"Widening access to higher education is not about introducing less qualified students, but rather about supporting all learners with the potential to benefit both themselves and society through participating in higher education," states the European University Association's Charter on Lifelong Learning (LLL), presented on 25 October.
The universities are aiming to reach out to a wide range of learners with different motivations and interests to offer tailor-made programmes to a fast-changing labour market, it adds. But the charter also calls on both universities and the governments to make a number of commitments to boost continuous learning throughout life.
Universities are invited to broaden access to education and learning to a diversified student population, improve recognition of prior learning and adapt study programmes to attract returning adult learners. They are also asked to develop partnerships at local, regional, national and international level to provide attractive and relevant programmes and promote flexible and creative learning.
As for governments and regional partners, the charter calls for concerted action to establish the appropriate legal and financial frameworks to develop LLL. Governments are also asked to better promote social equality and better recognise prior learning as well as remove the legal obstacles, such as loss of pension contributions during study periods, that prevent potential learners from returning to higher education.
Meanwhile, the charter calls for a debate on how lifelong learning provision can be most effectively and most fairly funded.