Better learners can become active citizens, education professionals insist

"Higher education to Europe: Play to Win" debate, organized by EURASHE on 29 April 2019 at the European Parliament. [EURASHE]

This article is part of our special report Shaping the future of higher education.

Advocating for more and better education is the only way to promote values such as democratic participation, human rights, and the rule of law, the head of a European higher education association has told an event at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The event was organised by the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) on 29 April and brought together higher education professionals, experts and students, who debated the challenges and the way forward.

The panel focused on the current state of higher education, but also on the challenges for the sector ahead of the upcoming European elections, sharing the principles of the European Parliament’s ‘This Time I’m Voting’ campaign, aimed at encouraging citizens to vote in the elections taking place on 23-26 May in 28 member states.

“Transformation, participation and diversity are three keywords for our future,” said Stéphane Lauwick, the president of EURASHE.

He added that his association’s mission is not just to equip learners with knowledge, understanding and skills, or even competences for the labour market, but to transform the learner into a citizen ready and eager to participate actively in society.

New skills will require students to expect the unexpected, education expert says

Over the coming years, the professional higher education sector must smooth educational differences among the European regions, boost local employment and provide students with the new skills needed in a changing labour market, the head of a European higher education association told EURACTIV in an interview.

Future of education

Academics, researchers and representatives of European umbrella associations active in higher education discussed the future of the sector in relations to skills requested, the next generation learners and the forthcoming education systems.

A first panel consisting of learners, teachers, employers and policy makers presented their take on future skills, highlighting that students need both the latest technical knowledge and soft skills to better interact with others.

These two aspects go along with the capacity for critical and systemic thinking, as well as the development of new digital skills to process data flows and the use of artificial intelligence and robots.

Concerning future learners, the lifelong learning approach was considered essential. The vice president of EURASHE, Professor Ulf-Daniel Ehlers, said it is going to be the most likely scenario in the future, as it offers personalised learning paths and a steady flow of short courses, the so-called mini-credentials, helping to update and upgrade the workforce.

He also outlined major shifts to take place in higher education, moving away from mere knowledge transmission to competence training.

“If you want to educate students to become skilful actors, you have to develop certain specific competence of skill courses,” Ehlers said, listing diversity, access and quality as some of the challenges facing higher education.

Shaping the future of higher education

The education sector is facing a process of rethinking to provide future students with new required skills for working and living in a world that is changing ever more rapidly. But also some social aspects need to be addressed.

Skills mismatch persists

Future systems for higher education need to be more flexible and should open their door for diversity and assessment, according to the experts who took part in the debate.

A student-centred, sustainable and scalable ecosystem should be established, extending the accessibility to higher education and revising the current exam and rewarding system. It was said that students should also take more responsibility for their own learning process.

Some of the panellists argued that the current bachelor studies are not enough adaptive to the rapidly changing labour market, which is the main reason why extra-knowledge has become ever more important for students.

Stéphane Lauwick of EURASHE said that employers have been increasingly demanding that students have transferable skills, such as the ability to work in a team, creative thinking and problem-solving.

“The skills mismatch is still the same as it was 20 years ago,” he said.

Convergence in EU may stop without high-skilled workers – World Bank official

All new member states have seen their per capita income rise since they joined the EU. But this convergence cannot be taken for granted and the countries with a large share of low-skilled workers are at a risk “of not converging effectively”, a World Bank official warned.

Civic competences

Participants from the audience underlined the importance of attitude and character training to become a real winner in the job market.

Some pointed at the need for tailor-made training solutions for the unemployed, while others also complained about the prices of higher education.

Another topic raised during the debate was the need to distinguish the European higher education system from the mercantile and state-driven ones, observed in the US and China, respectively.

Building civic and democratic competences is an integral part of the European higher education equation, and Europe could already play strong cars in this regard, particularly in the light of affordability, accessibility, diversity and high-quality of its system.

The debate’s main outcomes will be discussed further at the EURASHE Annual Conference, which will be held in Budapest the next 16-17 May 2019.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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