EURASHE ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2012 - Responding to Challenges in European Higher Education: Lifelong Learning and the Welfare Society, Riga, 10-11 May 2012
Click here (or on the picture directly!) to access EURASHE's 22nd Annual Conference Report.

It contains the report of the various sessions of the Conference, dedicated to Lifelong learning and the Welfare Society as well as information on the Keynote speeches and the social programme proposed to the participants.
Conference Report.
The 22nd EURASHE Annual Conference took place in Riga on 10 and 11 May 2012. It was organised in cooperation with Banku Augstskola School of Business & Finance of Riga, Danish Rectors’ Conference – University Colleges Denmark, UC-DK, both members of EURASHE and the FLLLEX project. The Conference is traditionally a meeting of EURASHE’s members, outside experts from a range of academic fields and stakeholders, to construct a unique range of educational experiences of relevance to professionals from all geographical regions and sectors of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and beyond. Its two main topics this year were: Lifelong Learning and Welfare Society; in line with the theme of ‘Active Ageing’ promoted this year by the European Commission. The combination of these two topics is rooted in our firm belief that education is not only firmly embedded in the wellbeing of citizens, but also one of the main pillars of society.

Introduction to the first topic: Lifelong Learning

The world is evolving rapidly. Social, economic and technological innovations require from us the capacity to adapt, the capacity to flexibly respond to new situations, especially on the job market. People are expected to improve their competences, to develop their skills and to learn ‘new things’ to be more suited for market needs. Moreover, it is not only about teaching new generations which enter the labour market, but all the generations. The never-ending acceleration of changes combined with ageing of the population makes learning a constant necessity for all social groups at all levels.
A rapidly changing society poses enormous challenges to European higher education which has to find new ways of fulfilling its principal mission: to provide knowledge. If higher education institutions wish to contribute to the global change of paradigms and make lifelong learning a reality, they have to develop a set of mechanisms as well as a new culture of understanding of the lifelong learning concept. According to the European Commission: ‘For the majority of Europeans, lifelong learning is still not a reality’. More involvement of higher education institutions may change this situation.
The subject of this part closely relates to another concept discussed during the Conference: the welfare state. Improving lifelong learning systems and encouraging people to work longer in different work environments is the only way to preserve the traditionally understood European welfare state as well as economic efficiency in the European Union.
During the Conference, three subjects were discussed. The first session’s objective was to present the current state of policies and legislation concerning lifelong learning in the EU and its member states. The goal of the second one was to discuss self-evaluation tools for lifelong learning at institutions. And the final session was an opportunity to discuss the results of the various projects centred on lifelong learning. All subjects were linked by the FLLLEX project conducted amongst others, by EURASHE members.
Session 1a: Lifelong Learning and National and EU policy

During the session three presentations took place. The first one, by Klaas Vansteenhuyse – KHLeuven, was a brief summary of the FLLLEX project, aiming at measuring the impact of lifelong learning strategies on profession-oriented higher education in Europe. Klaas Vansteenhuyse showed what the initial intentions and goals of FLLLEX were, how the work was divided between different stakeholders of the project and finally how the outcomes of the project might be useful. One of the difficulties mentioned by the speaker was the fact that low number of survey responses sometimes skewed the results which entailed some difficulty in achieving definite conclusions. The presentation put special emphasis on policy propositions stemming from the FLLLEX project. Supporting the development of coherent and balanced lifelong learning strategies to develop flexible and effective education and training systems was one of the main policy priorities. Other important ones are: use of policy hooks, need for investment in lifelong learning, support development of partnerships and adaptation of the lifelong learning definition to clarify communication.
The second presentation’s goal was to discuss the national policies for the implementation of lifelong learning, which was also the subject of the Work Package 1 of FLLLEX. Richard Thorn – Institutes of Technology of Ireland, IOTI – discussed issues such as the definition of the lifelong learning concept itself, presented key numbers concerning the situation on the labour market and showed how certain countries deal with the subject and how they introduce the aforementioned policies. He explained the main features of lifelong learning according to the OECD, and what are the differences between lifelong learning definitions presented in literature and by other public organisms such as the European Commission. The speaker mentioned also the key statistics concerning the lifelong learning question. The society is growing older, new skills are required, but still lifelong learning is not a reality in many countries. One month prior to the survey done by the FLLLEX project, almost 64, 3% of the population did not participate in any kind of lifelong learning activities.
The last presentation during this session was made by Patrick Leushuis from the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. It was a quick glimpse in the Dutch perspective on lifelong learning in professional higher education. He described how the infrastructure was built to respond to lifelong learning challenges and on what points the government of the Netherlands will focus in the future. According to him the results of the projects involving lifelong learning concepts are clearly visible. Huge investments in expertise development were made and the quality instruments and models were prepared. More and more adults participate in lifelong learning (the best results were achieved in regions with decreasing population), thanks to the recognition of prior learning and modular programs or concepts such as blended learning. Finally, the speaker stressed that the realisation of his government’s programme would not be possible without establishing strategic alliances with employers, local and regional government organisations and with other providers of training and education.
Session 2a: A self-evaluation tool for Lifelong Learning

During this session three presentations took place. The first presentation was entirely devoted to the lifelong learning evaluation tool: the FLLLEX Radar. Josep Grifoll from the Catalan University Quality Assurance Agency emphasized the role of stakeholders in the evaluation process and explained what are the main components and “steps” of FLLLEX Radar. He explained that the stakeholders of the FLLLEX Radar are not only members of the academic community, but also actors from the public and private sector as well as learners. The radar should be first and foremost a diagnosis for improvement and enhancement. The speaker added that the tool is composed of 18 questions which should allow to understand the perception and the situation of lifelong learning in a given institution. After having done the report, it should serve as a basis for a strategic plan for the higher education institution in question.
The second presentation was an exhaustive description of the different steps of the FLLLEX Radar tool. Margriet de Jong – KHLeuven – explained how each step should proceed and what are the precise actions behind each of them. The first step consists of choosing proper evaluators from the institution’s staff, the second one is the definition of the evaluation’s objective and its purpose or the establishment, the third one is about establishing a focus groups, the fourth one is the preparation of possible questions, the fifth one is the organisation of focus group meetings, the sixth one is the preparation of a report, the seventh is the review of results and the final one is the dissemination of the acquired knowledge. The discussion after the presentations made explicit the need to also involve managers of the institutions in the evaluation process apart from secretariat staff, students and researchers. One of the presentation’s conclusions was that after the FLLLEX Radar will be applied in KHLeuven, it should be contacted and the experiences from the application of the FLLLEX Radar should be analysed.
The final presentation by George Ubachs, who is a Managing Director of EADTU, dealt with questions relating to developing lifelong learning strategies, business plans and actions. He showed what considerations should be taken into account when adapting an institution’s organisation and administration to provide lifelong learning services. In the beginning he presented EADTU, his own association, which is involved in lifelong open and flexible learning in distance higher education. Initiatives such as Virtual Erasmus or Open Educational Resources lie in EADTU’s scope of actions. The speaker identified the obstacles for organising lifelong learning in higher education institutions (such as the absence of ICT competences from higher education staff or lack of recognition of prior learning) and explained that they may be dealt with, by proposing new concepts. He underlined that institutions and national policy makers should be aware that traditional formal education alone cannot meet the challenges of the knowledge society. Business plans and precise strategies may help higher education institutions define possible lifelong learning educational target groups and adapt to the needs of the knowledge society. He presented how such business plan or strategy should like and how it should be implemented. George Ubachs mentioned during the discussion after his presentation the importance of virtual mobility which may totally change the way we transmit knowledge.
Session 3a: Results from the Lifelong Learning projects

This session was composed of five presentations. The first four were showing results of lifelong learning projects. Sigrid Nindl from Consulting Department 3s Research Laboratory showed, using numerous statistics, what are the expectations of the population towards lifelong learning providers and how their typology looks like. Her survey (of motives, needs and expectation towards lifelong learning) was made to provide support for development of self-assessment tool such as the FLLLEX Radar. It was based on multidimensional typology to identify difference in needs of lifelong learners’ types. Considering how different lifelong learners and how varied their expectations may be, higher education institutions will have to identify which type of lifelong learning they wish to cater their activities towards. Multiple criteria were used to understand who the lifelong learner is. Depending on gender, age, target award, purpose, admission criteria, learning location or pedagogic style, different possible forms of providing lifelong learning emerge. She underlined the importance of individual’s life course when choosing different lifelong learning programme. Factors such as family relations, religion or health issues cannot be ignored. She then moved on to a meticulous presentation of different learners’ types to finally highlight once more that higher education institutions have to find out on their own who may be interested by their potential lifelong learning programmes.
Two of the presentations concerned directly the experiences of different institutions. Gökay Özerim from Yaşar University in Turkey presented the Turkish situation in the lifelong learning context and discussed how FLLLEX methods and ideas influenced his university’s organisation. The aim of his presentation was to share lifelong learning strategy analysis of a higher education institution by explaining prominent inferences, with existing implementations and discovered ideas derived/obtained from the process of the FLLLEX project. He underlined that there are several lifelong learning opportunities in Turkey, but the missing link is the ‘institutional lifelong learning strategy’. The Yaşar University, established in 2001, is one of the most rapidly growing Turkish higher education establishments. The author claimed that the FLLLEX project and particularly the FLLLEX Radar were helpful for discovering the university’s existing lifelong learning opportunities and new ideas to improve it. For example by fostering ties with the business community the university might use actively these networks in development of the new lifelong learning offers and more tailor-made programmes. The speaker explained in a detailed way how the FLLLEX project changed his university’s approach to the concept of the lifelong learning itself.
In the same spirit was Oran Doherty’s presentation about the reaction to lifelong learning tools and the methodology used by the Irish Letterkenny Institute of Technology when applying the FLLLEX Radar. He stressed the positive elements of the tool such as the wide range of information gathered or inclusion of numerous stakeholders and suggested possible areas for improvement (for example fixing different set questions for different focus groups). In the end he concluded by stating that for his institution the FLLLEX Radar was a very useful and eye-opening exercise and advised other higher education providers to not underestimate the workload involved in organising the FLLLEX Radar exercise.
The fourth presentation of Rob Mark from the Centre for Lifelong Learning of the University of Strathclyde had a more general goal. It discussed the findings of the FLLLEX Radar for self-assessment in the context of professional higher education and their lifelong learning policies. He started his presentation by explaining the relation between the lifelong learning concept and EU regulations and declarations. Then, he showed the FLLLEX Radar’s importance in general EU policy context. He identified the major FLLLEX stakeholders and discussed the implications for incorporating lifelong learning into European higher education institutions, with special attention given to Recognition of prior learning (RPL). In the second part of his speech, Rob Mark commented on the usefulness of the FLLLEX Radar and presented positive and negative opinions about the tool from different stakeholders. In the end he suggested how the tool may evolve and what steps should be taken to improve its functioning.
The final presentation was putting lifelong learning in the global context. Lifelong learning’s aim is not only to make people adapted to labour market needs but it may also be used as a tool to improve equality between different social groups. Anthony F. Camilleri from the EquNet project showed the results of a concerning report presenting vast disparities in the level of equality of access to higher education between different European countries. People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are, in many countries, still less likely to attend higher education and profit from a mobility experience. To answer this challenge, European ministries offer solutions such as promoting flexible learning pathways or involving students as active participants in their own learning. The speaker proposed numerous other social innovations aimed at improving the level of accessibility to higher education. Incentives such as lack of pre-requirements or creating licence-free textbooks may remove barriers and help young people enter higher education. As a consequence, having an opportunity to participate in lifelong learning may help them avoid social exclusion. Anthony F. Camilleri showed how important is this social awareness of equality, which linked this session to the welfare state topic.
Introduction to the second topic: Welfare state

The welfare state is one of the numerous acquisitions of post-World War II European democracies. However, facing new dangers such as economic crisis or ageing of populations, more and more people start to question the very idea of the welfare state. To what extent should public authorities intervene on the national level? What is the most just model of distribution of goods? What is the place of people as individuals towards the omnipresent state? These are just some of many questions we have to face today.
This topic is not irrelevant when confronted with the lifelong learning concept which is the other topic of EURASHE’s Conference in Riga. If we want to preserve our current model of welfare state in an ever-changing world, we have to change, to adapt, to find new ways of organising people’s life. Therefore, if we want to preserve our present European way of life, paradoxically we have to modify it at the same time.
Creating new mechanisms allowing older populations to fully participate in the democratic process, guaranteeing them employability as well as high quality life is crucial. The traditional forms of redistribution may in consequence be insufficient to provide the present level of life in the future, especially considering growing expenses of the public health system. We have to put more effort to understand these issues.
The second topic of EURASHE’s conference in Riga is entirely devoted to this urgent problem. In three sessions, four different subjects were discussed. Issues such as healthy aging, using technology in developing and defending welfare society in Europe or how higher education may respond to the ageing of the population were the main subjects of this part of the conference.
Session 1b: Healthy ageing

The first session about the Welfare State topic consisted of an input prepared by Joost Degenaar who is a director of healthy ageing programme of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen in the Netherlands. With the audience of about 20 people, he started his presentation by explaining the on-going demographic changes in Europe. By 2025 in every Dutch region about 30% of the population will be over the age of 65. This trend is well visible (to a different extent) in all EU countries. The ‘old age dependency’ will change from a ratio of 4 to 1, to 2 to 1 in next 20 years. Not only more and more people will be living in retirement, but also the expenses for public healthcare will rise from 13% of GDP in 2010 to 24% of GDP in 2050 (in the Netherlands). This requires major adaptions of our social security system. We have to adapt to help people with chronic diseases and deal with the shortage of practitioners...
Session 2b: Welfare technology – use of technology in developing and defending welfare society in Europe

Two researchers from Aalborg University, Anthony Lewis Brooks and Eva Petersson Brooks presented how new technologies may improve the well-being of the population in the future welfare state. The main focus of their research is about how technological innovations may, through the proper use of sound, image and several ICT technologies, incite someone to develop and to learn. Their ideas were applied especially in the context of rehabilitation of the handicapped. However we can extrapolate their use to all children, to the elderly or to the population in general. Proper exercises realised through multimedia applications may improve the well-being of people of all ages...
Session 3b: Welfare society: contributions from higher education

In this session speakers had the opportunity to present their research findings on the welfare society topic. The first represented the Alice Salomon Hochschule - University of Applied Sciences in Berlin and presented the new, financed from public resources, master programme at the Hochschule: Master in Ambient Assisted Living (MAAL). This interdisciplinary 2-year master aimed at both fresh bachelors, as well as people with prior professional experience (realising lifelong learning strategies). Its goal is to present the concept of Ambient Assisted Living and problems related to it...
Final interventions, Panel discussion and Closing of the Conference

Following the different sessions on lifelong learning and the welfare society, participants of the Annual Conference gathered for the final intervention by Prof. Andrejs Rauhvargers, Secretary General of the Latvian Rectors’ Council, and Co-Chair of the BFUG Implementation working group. His intervention concentrated on the Bologna Implementation Report delivering a state of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in 2012. After highlighting the different sources of the report and its new approach, he presented the different scorecard indicators of the report, including the implementation of the first and second cycles and the differences between the credit systems used in several countries for first and second cycle-programmes. The spread of joint degrees and programmes, as well the link between ECTS and learning outcomes, and the implementation of external quality assurance systems were also presented. Higher education attainment was also discussed based on gender and social background; and finally the Communiqué of Minister issued at the Bucharest Ministerial Conference in April 2012 was presented and its main priorities were highlighted. This provided participants with the latest up-to-date information on the implementation of the Bologna Process in Europe at a time of various changes.