Higher education is one of the most important areas for societies moving towards development and modernity. Analysing higher education systems in Europe, it is clear that Southern Europe has many differences from the rest of the continent, despite the strategies to achieve a European higher education culture by implementing reforms on all European countries' higher education systems on the basis of common key values. Taking into account four Southern Europe countries - Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece - and regarding their link to a certain Mediterranean culture, the proposal is to analyse these four countries' higher education systems and their growth, using indicators for educational and economic development. This paper provides a reection on a hypothetically similar evolutionary pattern according to a hypothetically similar historical cultural background, as well as on a set of external stimuli provided by modernization and Europeanization processes. The relation between higher education and the labour market will be analysed, understanding it as a relevant `third mission' policy for higher education systems. By identifying these countries' educational, cultural and socioeconomic similitudes and singularities, the reection aims to reinforce and enrich a sociological analysis of the existence of a Southern European approach to higher education as a specific value in Mediterranean culture. To better understand large transformation processes, a comparative analysis on the institutional and policy making levels will be used. At the same time, suggesting how modernization theory informed the evolution of higher education systems in the four countries through higher education policy and contributing to regional strategies for development.