In 2015, a few months after the adoption of the EHEA Yerevan Communiqué, Austria announced that it was going to develop the “National Strategy on the Social Dimension of Higher Education. Towards more inclusive access and wider participation”. In 2017 the Strategy was launched at the national level with the Bologna Day 2017 and the 2017 international PLA “Mainstreaming Social Dimension in the European Higher Education Area: Strategies, Tools, Raising Awareness”, which Austria hosted.
The social dimension of (higher) education is still high on the international agenda. This shows that there are still a number of challenges, and commitment at the European, national and institutional level is needed to ensure equity in higher education. This is why the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research invited ministries, higher education stakeholders and higher education institutions to another – this time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, online – Peer Learning Activity in October 2020 with the title “Mainstreaming Social Dimension in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA): Implementation of a National Strategy”. This PLA, part of the Erasmus+ project, INternationalisation/INclusion/INnovation: Towards high-quality inclusive mobility and innovative teaching & learning in an internationalised Austrian Higher Education Area (3-IN-AT), facilitated an exchange of best practices and challenges at national and institutional levels and should point out the way ahead.
This report not only focuses on future tasks but also acts as a progress report. Many countries and higher education institutions have developed national and institutional strategies to promote the social dimension. In order to mainstream the SD, the Austrian Federal Ministry agreed on measures for institutional implementation with the public universities in the so-called “performance agreements” (i.e. funding contracts), with the possibility to retain up to 0,5% of the global budget in case of non-implementation. All universities showed that they had strategic measures in place in a report at the end of 2020; one-third of the institutions decided to develop an institutional strategy on the social dimension. For the next performance agreement period, 2022–2024, we are striving for an even broader commitment, mirrored in the implementation of existing strategies, as well as an increase in the total number of institutional strategies. We are furthermore working towards a stronger involvement of the non-university institutions.