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Social dimension in the EHEA- new resources for policy makers & practitioners

The project Peer Learning for the Social Dimension (PL4SD) funded by the Lifelong Learning program, launched 2012 as a response to the need for higher education’s student body to reflect at all levels the diversity of our populations, and aligned with a key commitment of the Bologna Process on fostering international exchange of practices in this area. After three years of running PL4SD’s concludes its activities and shares, in its final project report, valuable findings resulting out of the collaborative efforts that included among others: The Institute for Advanced Studies/Vienna, The German Centre for Research on Higher Education and Science Studies (DZHW) and The European Students' Union (ESU)/Belgium.
To address a need for peer learning and provide EHEA stakeholders with resources for development of effective measures, central themes of the report include:
  1. The Database of policy measures for the social dimension in Higher education: To overcome the prevailing information gap on existing measures designed to enrich the social situation in higher education, PL4SD’s comprehensive database including 300 policy measures and research, now serves as a critical resource for realizing peer learning across EHEA stakeholders, and to encourage decision makers to launch new initiatives that address the social dimension in higher education.
  2. Country Reviews: Pilot country reviews were conducted to develop recommendations and input in support of ongoing discussions for national strategies on the social dimension. Reviews reflected common challenges and provided an overview of the national situation - placing the spotlight on topics as, Access and completion progress, transitions between different educational levels, Inequalities in pre-tertiary education, National targets for underrepresented groups.
  3. Dialogue through conferences: Reflections on the outcomes and role of fostering  face-to-face peer learning among diverse stakeholders during two main conferences.
The majority of EHEA initiatives addressing participatory barriers, aimed at supporting students and widening access of higher education - where most policy measures place in the area of counselling and supports services, predominantly targeting the general student population (20%) followed by students with low socio economic background (13%). 

The size of the words represents the number of measures adressing the various target groups
(source: PL4SD database analysis)

Notably the database reflects discrepancies in the level of ‘engagement’ projected by EHEA members- varying from Germany contributing 88 to the Netherlands 1 measure. Narrow definitions of ‘students with disabilities’ prevailed in the interviewee population, concentrating on mobility impediments, rarely including learning or mental deficiencies, as well as low awareness of groups vulnerable to discrimination, reflecting high drop out or suicide rates.

PL4SD’s efforts to paint a comprehensive picture of the current state of the social dimension for the entire Bologna area (country profiles for each EHEA member), stimulates critical peer learning and facilitates national action plans towards implementation of the Bologna strategy, making a valuable contribution to an ever growing debate on the realization of socially inclusive learning environments.