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Policy recommendations

Student participation
  • Legislation should be revised to ensure that student representation is guaranteed.
Where legislation is limited in scope it should be revised, in consultation with NUSes, to ensure that student representation is guaranteed in all HEIs and at regional and national levels. The poor or improper enactment of legislation needs immediate attention to ensure an inclusive culture is fostered in decision making structures.
  • Support structures and activities are needed for new student representatives.
Decision-making structures must include students as active participants and representatives in the entire process of decision-making. Orientation and induction activities for new student representatives will contribute to improving this. Other barriers, particularly those arising from improper Bologna implementation, should be identified and addressed at all levels to ensure students are treated as the equal partners they are.
  • NUSes and students’ unions must be supported in providing training for student representatives.
To ensure NUSes and students’ unions can continue to provide high quality and inclusive training and support for student representatives they need to be supported with resources and expertise. As student representatives are limited in the time they spend in higher education and the student movement it is imperative that the training and supports available to them are suitable, accessible and high quality.
  • A platform for best practise exchange will be a valuable resource.
With so many excellent initiatives and successful practises for greater and meaningful student participation ongoing in many countries and HEIs, a coordinated project looking at these practises and the challenges some face would be very useful. A platform for sharing and peer learning between students’ unions and youth groups may be valuable and should be considered in consultation with students’ unions, youth groups and education stakeholders.

Social dimension
  • Despite numerous commitments to treat the social dimension as a priority, it was never treated as such in the majority of European countries. To be able to de facto reach the representation of the diversity of European populations in higher education, the action line of the social dimension must be transformed from paper to reality and more concrete measures must be implemented.
  • The introduction and further implementation of access plans must be significantly pushed forward as access plans are excellent tools to set clear targets to improve equal representation in higher education.
  • To further support access, progression and completion of higher education for underrepresented groups, efforts in collecting fit‐for‐purpose data need to be intensified; a vital prerequisite in, amongst others, developing adequate support measures.
  • The consequences of data collection and its analysis must lead to clearly defined plans and implemented measures. Proper implementation of such measures is highly dependent of sufficient funding which must be allocated from public sources.

Student-centred learning

  • Provide necessary resources and secure funding for implementation
The learning process must be two‐ways, based on a continuous dialogue between students and academics and recognising students as co‐producers of knowledge. This involves understanding students as a part of the academic community, not paying customers subject to fees and academics as providers of “customer service”. Adequate funding is therefore a top priority for the implementation of student‐centred learning. Resources must also be provided for supplying proper infrastructure and continuous teacher training and development.
  • Ensure that students are a central part of university life and decision‐making within all parts of the higher education system.
'Giving students autonomy, independence and choice means also incorporating them in decision‐making structures that ultimately impact their daily lives. Students are the largest group within the university, and the higher education system, both on a national, institutional, faculty and classroom level must guarantee that they are treated as equal partners and that their voice is heard in decision‐making and curriculum design and evaluation.
Student feedback must be taken seriously and continuously used in all parts of the learning process. This should result in action, which is then communicated to students, closing the feedback cycle. Expected learning outcomes should be designed by both academic staff and students, and communicated clearly to students prior to the start of the learning activity. Unintended learning outcomes must also be accounted for throughout the students’ learning process, and used in evaluation of programmes and courses.
  • Provide students with autonomy and choice
In order to accommodate the increasingly diverse student population, students must be afforded with choice throughout their entire studies. This involves allowing for flexible learning paths, allowing students to chose between different courses within or outside of the faculty, enabling student mobility and offering part‐time studies. A multitude of choices in their learning and assessment methods must also be provided, allowing for a student to choose different types of course literature and ensuring that students can choose between assessment methods that they believe will give them the opportunity to best demonstrate their achievement of learning outcomes.
  • Staff must receive continuous pedagogical training
Both countries and institutions must guarantee that teachers receive mandatory pedagogical training, and institutions must offer continuous training and development for staff. Teacher training should focus on how to accommodate to the different learning styles and needs of a diverse group of students and how to ensure the constructive alignment of expected learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and assessment methods . Efforts must be made to enable the development of new methods of teaching and assessment.
  • Develop strategies, procedures and frameworks for SCL
Strategies on student‐centred learning should be designed on national and all institutional levels, and the implementation of student‐centred learning should be continuously evaluated. Students should be represented in each of those processes.

Recognition
  • The issuance of a Diploma Supplement certifying qualifications gained, including the learning outcomes and the context must be guaranteed automatically after graduation or upon request before graduation and free of charge in every higher education institution across the EHEA. The document must follow a standardised model clearly stating the learning outcomes achieved, including any additional credits and/or learning outcomes accumulated than the minimum requirement for obtaining a degree.
  • Countries must follow the recognition procedures according to the Lisbon Recognition Convention. The national legislation should be reviewed to create accessible, simple and transparent procedures that will be conducted in a fixed time without any bureaucratic burden. It is important to emphasise, that the recognition of qualifications can only be refused in cases where they significantly differ from the qualificiations obtained in the home institution.
  • It is essential that the automatic recognition within the EHEA becomes a reality with the usage of the tools developed by the Bologna Process. This means that the recognition of degrees has to be guaranteed and granted automatically in all countries across the EHEA that have already fully implemented the Bologna structural reforms.
  • As one of the basis for the paradigm shift towards student-centered learning, RPL should give students the possibility for recognition of qualifications regardless of how they were achieved. It must be based on flexibility and trust allowing to recognise the qualifications achieved through formal and non-formal education as well as informal learning. The countries have to use the full potential designing the flexible process without creating bureaucratic burdens. RPL cannot only be used as an alternative to enrol in higher education, but also to integrate the qualifications achieved elsewhere into the curriculum or to proceed to another cycle.

Mobility
  • Countries should follow the recommendation of the Mobility and Internationalisation Working Group of the Bologna Follow-Up Group, taking efforts to define underrepresented groups within mobility, while subsequently collecting data. In order to prove the commitment in mobility, not only should countries strive for the 20% target, but more importantly this should pave the way for balanced participation of all student groups in order to ensure that the mobile student population reflects the diversity of student population and avoid brain drain.
  • As the student population is growing and increasing in its diversity, countries must create and implement strategies that will ensure wide and equal access to mobility with measures targeting underrepresented groups, which should be defined on the basis of collected data. Countries must not focus solely on the quantitative target, but look closely at the structure of the mobile student group and use qualitative methods.There is a clear need to widen participation in order to make mobility an opportunity for all and not simply a privilege for the few. Therefore countries should focus their efforts on dismantling barriers to mobility for all of the students.
  • Funding continues to be the main obstacles for student mobility. Although the EHEA Ministers committed to full portability of grants and loans in 2005, very little progress has been made. Countries must show their true commitment to the implementation of full, unconditional portability of grants and loans in order to ensure wider participation of students in both credit- and degree mobility. Students must receive the same supporting grants as provided for domestic students, and the hosting institution should cover the costs of education without imposing tuition fees or any other additional fees for international students.
  • Countries must strive for creating equal opportunities and grant equal rights for international and domestic students. It is crucial that institutions ensure equal access to all student support services, including financial support. Measures that are included in mobility and internationalisation strategies, must also be taken on the national level to avoid inconsistencies in initiatives taken by institutions.

Internationalisation
  • Internationalisation strategies must be created on institutional and national level to ensure a holistic approach to mobility and that all efforts taken by higher education institutions and governments work together and are in line with each other. Every strategy must contain goals and measures to be taken to achieve them, and more importantly, the appropriate monitoring and evaluation methods must be included to ensure a proper follow-up with sufficient funding and resource allocation. Strategies should address, among others, the issues of the participation in mobility of underrepresented groups, imbalances in mobility flows, the internationalisation of curricula and obstacles to mobility.
  • Internationalisation at home should be subject to quality assurance reviews, as it must be assessed and followed up on with specific recommendations to guide the improvement process. This will help to shift from the common quantitative approach towards a qualitative approach, positively influencing the further development of an international environment within HEIs. The internationalisation of curricula should use various and diverse sub-tools that ensure social and cultural inclusion as well as quality and international teaching and learning activities.

Structural reforms
  • Countries must make a holistic effort in full implementation of all structural reforms
Qualifications frameworks, the ECTS and the three-cycle degree structure are interdependent reforms, in which successful implementation requires an understanding of their interdependence. For instance, the three-cycle degree structure, a part of qualifications frameworks, is dependent on correct ECTS credit allocation, based on learning outcomes and the workload expected to achieve the intended learning outcomes. Countries cannot select the reforms in an “à la carte” manner, but must dedicate time and resources to even implementation of all reforms.
  • Establish incentives such as automatic recognition for those who have implemented the core structural reforms
Uneven implementation of the structural reforms defeats the purpose of the Bologna Process. In order to build trust between countries in order to meet the core goals of the Process, mobility and recognition, countries must have all structural reforms in place. Having agreed to the implementation of NQFs, including the necessary ECTS (endorsed in 1999) and three-cycle structure reforms, already in 2005 and to be fully implemented by 2010, countries can reasonably be expected to have completed the implementation process by 2015. As this is not the case, incentives should be established to boost efforts in implementing each of the reforms. A good tool could be automatic recognition for the countries that have achieved full implementation of the structural reforms.
  • Implementation must be a transformation, not simply a translation from their previous structures
Successful implementation of the structural reforms requires a full transformation of the structures of countries’ higher education systems. Many countries have implemented a superficial system of mathematical calculations and copy-paste reforms without a clear differentiation from their previous systems. Countries cannot simply translate their previous credit allocation systems into ECTS credits or divide their previous degree structure into three cycles, but must redesign their systems to match the content of the structural reforms.
  • ECTS must be based on learning outcomes and workload, in line with the ECTS Users’ Guide
Countries must use the ECTS Users’ Guide in ECTS credit allocation, basing ECTS credits on learning outcomes that clearly describe the learning activities and the workload expected by students to complete all of the learning activities and achieve the intended learning outcomes. Workload should be estimated reasonably and accurately, not based on the subjective importance and difficulty of the course. According to the revised ECTS Users’ Guide to be endorsed by ministers at the 2015 EHEA Ministerial Conference in Yerevan, “workload ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 hours for an academic year, which means that one credit corresponds to 25 to 30 hours of work” (European Higher Education Area Bologna Follow-Up Group 2015, 4). However, this should also take into account that students have different learning needs and styles, and therefore this is purely an estimation and individual students actual time to achieve the intended learning outcomes may vary (ibid.)
  • A unified three-cycle degree structure must be established with a clear differentiation between the cycles
Problems in recognition arise when a student originating from a country with a 180 ECTS credit bachelor’s degree apply for a master’s degree in a country that requires a 240 ECTS credit bachelors for entrance into the second cycle. Likewise, when applying for recognition of the second cycle with 120 credits, students can be denied recognition of foreign qualifications from countries with 60 or 90 ECTS credit master’s degrees. To facilitate recognition and implementation that will benefit students, countries should consider unifying the three-cycle degree structure, but also ensure that there is a clear differentiation between the first, second and third cycles, so as to allow for new learning experiences, interdisciplinarity and the devaluation of the second cycle.
  • Countries must establish proper part-time study programmes
The flexibility that the three-cycle degree structure enables should ensure that students are provided with the option of studying part-time. Part-time studies require specially designed programmes and countries’ and higher education institutions’ dedication to solving any logistical challenges that may arise. Part-time students require additional guidance and support throughout their studies. Tuition fees and limitations in student financial support must not be imposed on part-time students. Rather, part-time studies should be viewed as a natural part of improving access to higher education and enabling lifelong learning.
  • Countries must allow for flexible learning paths and provide guidance and support in case of delays
One of the aims of the three-cycle degree structure is to allow for flexibility, which also ensures the transformation to a student-centred approach and improving the social dimension. Students must be given a reasonable timeframe for completing their studies, while also allowing for both full- and part-time leave for parental leave and physical, psychological and non-visible illness and disabilities and providing additional financial support during these periods. Exceptions must also be granted for employment, extracurricular activities and participation in student governance and representation, military duties and other cases which naturally give reason for delays in studies. Students who experience delays in their studies must be offered guidance and support, rather than financial punishment such as limiting student financial support, imposing higher tuition fees, or expulsion.

Financing of Higher Education
  • In order to ensure accessibility and quality of education for all students’ regardless of their background, higher education must be regarded as a public responsibility and public good. The financing of higher education and students must be prioritised as an area of investment with great impact to the progress in society.
  • Students must be provided adequate support through publicly funded grants. These must be seen as an investment in the future by supporting students in their efforts to become active members not only of the labour market, but of society as a whole.
  • Student support through grants must be preferred over loans. The consequences of the rising debt of graduates cannot yet be fully predicted but are highly likely to be exceptionally pressing for those from a lower socio‐economic background.
  • Adequate and comprehensive funding of HE systems as committed to by the Ministers in “securing the highest possible level of public funding for higher education and drawing on other appropriate sources, as an investment in our future" in Bucharest Communiqué 2012 without the burden falling on families.