Synergies between the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) have been on the research policy agenda for some time. For instance, the topic appeared prominently in the context of the review of the ERA advisory structure in 2018, when the ERAC Opinion of 21 September 2018 had asked the ERA-related groups “to foster exchanges and discussions about common policy interests between ERA and the EHEA”. 

In November 2018, research ministers confirmed the need to improve ties between ERA and EHEA. In its Conclusions on the governance of ERA of 18 November 2018 , the Council explicitly asked ERAC and the ERAC Standing Working Group on Human Resources and Mobility (SWGHRM) “to strive for better synergies between ERA and the European Higher Education Area on issues related to higher education, training, research careers and the knowledge triangle”. 

In addition, the Competitiveness Council referred to the “Paris Communiqué” of 25 May 2018 in which the Bologna Ministerial Conference encouraged closer collaboration between the Bologna Follow-up Group (BFUG) and ERAC. In 2019, an informal exchange of views between the ERAC co-chairs and the representatives of the BFUG took place as a first response, followed by the first-ever joint conference of Directors-General for Higher Education and ERAC under the Finnish Council Presidency in October 2019 in Helsinki. It was agreed that the topic would be further developed and discussed both at the Bologna Follow-Up Group and in the future discussions of ERAC. 

In December 2019, ERAC adopted an Opinion on the future of the ERA as an input to reflections in view of a scheduled Commission communication on ERA by mid-2020. In the Opinion, ERAC recommended, inter alia, “to adopt more holistic and comprehensive policy approaches encompassing research, innovation and education (including training and skills development), in particular with respect to higher education (EHEA), where the ERASMUS+ programme and the European Universities Initiative, as well as the EIT, could be building blocks.” 

In the course of the recent informal meeting of the Competitiveness Council in Zagreb, Mariya Gabriel, the Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth introduced the term of a “European Knowledge Area” as a comprehensive approach to address education, higher education, science, research, and innovation under one heading. Germany, Portugal and Slovenia as the in-coming Trio presidency have agreed to follow a common roadmap on education, research and innovation, which will target synergies between ERA and EHEA, including the future role of European University Alliances. 

At the informal meeting of ERAC on 4 June 2020 (agenda item 4.1.), a discussion on synergies between ERA and EHEA showed that there is a need for stronger and more effective cooperation between the two areas, under the possible umbrella of a "European Knowledge Area". Synergies between the Horizon Europe and Erasmus programmes need to be strengthened, in particular in the context of the European University Initiative and the EIT.

In the discussions, the following areas and issues have emerged as the major links between ERA and EHEA:

  • human resources at universities and research organisations (e.g. recognition and rewards systems, evaluation guidelines, Charter & Code, doctoral studies, research careers)
  • research intensive universities and research organisations in the EU that carry an important responsibility for research and innovation, researchers’ education (doctoral studies) and training of undergraduate and master students 
  • the student force that is educated through research experiences at different levels of their career (in particular doctoral studies) 
  • virtual, blended and geographical mobility, mainly within Europe, but also beyond 
  • favourable framework conditions
  • European University Networks.