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The Netherlands EU Presidency conference: The Future of Higher Education

The Dutch presidency conference, Amsterdam 9 march, gathered representatives of education, industry and innovation across the EHEA to address ‘The Future of Higher Education’. Dutch minister of education Jet Bussemaker in her opening speech introduced three key pillars on which discussions would generate recommendations for a review of the modernization agenda for higher education.

Comenius’s work on life long learning, equitable education and innovative practice, weaving itself as a red thread through the symposium, the pillars emerged to contain:

  1. Linking higher education to the outside world, the institution as a whole is required creating new internal relations between teachers, students and research with the aim to impact the outer, with a local/regional and community focus.
  2. Preparing Engaged citizens and social inclusion, now demands a view of universities as engaged communities, prioritising skills development to enable active citizens and the opening up for diverse types of learning.
  3. Potential of technology, should be reaped through blended education, and requires a focus on developing a cohesive accreditation system. Digital spaces designed to bridge mobility and access gaps in the Ersamus+ program are promising, but require carful consideration.

The civic university ‘, as an urban anchor institution to tie down global forces, was presented in response to the EU commissioners (Tilbor Navracsics) call for tackling all pillars as interconnected, to permeate traditional boundaries of the university, foster interdisciplinary & multi-sectoral approaches to challenges and maximise Universities as national/regional drivers.
Break-out sessions on teacher professionalisation emphasised for universities to ‘set the example’, foster professional identity capable of taking on controversial, diverse class rooms and advocated the implementation of recognition instruments for pedagogy. The university college movement in the Netherlands, focusing on motivation based selection, tailored study profiles and internationalisation, was presented as good practice example. Re-vitalising the Bachelors Program, in light of Bologna challenges, was to be achieved through broadening study environments via a liberal arts focus, promotion of critical thinking and collaborative research at undergraduate level. Diversity and the refuge crises created animated discussions in the plenary, with VU University professor Maurice Crul calling for: opening access via direct admissions to English taught programmes, academic and teaching environments that reflect the diversity of student populations and adoption of a view on refugees as part of the international student body. Closing the session, a cautious word uttered by Adam Tyson, Director of Erasmus+ and higher education at the DG EAC European Commission, reminded universities of the importance of smart specialisation.

The agenda’s viability of open universities as regional change makers and simultaneously safeguards of shared values on the global stage remains to be seen.

The Netherlands EU Presidency 2016