most of the objectives of the 2020 ET strategy and of the Leuven Communiqué ‘Learning for the future: higher education priorities for the decade to come’.

EURASHE has committed itself to further follow-up the situation at level 5 of the EQF and SCHE of the QF-EHEA. Since the publication of the study several conferences have been attended and the study has been presented in several countries. The country chapters that have only been published online on the EURASHE website will be adapted whenever changes occur.

Following are events related to the project:

Following are the partners of the project:

  • Assemblée des Directeurs d’Institut Universitaire de Technologie (ADIUT) - Assemblée des Directeurs d’Institut Universitaire de Technologie (ADIUT) ADIUT represents the 113 IUT established in 80 French Universities. It acts as the coordinating council for the IUT network. Several committees... Read more
  • Association of Slovene Higher Vocational Colleges (Association HVC) - Skupnost višjih strokovnih šol Republike Slovenije (SKUPNOST VSŠ) The Association of Slovene Higher Vocational Colleges (Association HVC) was founded as a public institution in 2005, when its Establishing Act was... Read more
  • European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) - EURASHE is the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education that offer professionally orientated programmes and are engaged in applied research within the Bologna cycles. EURASHE represents universities of applied... Read more
  • Rectors’ Conference of Lithuanian University Colleges (LKDK) - Lietuvos kolegijų direktorių konferencija (LKDK) Rectors’ Conference of Lithuanian University Colleges (LKDK) was established in 2002. It is the association of the rectors of 12 Lithuania state UAS and 8... Read more
  • Technological Higher Education Association (THEA) - THEA is the representative body for 14 of Ireland’s Institutes of Technology, which are recognised as a major success story in Irish education. The Institutes of Technology operate a unique... Read more

    Following are some of the experts involved in the project:

  • Yves Beernaert - Mr Yves Beernaert is a founding member of EURASHE. He has 30 years of experience in education and training in Europe. He is specialised in project design, project management, project... Read more
  • Stefan Delplace - Stefan Delplace became the Secretary General of EURASHE in 2004, a position he occupied until 2014. He represented in the Bologna Follow-Up Group and several of its working and coordination... Read more
  • Ronald Guillen - Ronald Guillen is professor at Nantes University and was a member of the 2010-2012 board of EURASHE. He was at the head of IUT (University Institute of Technology) of Saint-Nazaire... Read more
  • Magda Kirsch - Magda Kirsch has 30 years of experience in education and training in Europe. Her particular areas of work include Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, ESF (European Social Funds) such as Equal,... Read more
  • Richard Thorn - Richard is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin (he holds Bachelor and Doctorate degrees in science) and the Institute of Public Administration (MA in Public Management). He has published over... Read more
  • Iva Voldánová - Iva Voldánová is a former project associate of EURASHE. In 2009-2013 she worked on the follow-up and monitoring of European projects assisted the Secretary General in policy activities. Previously, she... Read more