The Future: How Might the Social Dimension Be Developed?

Despite the social dimension's present difficulties, there remain opportunities for it to be lifted out of its lowly situation. This section presents a considered and intentionally provocative wish-list of some opportunities which ought to be considered in a discussion on the social dimension's place in the Bologna process.

1.3.1 Re-definition of the Social Dimension

As noted earlier, the existing definition of the social dimension (EHEA 2007) is insufficiently concrete. A revised definition of the social dimension is required, one which is clearer in its focus, and what needs to be covered in the future. This kind of revised definition should also deal with the fact that the social dimension is both an underlying process linked to nearly all activities of the EHEA, and a separate thematic tract with its own specific activities. The EHEA should define a clear framework for the social dimension followed by an action plan how this should be achieved. It also needs to enable national states and local institutions to fit their own local needs and demands into a larger European framework.

Such a European framework for the social dimension would take a form reminiscent of, but subtly different from, the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in European Higher Education Area. This is a non-binding set of ideals that all members of the EHEA commit to, with the contribution and expertise of the consultative organisations included to reach at least a lowest common denominator that all countries can agree to aim for. Over time, this floor can be slowly lifted, in much the same way as the ministers have increased their joint demands on each other over time. Simultaneously, a series of 'end-targets' for the members to aim towards should be agreed, ensuring that all member states have something to work on, and allowing those who are already well advanced to provide examples of peer learning to their colleagues slightly behind in the process, in much the same as the advisory group of the European qualifications framework operates. National access plans of each country (see below) would then be of interest to, and subject to a measure of scrutiny by every member of the EHEA.

National Actions Plans for Access and Widening Participation

Although this idea was already presented in the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve communiqué, the development of these plans still has potential. At first the process of designing such an action plan provides insight into what the social dimension in a certain context means. An evaluation of the status quo in each country should take place either prior to or in conjunction with the setting of targets. A by-product of such a process would be a clarification of which data is in fact already available, though perhaps not used for this purpose.

These plans are only sensible if they set clear targets. These targets need to be measurable and achievable in a reasonable amount of time. It does not improve the social dimension if these plans do not provide a self-critical assessment, clear political targeting, or are not evidence-based. Furthermore, it is crucial that these plans are regularly revised, taking into account the successes or failures of the targets in previous iterations of them in an honest and self-critical way.

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