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Following the release of the comprehensive results of EUROSTUDENT IV in mid-June (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, June 2011), the book version of the same survey was released on 19 October, under the title Social and Economic Conditions of Student Life in Europe. The book version features two new chapters not seen in the earlier release of results: “Students’ assessment of their studies and future plans” (Chapter 11) and “Policy considerations” (Chapter 12).
Coordinated by the Hochschul Informations System GmbH (HIS) and funded by the European Commission and the German and Dutch ministries of education, the study confirms the common belief that social background does have an impact on students’ assessment of their studies and future plans. The results indicate that students from lower social strata assess their studies more positively than their counterparts from more privileged backgrounds, in terms of serving their ‘personal development’ and being a good ‘basis for starting work’. However, these same students are less likely to continue studying after completing one level of studies.
In spite of the popularity of the social dimension discourse in European higher education, just a few countries are classified as socially inclusive in this study. Using the existence of alternative routes into higher education as an example, the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Austria are found to have the most flexible systems. However, the German and Austrian cases are likely due to the lasting prevalence of the pre-Bologna study programmes, which in a sense are more flexible than the new bachelor programmes.
Meanwhile, having found that living costs make up the largest part (75%) of a student’s total expenditure, the study concludes that policy discussions on fees should be set within a broader framework to include information on students’ income and expenditures.
Concerning mobility, the survey aspires to gain further knowledge about national and institutional initiatives to wipe out financial and social obstacles that have been limiting the mobility of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Finally, it is hoped that the realisation of a European Observatory on the Social Dimension of Higher Education could provide systematic collection and mapping of localised initiatives, which have not been captured in the current dataset.