Higher education reforms

Higher education reforms in a wider context: the need for Lifelong Learning

Changes in society and their impact on higher education are evolving ever faster; globalisation, demographic change and rapid technological developments combine to present new challenges and opportunities for tertiary institutions. Future jobs are likely to require higher levels and a different mix of skills, competences and qualifications as compared to earlier situations. Higher education institutions have a pivotal role to play in the success of our society and economy and their capacity to adapt to these changes and seize new opportunities is crucial.

Forecasts indicate that most new jobs will be created at the highest qualification levels, but, compared to other developed economies in North America and Asia, Europe does not have enough young people entering higher education and not enough adults have taken part in university education. If we want to maintain and improve our standard of living, we need to find ways to widen access to initial studies and to learning at all ages.

The Commission shares the ambition of the Bologna Ministers that the student body within higher education should reflect the diversity of Europe’s populations and welcomes the request, formulated in 2009 in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve, that each country should set measurable targets for increasing overall student numbers in higher education and for widening participation amongst underrepresented groups. EU Member States have adopted the benchmark that by 2020 at least 40% of 30-34 year olds should have attained higher education. In 2007 it was only 30%.

Governments should establish strategies for lifelong learning and should encourage their universities to open their doors to non-traditional and part-time learners and offer more courses for continuous professional development. Catering for new types of learners requires a fundamental rethinking of how courses are designed and delivered. New learners may not possess all formal requirements for entry into higher education, but they may have acquired the necessary knowledge, skills and competences through self-study or work. More should be done to integrate these potential students into higher education.

Institutions are encouraged to publish their policy and practices for the recognition of non-formal or informal learning, prominently on their website. These policies should include elements such as feedback to learners on the results of assessments or the possibility for learners to appeal. Institutions are also encouraged to create ‘assessment facilities’ for counselling on and the recognition of non-formal and informal learning and to offer more tailor-made programmes to non-traditional learners, e.g. through working-learning or distance learning arrangements.

The Commission welcomes the European Universities’ Charter on Lifelong Learning, developed by the European University Association (EUA). The Charter reminds universities of the actions they should take to open their doors and invites governments to do their part. The Commission supports the idea of partnerships between all stakeholders: universities, public authorities, students, employers and employees. Innovative ideas in the field of lifelong learning can be supported through Erasmus Networks and Erasmus Multilateral Projects in the Lifelong Learning Programme: Curriculum Development, Virtual Campuses, Modernising Universities, and cooperation between universities and enterprises.