1. LIFELONG LEARNING IN UNIVERSITIES
The focus in this report on “Organising Lifelong Learning” is on issues to consider when universities want to develop strategies and business models for lifelong learning. To place these considerations in a proper framework I will use this first chapter to give a short overview of the European policy framework for lifelong learning and the current situation for lifelong learning in European universities and higher education institutions. In the end of the chapter I will present how lifelong learning is conceptualised in the USBM project and in this report.
1.1 European policy framework for lifelong learning
In 1996 lifelong learning was firmly put on the European agenda when the year was announced as the European Year of Lifelong Learning. The year after a World Conference on Lifelong Learning was organised and in 1998 the Council of Europe launched the project: “Lifelong Learning for Equity and Social Cohesion: a New Challenge to Higher Education” (EECS-HE 98/5 rev.2. Strasbourg 1998).
In general, the EU lifelong learning strategy is concerned with the whole range of learning “from
the cradle to the grave” and covers all forms of education (formal, informal or non-formal). It thus encompasses all areas of learning including workplace learning, as well as the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that people acquire in day-to-day experiences. Furthermore, it is concerned both with personal fulfilment and enterprise; employability and adaptability; active citizenship and social inclusion.
This was emphasised in the European Commission, when it defined lifelong learning as “all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competence, within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective.” (Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality”, November 2001, p.10). And it was further developed in a hand-out on “Lifelong learning – a socio-economic interpretation” from 2003.
The same socio-economic approach to introducing lifelong learning has dominated the decision by the European Parliament from November 24, 2006, but with an additional focus on interchange, cooperation and mobility between education and training systems within the Community. Furthermore collaboration on quality assurance is added to the agenda.
Although lifelong learning has been on the European agenda for 15 years and was written in to the Lisbon Strategy from 2000 as an integrated element of the ambition to turn Europe into the leading knowledge-based economy in the world, it is now clear, in 2010, that this goal hasn’t been achieved. From the latest report of the Commission “Europe 2020. A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” it becomes clear that the process must continue in the next ten years – that applies also to a lifelong learning strategy.
The higher educational level in Europe is still lacking behind the US and Japan and the need for upgrading unskilled labour with higher qualifications is still urgent.
The above quotations from policy papers, strategies and decisions clearly show how deeply the focus on lifelong learning is interwoven with the socio-economic plans for developing the European labour market. Lifelong learning is viewed as a proper response to the present decline of manual skilled and unskilled jobs and the parallel increase of knowledge based jobs in the service sector. As manual labour is outsourced to the third world the need for upgrading the knowledge level of the European labour force becomes more and more urgent.
In the following paragraph I will look further at how the universities and higher education institutions in Europe have responded to the lifelong learning challenge.
1.2 University responses to lifelong learning
During the last ten years, lifelong learning has become more prominent on the agenda of higher education. Open and flexible learning and continuing education have come from the periphery to the centre for many universities and higher education institutions.
In 2001 the Ministers in charge of higher education emphasised at a meeting in Prague that The members of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) were among the first universities in Europe to explicitly react to this challenge. They were already involved in open and distance learning as dedicated open universities or as mixed-mode (sometimes also called: dual-mode) universities. In 2003 EADTU added an e-learning dimension to the Bologna Process called eBologna and in 2004 the members renamed themselves as LOF-universities – Lifelong Open and Flexible Universities - at a conference in Heerlen, The Netherlands. The focus was on flexibilisation and personalisation of education for the age group 25+ in order to widen participation in higher education, catching former drop-outs and providing lifelong learning opportunities for all.
In 2007 the Commission called for national reports on strategies for lifelong learning from the member states in order to enforce the implementation process at national levels. This was a follow-up on the recommendations for lifelong learning from the European Parliament (see above). Furthermore, in the same year the European University Association (EUA) responded to the lifelong learning challenge in the document: “Lisbon Declaration. Europe’s Universities beyond 2010”. Here EUA focuses on the need for an overarching qualification framework in order to avoid two parallel qualification systems within higher education in Europe – one for universities and one for other higher education institutions.
In 2008, after a seminar on lifelong learning at the Sorbonne in December 2007, EUA undertook the task to formulate the “European Universities’ Charter on Lifelong Learning” (2008). The charter is a clear policy document, which, on the one hand, encourages the European universities to incorporate lifelong learning into their educational offers in order to comply with the EU Lisbon Strategy, while, on the other hand, the national governments are called upon to support the operation and make it a success. The charter operates with a very broad understand of lifelong learning initiatives in order to incorporate as many traditional universities as possible in the move towards lifelong learning. Undoubtedly, the charter has brought lifelong learning on the agenda for traditional universities.
In the Communiqué of the Bologna Ministerial Meeting in 2009 in Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve the European ministers responsible for higher education confirmed the essential role of lifelong learning in European higher education for the years to come. In “The Bologna Process 2020 – The European Higher Education Area in the new decade” the ministers agreed upon central issues such as widening participation, partnerships between public authorities, higher education institutions, students, employers and employees and coordination of national qualifications frameworks.
At the same time as EUA plays a major role in encouraging traditional universities to take up lifelong learning as a part of their provision, the association is also monitoring the process via a series of Trend Reports since 1999 and other publications. The focus has especially been on the implementation of the Bologna Process but as the theme of lifelong learning has become increasingly important; also this implementation has been covered.
The latest trend report form March 2010 – “Trends 2010. A Decade of Change in European Higher Education” - clearly indicates that although the EU policy framework for lifelong learning seems to be in place, there is still a long way to go for most traditional universities in Europe. In general, universities are bound to their conventional business models focusing on research and innovation and educational programming in the BA/MA structure, which is a relevant strategy to serve the target group of traditional students between the ages of 18 and 25.
“Trends 2010” analyses the slow development within lifelong learning at university level and points towards the close relation between institutional and national policies and the implementation of lifelong learning. In countries with national policies for lifelong learning universities are more likely for be active in offering lifelong learning courses and programmes. Nevertheless, in most European countries lifelong learning activities are seen as additional activities outside the core business of universities. Lifelong learning is seldom viewed as an overarching term for all educational provision.
Furthermore the “Trends 2010” report specifies some characteristics of institutions that have a strategy for lifelong learning. Larger universities are more likely to have an overarching lifelong learning strategy and an international profile compared to smaller universities that are more likely to view themselves as having a national or regional mission.
In the present USBM study similar conclusions are reached. The project has made a thorough analysis of the national policy frameworks for lifelong learning and of university policy strategies for lifelong learning. Despite the fact that all partners within EADTU offer dedicated programmes for lifelong learning learners, neither all nations nor all universities have a clearly formulated lifelong learning policy.
1.3 Defining lifelong learning at university level
When we look at the concept of lifelong learning as it has evolved over the last decade (documented by the above quotations) differences in focus between the socio-economic approach and the higher education approach become obvious. From a socio-economic point of view lifelong learning serves the function of upgrading the manual unskilled labour for more knowledge intensive jobs for the benefit of themselves as well as for society as a whole. To a large extent this involves education at secondary level – pre-BA level – delivered by other institutions than universities.
From a higher education point of view the obligation to become involved in lifelong learning is basically the same, but it is reformulated as a need for widening access to university education. Some open universities are able to respond directly to these needs by recruiting students directly into their programmes due to their policy of openness – e.g. some dedicated open universities like Open University, UK and Open Universiteit, The Netherlands. Most recently, we can point to the development of Open Educational Resources, which is an initiative aiming in the same direction.
For most universities openness is not an option due to national regulations requiring the same entrance qualification to university education for all students – independently of age, gender and work experience. This is the case for mixed-mode universities, but also for some distance teaching universities such as Fernuniversität, Germany.
At the same time it is interesting to note that the latest report from the Commission “Europe 2020. A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth” claims, “lifelong learning benefits mostly the more educated” (p.16). Undoubtedly, this is a major problem for society, but the solution is hardly to cut back on lifelong learning offered by universities. The upgrading of unskilled labour and widening access to higher education should supplement each other. Both processes are needed in order to turn Europe into a knowledge society.
The USBM project analyses experiences and cases of best practice of delivering lifelong learning at university level by open universities and mixed-mode universities. The main target group for these institutions is the age group 25+ attached to the labour market and often with an initial education. Consequently the considerations in this report - “Organising Lifelong Learning” - on implementing university strategies and business models have a similar focus and should be read with this limitation in mind.Download Organising Lifelong Learning: A Report on University Strategies and Business Models for lifelong Learning in Higher Education.
Welcome to USBM, the portal for Lifelong Learning
Taking the next step in lifelong learning!
This portal is addressing the Lifelong Learning challenge Universities are currently facing. Lifelong learning is about developing structures for continuing education that fit the realities of professional life and helps complete the knowledge that people acquire during their careers and renew or develop their existing knowledge. It is about all those phrases we use in speeches like “unlocking the knowledge of universities” and “making university education responsive to the needs of business”. Lifelong learning is broadly embraced throughout Europe.
Although lifelong learning is a concept broadly supported and strongly recognised by universities, governments and the EU, it is still in the initial phases of being implemented. Lifelong learning is not widely implemented yet.
Most universities are not sufficiently prepared to deliver lifelong learning. This can easily be explained when looking at their principle task and target groups. In general, universities are bound to their conventional business models focussing on research and innovation and educational programmes in the BA/MA structure. This is the right strategy for the target group of traditional students. To reach a new target group of LLL-students we need to develop new strategies and new business models.
This explains for the most part the hesitation of universities to take the next step in organising lifelong learning. The USBM consortium is bringing together university strategies and business models for lifelong learning that already fulfil the conditions for successful implementation.
Within EADTU, in a collaborative setting of Associations in distance education, conventional universities and distance teaching universities have worked towards institutional strategies and business models for LLL.