Social dimension: equitable access and completion 2009-2012

Working group on Social Dimension 2009-2012

Archived content for Bologna Experts - 28/04/2009
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Source: Report of the BFUG Working Group on the Social Dimension 2009-2012

Recognising the role of the social dimension in enhancing the attractiveness and competitiveness of the EHEA, the Social Dimension Working Group would like to reiterate the Leuven/Lovain-la-Neuve Communiqué objective of widening access and participation for underrepresented groups in higher education. On this aim by 2015 at the latest, EHEA member countries should reaffirm their commitments and targets for widening overall access and increasing participation and completion of underrepresented groups in higher education, according to the diversity of the national populations, with the aim to reach these targets by 2020.

Examining the results drawn from the implementation report on the Social Dimension Chapter, the Working Group appreciates that the social dimension area needs further progress to ensure that the empirical realities on the ground can be addressed. In light of these assessments the group would like to make the following recommendations:

  • In order to fully tap into the potential of all members of society, EHEA countries need to commit further to implementing socially inclusive policies in their higher education systems by addressing the causes and consequences of educational exclusion. Students coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds are still underrepresented at higher degree levels of studies, are more inclined to enter more accessible fields of study and are less likely to enrol for study abroad.
  • To increase the participation of underrepresented groups into higher education while emphasising the benefits of alternative access routes into higher education. Furthermore, entry requirements and other barriers should be assessed in terms of equity to ensure the possibility of those who have the capacity to follow higher education studies are enabled to do so, regardless of prior formal learning achievements.
  • As the issue of the Social Dimension is a wide and overarching theme, national and institutional policies need to be better correlated with other Bologna Process working areas. In this frame the systemic approach to developments regarding learning outcomes, ECTS, diploma supplement and the implementation of national qualifications frameworks are essential to ensuring widening access, progress and completion of studies through more alternative and flexible access routes into higher education. A systemic approach is also required in co-operation with the policy areas of mobility and the portability of student grants and loans, given the lower propensity of disadvantaged students to engage in studies abroad.
  • Higher education offers students the chance of future financial benefits and sustainable social advancement independently of their economic background. Such chances are decisive in order to raise participation of societal groups with traditionally low educational attainment. Higher education institutions have the responsibility to take the social and employment perspectives of their graduates in account when they design study programmes.
  • Measures to foster participation of people coming from disadvantaged backgrounds with a focus on prospective students from migrant backgrounds must begin at earlier levels in their education.
  • The monitoring process of the composition of the student body needs to be better linked to social dimension policies. Also, the monitoring process needs to be carried out in a systematic way that will permit monitoring of the effectiveness of policy measures for widening access and participation at institutional, regional, national and European levels.

Achieving the commitments set in the Bologna Process depends to a great extent on a shared responsibility and involvement of all actors in society. The working group advocates the benefits of a broader societal dialogue focusing on the impact of the social dimension in higher education.

This highlights the need for further efforts to raise awareness about the meaning of the social dimension and its economic and social significance, as well as the need to launch national discussions on how to define the social dimension in the specific national context, and how to approach identified issues through policy measures.

The social dimension should also be linked to other on-going discussions on diversification, classification or performance funding. Assessment of higher education institutions might include some measure of the effectiveness of their policies for widening participation of their potential student body or how they manage to reduce dropout rates.

Furthermore, strengthening our efforts to promote greater access, participation and completion, providing adequate services for all students and encouraging the cooperation of all the relevant actors in pursuing these objectives, including students, student affairs and services organisations, university faculty and administrative staff and policy makers, are among the key elements necessary for making the social dimension a reality and a key pillar in higher education in Europe. In doing so, European higher education will not alone become more equitable and promote greater social cohesion, it will also become more attractive to external students, more competitive and serve to better sustain Europe’s economic and social development into the future.

To assist EHEA countries in developing, implementing and monitoring Social Dimension policies, a Pilot initiative to promote Peer Learning on the Social Dimension of Higher Education should be develop, in order to support structured and systematic peer learning among countries and institutions and thus make possible measurable improvements in the social dimension of higher education across Europe. The Working Group recommends that the proposal on the Pilot initiative to promote Peer Learning on the Social Dimension of Higher Education be adopted for consideration at the Bucharest Ministerial Meeting in 2012.

Terms of Reference

Purpose and/or outcome

References to the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué: paragraph 9, 21, 26. 2009 Leuven Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué - English

  • To identify obstacles and how some countries have overcome these obstacles and analyze good practices put in place in some countries within the EHEA for reaching the goal that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity of the European population.
  • To analyze the actions taken in others parts of the educational system within the EHEA in order to increase the level of equity in Higher Education.
  • To analyze national/regional strategies at governmental level to widening access to Higher Education
  • To analyze good practices and national experiences in the field of elaborating core indicators used for measuring and monitoring the relevant aspects of the Social Dimension in higher education.
  • To analyze the responsibility of HEI taking into account the social (and thus employment) perspectives of their graduates.
  • To explore the feasibility of including the increasing relevance of social responsibility of HEIs in Europe (considering aspects related to innovation based regional and urban development in Europe and social engagements) in the concept of Social Dimension.
  • To explore the possibility of creating an European Observatory on Social Dimension of Higher Education (EOSDHE).

Specific tasks

  • Collection of good practices in Social Dimension implementation in Higher Education at national and regional level.
  • Collection of measures taken in other parts of the educational system within the EHEA in order to increase the level of equity in Higher Education;
  • Collections of good practices and national experiences in defining core indicators used for measuring and monitoring the relevant aspects of Social Dimension in Higher Education;
  • To collect information of successful stories of improving employability due to the good practices of HEIs;
  • To encourage peer-learning activities (seminars, workshops etc.).
  • To discuss the pros and cons of elaborating a wider concept of social dimension for the near future.

Liaison with other action lines

The chair of the working group will participate in meetings of the working group on reporting on the implementation of the Bologna Process in order to liaise with stocktaking and data collection.
Cooperation with other working groups, in particular those on mobility will be organized in the relevant context.

Reports to the Bologna Follow-Up Group

BFUG 21 - Alden-Biesen 24-25 August 2010

BFUG_BE_AL_21_9.4 WG Social Dimension - Update

BFUG 28 - Copenhagen 18-19 January 2011

Catalogue of good practices in Social Dimension implementation in Higher Education

Eurostudent - European Observatory on Social Dimension - Draft version 04.01.12

WG Social dimension 2009-2012 - Draft Report

BFUG_DK_AZ_28_4.1 WG Social dimension 2009-2012 - Draft Report - presentation

WG Social dimension 2009-2012 - Membership on 18.01.2012

BFUG 30 - Copenhagen 19-20 March 2012

WG Social dimension 2009-2012 - Peer Learning - Draft version 10.02.12

BFUG Meeting 30 Copenhagen March 2012 - WG Social dimension 2009-2012 - Draft Report

Published: 28/04/2009 - Last modified: 04/07/2016
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During the 2009-2010 timeframe the Working Group was chaired by Rafael Bonete (Spain). Starting with 2011-2012, the representative from Ireland, Brian Power has been asked to take over a Co-Chairing position and provide assistance in following up on the tasks and activities of the Social Dimension Working Group.

The following countries and stakeholder organisations are represented on the Working Group: Andorra, Austria, Belgium/Flemish Community, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, UK/EWNI, UK/Scotland, European Commission, BUSINESSEUROPE, ESU, EUA, EURASHE, Eurostat and Eurostudent.

Report to the BFUG

Report of the BFUG Working Group on the Social Dimension 2009-2012

The report first sets out the rationale for a social dimension in higher education in the current economic and social climate. The following pages provide a short historical overview regarding the developments of the Social Dimension area in the Bologna Process since its inception. The mandate and achievements of the Working Group’s Plan of Work are further described and finally the report presents an analysis on the overall picture of the social dimension area across the EHEA that feeds into the last chapter of conclusions and recommendations. The report concludes with the need to develop a Pilot initiative to promote Peer Learning on the Social Dimension of Higher Education with the aim of assisting the EHEA member countries and higher education institutions in implementing social dimension policies.


Collection of good practice

According to its Terms of Reference, the Working Group has committed to collect a series of examples of good practice on implementation of the social dimension at national, regional and institutional levels across the EHEA.

Considering the variety of the collected models of good practice, a "typology table for the collection of Social Dimension measures" was developed.

Read more