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ESU Chair: “Mass education is fundamental to democratic culture”

PARIS –  “Mass higher education is fundamental to developing democratic culture as well as optimising the talent of a new generation,” said Karina Ufert, Chair of the European Students’ Union (ESU) at the biennial General Conference of the OECD’s Programme for Institutional Management in Higher Education on 17-19 September in Paris.

Around 500 higher education policy-makers, institutional leaders and academic experts focus on newly emerged issues and challenges for countries concerning mass higher education, including how to manage access, quality and accountability, funding and financing, institutional diversity, internationalisation, technology and the academic workforce.

‘Simply expanding not sustainable’

Ufert continued: Mass higher education cannot be sustained by simply expanding elite higher education systems. In order to fulfil the expectations of the labour market and society at large, institutions have to shift towards student-centred approach, when what we do at the classroom matches with personal aspirations and talents.”

The goal of the OECD Conference is to identify longer-term trends and brings together many different perspectives and look at the issues at the international, national, institutional, or sub-institutional level.

Ufert concluded: “We, as students, see education as a driver for more equal societies, because equal societies do better and there is plenty of evidence for this. We do want to take a chance to improve our lives independent if brought up down in the valley, or up on the top of the hill.”  The full version of Ufert’s speech can be read here. The OECD has recently published its 2012 version of Education at a Glance:

Tuition fees

A lot of discussions at the meeting revolved around tuition fees which some of the participants saw as a possible answer to sustainable higher education. However ESU representatives have repeatedly pointed out that tuition fees are not the answer. At least some countries (e.g. Denmark) showed they are committed to even raise the current levels of attainment while maintaining tuition-free higher education.


Another important point of discussion at the conference were university rankings and it seemed that with exception of a very few people, the participants agreed that rankings should not play a role in higher education, that they are simplifying the indicators and not focused on quality of learning. Criteria for rankings are focusing mainly on the research and do not give much attention to the teaching, which was a point made by several participants.

More information about the conference can be found at

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For more information, please contact:

Karina Ufert, ESU Chairperson: +32 473669892 //

Marianne Slegers, ESU Communications Manager: +32/473.669.894 //


The European Students’ Union, headquartered in Brussels, is the umbrella organisation of 47 national unions of students from 38 European countries. ESU represents and promotes the educational, social, economical and cultural interests of students at the European level. Through its member unions, ESU represents over 11 million students in Europe. To find out more about ESU, follow us on Twitter @ESUtwt, check out or Facebook page or visit ESU celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2012.


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