The social dimension of the envisaged European Higher Education Area aims at:
equality of opportunities in higher education, in terms of: access, participation and successful completion of studies; studying and living conditions; guidance and counselling; financial support, and student participation in higher education governance. This implies also equal opportunities in mobility, when it comes to portability of financial support, removing barriers, and providing incentives.
Both enhance the quality, attractiveness and competitiveness of the European Higher Education Area.
Framework of the social dimension in the Bologna Process
With the London Communiqué of May 2007, Ministers responsible for Higher Education in the countries participating in the Bologna Process confirmed the relevance of the social dimension:
"Higher education should play a strong role in fostering
social cohesion, reducing inequalities and raising the level of knowledge,
skills and competences in society. Policy should therefore aim to maximise the
potential of individuals in terms of their personal development and their
contribution to a sustainable and democratic knowledge-based society.
We share the societal aspiration that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels should reflect the diversity of our populations. We reaffirm the importance of students being able to complete their studies without obstacles related to their social and economic background. We therefore continue our efforts to provide adequate student services, create more flexible learning pathways into and within higher education, and to widen participation at all levels on the basis of equal opportunity."
The social dimension has been an integral part of the Bologna Process since the first ministerial follow-up meeting in Prague in 2001. The social dimension was included in the Prague Communiqué at the suggestion of the student representatives. In subsequent communiqués the social dimension has been recognized as crucial for the success of the European Higher Education Area.
With the 2005 Bergen Communiqué, Ministers declared the social dimension an integral part of the Process of creating the European Higher Education Area (EHEA):
"The social dimension of the Bologna Process is a constituent part of the EHEA and a necessary condition for the attractiveness and competitiveness of the EHEA. We therefore renew our commitment to making quality higher education equally accessible to all, and stress the need for appropriate conditions for students so that they can complete their studies without obstacles related to their social and economic background. The social dimension includes measures taken by governments to help students, especially from socially disadvantaged groups, in financial and economic aspects and to provide them with guidance and counselling services with a view to widening access."
Given that considerable differences exist in relation to the social dimension of higher education between the countries participating in the process of creating the European Higher Education Area, it was not considered appropriate to narrowly define the social dimension or to suggest a number of detailed actions for all countries to implement.
Instead, the 2005-2007 social dimension working group, which had been set up after the Bergen ministerial meeting, recommended that each country develops its own strategy, including an action plan, for the social dimension. To help countries with devising national strategies on the social dimension and to facilitate the necessary national debates, the working group proposed a structure and topics for such a debate (see Annex 2 of the 2007 working group report). For more background information and the detailed recommendations read the full 2007 working group report.
- "Equality in a knowledge based society - How to widen opportunities?", Bologna Seminar organised by Hungary, Budapest, 10-11 November 2008
- "The social dimension of the European higher education area and world-wide competition", Bologna Seminar organised by France, Paris, 27-28 January 2005
- "Students' Participation in Governance in Higher Education", Bologna Seminar organised by Norway, 12-14 June 2003
- "Exploring the Social Dimensions of the European Higher Education Area", Bologna Seminar organised by Greece, Athens, 19-20 February 2003