The social dimension in European higher education

Brussels, 14 October 2011


Social concerns have traditionally played an important role in the discourse on European higher education. After a boom in the social rhetoric in the 1970s, the issue re-emerged in Europe in the context of the Bologna Process. Introduced by student representatives as a counterweight to demands for ‘competitiveness’, the social dimension was first strongly associated with the notion of higher education as a ‘public good’ and a ‘public responsibility’ (Prague 2001). The Bergen summit of 2005 referred to it as a “constituent part” of the Bologna Process and the London Communiqué for the first time provided a quasi-definition and formulated a goal: “the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education should reflect the diversity of our populations”.

Stated aims and ambitions are one thing, but how about the reality on the ground? Are our universities and colleges accessible for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and immigrants and cultural minorities, to mention just three groups that play a role in the ‘social discourse’? Or is the social dimension, as a report of 2009 found, a rhetorical rather than a real success, and is it true that it is still not the “ability to learn but the ability to pay” which determines participation in higher education? Do universities and governments in Europe have policies for participative equity in place, and are these policies effective?

These are only some of the questions which this ACA European Policy Seminar will address. Key experts will present latest research findings. Among them are a soon-to-be released EURYDICE study on the issue, the brand new EUROSTUDENT 2011 report and the external evaluation of the social dimension in the Bologna Process. The seminar will also showcase the work of the 'Official Bologna Working Group' on the Social Dimension. The European Commission will present its latest policy position paper on higher education and the OECD will provide intelligence on if and how our universities and colleges are catering to students from migrant communities. Two institutional representatives will provide insights on access and diversity ‘from the field’.

30th in the series “European Policy Seminars” of the Academic Cooperation Association