Higher Education Entrance Qualifications and Exams in Europe: A Comparison

May 2014

Higher Education Entrance Qualifications and Exams in Europe - A Comparison

The European Union (EU) considers higher education to have a certain obligation to help improve the acquisition of skills necessary for economic growth, in addition to its traditional functions of teaching and research. In parallel, EU institutions see it as their obligation to reflect on whether and how EU policy initiatives might support the more effective operation of higher education systems facing economic and social pressures. European Union institutions have supported the modernisation of higher education among Member States and encouraged greater cooperation since the late 1990s with the integration to the Bologna process.

Europe’s systems are struggling to respond to the established mass demand for higher education in response to a proportional decline in available resources per student, and, more generally, to balance the demand for ever longer education with a reduction of the population of working age due to demographic decline. There is no single trend in response to the current economic climate; in some countries public funding has increased, while in others public funding resources have been reduced with potentially serious consequences for equity in admission to higher education. These challenges make a study on admission in higher education highly relevant.

This study also meets the increasing interest of the European Parliament in higher education, recently exemplified by the ‘Report on the contribution of the European institutions to the consolidation and progress of the Bologna process’ and the European Parliament resolution of 13 March 2012 on the same topic. This comparison of admission requirements for higher education analyses how admission systems can tackle these challenges. The study also aims to draw out some policy implications of interest to EU institutions at a time when EU strategy is closely concerned with how to meet the challenges of renewed growth in a globally competitive economy, and in a context in which higher education is under pressure.

Supporting the European Parliament’s view that it is important that higher education systems build greater capacity in relation to student mobility, this study breaks new ground by focusing on the different aspects of admission systems as they reflect equity for individuals and systemic quality. It explores admissions systems as a way to regulate the supply of higher education places and stresses the importance of political debate and knowledge of how admission systems are conceptualized and managed internationally. The study employs international comparisons to provide insights into what unites European systems as well as what distinguishes them. This is with a view to provide recommendations on admission to higher education in Europe.

The study analyses admission systems to higher education across ten countries, covering some countries of the European Union (France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom), a candidate country (Turkey) as well as commonly used international comparators (Australia, Japan and the US). These countries are compared on three axes: the equity of admissions, their quality and their ability to encourage students’ mobility. On this basis, recommendations are provided with regard to admission to higher education in Europe.


Client: European Parliament - DG for Internal Policies

Authors: Cecile Hoareau McGrath, Marie Louise Henham, Anne Corbett, Niccolo Durazzi, Michael Frearson, Barbara Janta, Bregtje Kamphuis, Eriko Katashiro, Nina Brankovic, Benoit Guerin, Catriona Manville, Inga Schwartz, Daniel Schweppenstedde

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