SOCIAL DIMENSION IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Higher education is considered as an essential element for the empowerment of individuals and societies. Promoting the social dimension of higher education, equality, fairness and inclusion is a pillar of the European Higher Education Area.
Based on the definition agreed in the 2007 London Communique, the composition of the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels should correspond to the heterogeneous social profile of society at large in the EHEA countries. In the 2020 Rome Communique, the ministers enlarged the definition by stressing that the social dimension encompasses creation of inclusive environment in higher education that fosters equity, diversity, and is responsive to the needs of local communities.
In the 2020 Rome Communique agreed that one of the three overarching priorities is to build an inclusive EHEA by 2030, as 'every learner will have equitable access to higher education and will be fully supported in completing their studies and training'. The Ministers adopted the Principles and Guidelines to Strengthen the Social Dimension of Higher Education in the EHEA, mentioning that 'we commit to implementing them in our systems. We will engage in wide-ranging policy dialogue on how to implement the principles and guidelines fully at national level. We will support our higher education institutions in integrating them into their institutional culture and core missions: learning and teaching, research and innovation, knowledge circulation and outreach, institutional governance and management. We ask the BFUG to report back to us in 2024 on the steps taken and the related monitoring measures to assure evidence-based follow-up'.
In the 2020-2024 cycle, the Working Group on Social Dimension has been working on creating a set of indicators and explanatory descriptors to support the implementation and monitoring of the agreed Principles and Guidelines.
The Ministerial Goals
Higher education is considered as an essential element for the empowerment of the individuals and societies. Social dimension, as part of such process, has the potential to promote equality, fairness and inclusion in higher education, considering such action is focused in the equity and wellbeing concepts, also in the framework of the EHEA.
In the Paris Communiqué (2018), ministers recognised that
“[...] further effort is required to strengthen the social dimension of higher education. In order to meet our commitment that the student body entering and graduating from European higher education institutions should reflect the diversity of Europe’s populations, we will improve access and completion by under-represented and vulnerable groups. Therefore, we mandate the BFUG to take this issue forward by the next EHEA Ministerial conference.”
Paris Communiqué 2018
The Ministers also agreed to develop a common understanding of the concept of social dimension within the BFUG. As such the Ministers agreed to develop proposed principles and guidelines for the social dimension of HE within the EHEA and to have them submitted to the 2020 Ministerial Conference for adoption, through the BFUG. Other objectives agreed at the Paris Ministerial Conference aim at gathering and examining of the data on good practices in the area of social dimension, drawing on previously agreed commitments and existing data, exploring the scope of the EHEA cooperation to strengthen the social dimension of HE as well as start working on Peer Learning Activities within the Social Dimension area.
The BFUG established an Advisory Group on Social Dimension in the 2018-2020 Workplan
In the Yerevan Communiqué (2015), ministers agreed that
"Making our systems more inclusive is an essential aim for the EHEA as our populations become more and more diversified, also due to immigration and demographic changes."
Yerevan Communiqué 2015
They also agreed to undertake to widen participation in higher education and support institutions that provide relevant learning activities in appropriate contexts for different types of learners, including lifelong learning. They will improve permeability and articulation between different education sectors. They will enhance the social dimension of higher education, improve gender balance and widen opportunities for access and completion, including international mobility, for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They will provide mobility opportunities for students and staff from conflict areas, while working to make it possible for them to return home once conditions allow. They also wish to promote the mobility of teacher education students in view of the important role they will play in educating future generations of Europeans.
Finally, ministers approuved the Working Group on Social Dimension and Lifelong Learning report and commit to make the higher education more socially inclusive by implementing the EHEA social dimension strategy.
Report of the 2012-2015 BFUG Working Group on the Social Dimension and Lifelong Learning
Widening Participation for Equity and Growth - A Strategy for the Development of the Social Dimension and Lifelong Learning in the European Higher Education Area to 2020
2015 Yerevan Communiqué
With the Bucharest Communiqué (2012), ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the social dimension in higher education and thus to working towards the goal that
"[t]he student body entering and graduating from higher education institutions should reflect the diversity of Europe’s populations"
Bucharest Communiqué 2012
This goal had been formulated for the first time at the London summit of 2007, where ministers had also stressed "the importance of students being able to complete their studies without obstacles related to their social and economic background", after the social dimension had entered the Bologna Process with the Prague Communiqué in 2001 and gained importance in subsequent years.
To further this goal, ministers at their meeting in Bucharest in 2012 agreed "to adopt national measures for widening overall access to quality higher education" and to "work to raise completion rates and ensure timely progression in higher education". More specifically, they agreed to "step up [their] efforts towards underrepresented groups to develop the social dimension of higher education, reduce inequalities and provide adequate student support services, counseling and guidance, flexible learning paths and alternative access routes, including recognition of prior learning". They also encouraged peer learning on the social dimension and endeavored "to monitor progress in this area".
The PL4SD (peer learning for the social dimension) project, which seeks to support policy-makers and practitioners in developing effective measures for improving the social dimension of the EHEA, was one of the main response to the ministerial wish.
The European Higher Education Area in 2015: Bologna Process Implementation Report is an important contribution to the monitoring of the social dimension progress in the area.
The European Higher Education Area in 2015: Bologna Process Implementation Report
BFUG WORKING GROUP ON THE SOCIAL DIMENSION AND LIFELONG LEARNING 2012-2015
The social dimension plays an important role in enhancing the attractiveness and competitiveness of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The EHEA aims to widen overall access and increase participation and completion of underrepresented groups in higher education, according to the diversity of the national populations. In its turn, widening access to quality higher education is viewed as a precondition for societal progress and economic development.
Akin to the social dimension, lifelong learning is accredited for its aim to provide learning opportunities for more diverse student population. The social dimension and lifelong learning are interwoven themes that share such central issues as the provision of appropriate education support, guidance and counseling, student-centred learning, and recognition of prior learning. In the context of the EHEA, access and equity are critical to lifelong learning, and lifelong learning itself is critical to advancing the social dimension of higher education in its integrity.
Taking into account the interlinkages between the two policy areas, in its 2012-2015 work programme the BFUG decided to establish a single Social Dimension and Lifelong Learning Working Group (SD&LLL WG).
About the working group report
The Report of the 2012-2015 BFUG Working Group on the Social Dimension and Lifelong Learning, technical in its essence, is prepared by the members of the 2012- 2015 BFUG Working Group on the Social Dimension and Lifelong Learning (SD&LLL WG) and details the work carried out in the period. The report starts with a brief historical overview of the social dimension and lifelong learning in the Bologna Process, then turns to the synergies and areas of complementarity between the social dimension and lifelong learning in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
Furthermore, SD&LLL WG’s mandate and membership as well as the achievement of the WG’s action plan are introduced. This section also includes the inputs from the four thematic groups (TGs) established under the WG to take further the goals identified in the action plan. In addition, the document provides a report of activities of the Peer Learning for the Social Dimension (PL4SD) project as of November 2014 and puts forward proposals for its future.
The Report of the 2012-2015 BFUG Working Group on the Social Dimension and Lifelong Learning