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Closing the gap - New data on the social dimension of higher education in Europe

Currently, three in every ten Europeans have attained higher education. According to the Education and Training Strategy of the European Union, it should be four in ten by 2020. Getting this additional person into and through higher education successfully requires more information on the students of Europe today, who they are and what challenges they face. This is how Richard Deiss of the European Commission explained his support for the EUROSTUDENT project at an event held at the Dutch permanent residency to the EU in Brussels on October 19th.

At the event, EUROSTUDENT released its data and comparative analyses of student life and study conditions in Europe. Around 70 members of the European Council's Education Committee and representatives of various European-wide organisations attended this evening event showcasing some of the recent results of the project's fourth round.

Bartlomiej Banaszak, as representative of the Polish European Presidency, described his involvement with the project. Around four years ago he was a representative of the students in Poland and involved in working with the government to ensure Poland's participation in this European-wide project. Now, as a member of the Polish Ministry of Science and Education, he sees the relevance of the rich data set and the analyses for the development of Polish higher education. Speaking for the Polish presidency, he expressed recognition of the importance of the data and comparative analyses of student life and study conditions for the further development of the EU's strategy for modernisation of higher education. "This is the best source of comparative information on the European student today", concurred Marlies Leegwater of the Dutch Ministry of Education and Culture.

Members of the EUROSTUDENT coordination team, Dominic Orr and Christoph Gwosc (HIS-HF, Germany), Brenda Little (Open University, UK) and Hanna-Stella Haaristo (EÜL, Estonia) used the event to discuss some of the key results of the study with these international experts on education. Three presentations were made on the topics of: access to higher education; resources and expenses of students; and short-term mobility abroad. Four specific issues were discussed: - Is higher education in Europe socially inclusive? - What is the impact of fees on students' budgets? - What are the similarities and differences between students' incomes? - How extensive is short-term learning mobility and what are the obstacles to mobility?

In her presentation, Hanna-Stella Haaristo asked the attendees how many of them were first generation students themselves, whose parents had not attained higher education. Only a minority were. She went on to talk about which countries were particularly good at recruiting non-traditional students and to point out the challenges confronting them - amongst other things, they often need flexible study structures to enable these students to integrate the demands of studying and paid employment into their regular week. The attendees agreed that - especially with few personal experiences of these challenges - such data provide important insights into the chances of entering higher education across Europe.

Christoph Gwosc presented the new EUROSTUDENT data on the financial impact of tuition fees. He showed both the impact of fees on students' monthly expenses and what share of students actually pay fees. Both the representative of the European Students' Union (ESU), Karina Ufert, and the representative of the European University Association (EUA), Thomas Estermann, agreed that this new data will lead to more informed debates on this often very emotive topic.

Raising the share of students who go on study-related periods abroad during their studies (e.g. with Erasmus) is a central focus of policy debates in Europe. Brenda Little found that the large majority of attendees at her talk had been abroad themselves during their studies and had found this experience very important for their personal and professional development. She then presented figures which showed that the majority of European students - over two-thirds of them - have not been abroad and do not plan to do so, and that students from low social backgrounds are even more reluctant to go abroad. This was new information for most of the attendees, and gave them food for thought on dismantling obstacles to mobility.

The presentations and discussions in Brussels proved the importance of meetings between policy-makers and researchers on the direction and impact of current higher education reforms within the EU and in the framework of the Bologna Process. In order to facilitate such discussions, the EUROSTUDENT project is publishing four Intelligence Briefs today on the topics discussed at the event.

Intelligence Briefs: - Is higher education in Europe socially inclusive <www.eurostudent.eu/download_files/documents/IB_HE_Access_121011.pdf> - What is the impact of fees on students' budgets? <www.eurostudent.eu/download_files/documents/IB_Fees_121011.pdf> - What are the similarities and differences between students' incomes? <www.eurostudent.eu/download_files/documents/IB_Student_income_121011.pdf> - How extensive is short-term learning mobility and what are the obstacles to mobility? <www.eurostudent.eu/download_files/documents/IB_Short_term_mobility_121011.pdf>

It is hoped that these short documents provide an introduction to the uses of EUROSTUDENT data and analyses in informing policy-focussed debates. The comprehensive comparative report covering many more topic areas and including many more analyses is also available as a book and download.

Background information on the project EUROSTUDENT: The aim of EUROSTUDENT is to provide information and data on the social and economic conditions of student life in Europe. Furthermore, it analyses aspects of international mobility during study programmes. Work began in the late 1990s. The fourth round of EUROSTUDENT began in November 2008 and ends in October 2011. 25 European countries have actively contributed to the project. The HIS-Institute for Research on Higher Education in Hanover, Germany, is responsible for the management of the consortium. Other members of the consortium are: Federation of Estonian Student Unions (EÜL), Centre for Control and Assessment of Quality in Education (UKOKO) in Bulgaria, Institute for Advanced Studies (IHS) in Austria, the Open University's Centre for Higher Education Research and Information (CHERI) in the UK, Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (MinOCW) and Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU). The project is funded with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research and the European Commission's Lifelong Learning Programme.

Further information: Dominic Orr, orr@his.de Christoph Gwosc, gwosc@his.de Brenda Little, b.little@open.ac.uk Hanna-Stella Haaristo, hannastella.haaristo@praxis.ee

Press contact: Theo Hafner, hafner@his.de Tanja Barthelmes, barthelmes@his.de

idw :: 25.10.2011