Data collection is central to the improvement of the social dimension
The principles and guidelines developed by the Bologna Follow-Up Group's Advisory Group on the Social dimension offer concrete and tangible recommendations to national governments and raise hopes that the specific support for vulnerable, disadvantaged and underrepresented students will be improved in the future. In order to monitor progress on social dimension goals, EUROSTUDENT data on students' background, study and living conditions is vital.
EUROSTUDENT data is a unique source of data on higher education students' social and economic conditions. At the EUROSTUDENT Researchers' Forum 2020 in Vilnius, David Crosier from the Eurydice unit of the European Commission highlighted the relevance of data to monitor progress on the social dimension. Out of the countries in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), no more than two thirds - monitor relevant student background characteristics, such as socio-economic status, or migrant or other minority status, during studies. Although "lack of data is not the cause of lack of action", as David points out, "monitoring and data are needed to measure the progress with regard to the social dimension in the future". Available data and previous research consistently point to persisting inequity in access to higher education, study choice, and attainment in practically all countries in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
Robert Napier, President of the European Students' Union and co-chair of the Bologna Follow-Up Group's (BFUG) Advisory Group on the Social Dimension, therefore calls on all Bologna Ministers to commit to tackling the social dimension with renewed focus. The recently developed Principles and Guidelines, to be submitted to the Bologna Ministers in June, define ten principles for the social dimension in higher education for the upcoming decade of the Bologna process (2020-2030). The intention behind the principles and guidelines is to ensure that the social dimension becomes central to higher education strategies at every level – local, regional, national and European. What role do data play in this? "Data collection is crucial for the improvement of social dimension", Robert emphasises. "We hope that EHEA countries will adopt a coordinated, coherent approach in collecting data which supports the implementation of the social dimension. Which student groups do we need to be monitoring? How are the measures we are taking impacting on the social dimension? These are questions we hope will be strategically approached in the future."
"We are aware that our data is being used at national and European level, and we strive to keep on improving it", comments the EUROSTUDENT project coordinator Kristina Hauschildt. By being directly involved in the relevant BFUG working and advisory groups on Monitoring and the Social dimension, EUROSTUDENT is able to take into account the data needs of the EHEA countries.
But what more could be done?
"We need to be thinking big. The past Eurostudent survey reached 28 countries, but it would be great if we could cover the entire EHEA", laughs Kristina. If the social dimension is indeed made a core focus of European higher education policy, perhaps the future will see such a EUROSTUDENT expansion. And in that case, we may well see major advances - and lack of data would no longer be cited as a reason for lack of progress.