Work programme 2015-2018
The Future of Higher Education
During the Dutch Presidency of the EU, the ministry of Education, Culture and Science organized a conference on the Future of higher education in Amsterdam on March 9th 2016.
Higher education and the world in which it operates have changed considerable in the past couple of years. Participation in higher education has reached record levels, but the fall-out of the economic crisis (including graduate unemployment) has highlighted more than ever the need for tertiary provision to be relevant to real-world needs and trends. The debates surrounding the rise in political and religious tensions around the world have illustrated that "relevance" extends to higher education's role in preparing engaged citizens. The rapid development of digital technologies is changing student expectations and creating new opportunities for structuring learning and social inclusion.
The main purpose of the conference was to showcase best practices and bring together people who work in industry, innovation and education. During the conference, participants discussed the main challenges and chances for European higher education and formulated recommendations for the European Commission. There has been keynotes by speakers from various European countries, a round table as well as six parallel sessions around the themes ‘linking higher education to the outside world’, ‘preparing engaged citizens’ and ‘the potential of digital technologies’.
There has been plenty of room for discussion on the future of higher education, which the Dutch presidency will use to generate recommendations for the review of the modernization agenda for higher education of the European Commission.
All countries from the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) have been invited.
Short overview of the meeting
The Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Jet Bussemaker, opened the conference by putting forward the priorities for higher education in the Netherlands. First, she emphasised values such as Peace, Freedom, Democracy and Equality. Second, she presented the issue of citizenship linked to social inclusion, paying particular attention to the importance of training teachers to manage radical ideas. Third, she stressed the importance of online studies.
The European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport of the European Commission, Tibor Navracsics, stressed the need for universities to include employers in curriculum design and highlighted the impact of digitalization on universities and research. Online courses lead to changes in recognition issues and quality assurance. The Bologna process constitutes a point of attraction for extra-European countries and is a good example of integration.
John Goddard, Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University, presented research on the "civic university" and the future of higher education in Europe, taking into consideration the fact that universities form an integral part of the wider society of knowledge. In particular, he demonstrated that cities require holistic engagement from universities as urban "anchor" institutions and that a new model of universities — based on a quadruple helix model — is now necessary. He concluded BY showing that Newcastle University is an example of how the seven dimensions of civic university have been implemented.
During parallel sessions, different themes were discussed among the participants, such as the professionalization of teachers, online courses and MOOCs.
Maurice Crul, Professor of Sociology at the VU University of Amsterdam, presented facts and figures concerning higher education and diversity, including demographic data of students in the Netherlands. Citing statistics, he stated that half of the students in universities of applied sciences are of immigrant descent.
The challenges facing higher education are as follows
- migrants fail more often than non - migrants at BA level. Higher education must help them to succeed in their studies.
- newly-arrived refugees who have been following BA or MA degrees in their countries of origin have been obliged to interrupt their degree courses. They are usually proficient English speakers and Maurice Crul proposes to allow them to complete their degrees in English instead of forcing them to register in Dutch language courses.
- Polarization: extremist student organizations proliferate. There is a need to tackle these challenges, for example, by providing bridging programs, study guidance and mentoring, and promoting the involvement of students and staff diversity.
The closing session brought together the facilitators of the parallel sessions and Adam Tyson from the Directorate General for Education and Culture at the European Commission, in order to sum up the main ideas that emerged during the day and to conclude the conference.