European higher education should be promoted as a distinct 'brand' in other continents, according to a new report on perceptions of European higher education in third countries. As a 'brand' can only cover elements common to all European countries, the report recommends emphasising Europe's quality education, its tradition, and the internationally compatible degrees on offer. The report presents the results of a survey carried out on behalf of the European Commission's Education and Culture DG. It involved around 20,000 respondents, making the survey one of the largest of its kind ever conducted. The study was based on large-scale surveys in six target countries: China, India, Mexico, Brazil, Russia and Thailand, and also included interviews and desk research. For comparative purposes, the study also included international students in the US. Altogether, 11,471 students from the target countries filled in the paper questionnaires; 1,235 staff members filled in the questionnaires at the same institutions; and almost 9,000 students filled in the online questionnaire. Over 400 international students in the US also participated. The ensuing report notes that, while Europe has a reasonable share of non-European foreign students, the US remains the leading destination, and that 'the performance of Australia in attracting foreign students is remarkable, relative to its size'. Other important conclusions describe how Europe does relatively well in attracting students from Russia and Latin America, but loses out to the US and Australia with Asian students, who are far more numerous. Those foreign students who do choose to study in Europe are overwhelmingly choosing the UK, Germany or France. Other countries, and in particular the EU's new Member States and Southern Europe, are under-represented. Interest in the Nordic countries and in the Netherlands is however beginning to rise. The survey found that specific US universities have higher visibility than do individual universities in other countries. In terms of perception, most international students see Europe as a number of different countries rather than a single entity when it comes to higher education. Respondents ranked the USA first for issues linked to innovation, competition and dynamism, and Europe first for arts, music and culture. The students also saw Europe as the destination with the most traditional universities. Europe and Australia were perceived as more accessible than the US, particularly in terms of visas, and Europe was also regarded as more affordable. Europe's single disadvantage in the eyes of Asian students was found to be its diversity of languages. Interviews also showed that knowledge of English-taught programmes in non-English speaking countries was not widespread. Noting the lack of information on European higher education in third countries, the report's top recommendation is the creation of a single, well-publicised and regularly updated web portal. It also proposes Europe-wide rankings and enhanced financial support for non-European students. Behind the portal should be a European office with coordinating functions, which would look after the 'brand' and be clearly identifiable as the European 'sender' of information on Europe's higher education programmes. 'To create and promote a European brand is necessary but not enough. To enhance its international attractiveness, improvements must also be made with regard to European higher education itself,' reads the report. In order to further improve the quality if higher education in Europe, the report suggests providing institutions with the autonomy to: select their international students; provide institutional scholarships for highly qualified international applicants; enable international students to access alternative sources of funding; and recruit high quality teaching and research staff. The report recommends more flexible immigration and visa policies, and developing more English-taught programmes. It also urges individual countries and institutions to find their niche and to invest in developing their specific strengths. European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism, Ján Figel', welcomed the report, and pledged that the European Commission will remain committed to the promotion of the EU's higher education systems.