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The evolution of access: Adapt to survive?

STRASBOURG – Even though many activities aim at developing access to and widening participation in higher education, a lot remains to be done. The 22nd annual conference of the Equal Access Network highlighted new challenges and opportunities in this respect.

The conference was held in collaboration with the Council of Europe from 3 to 5 June, aspiring at reaching an understanding of the different meanings used for accessing and widening participation in higher education and to assess the linkage to quality measures in higher education.

Keynote speeches were given by Eva Egron-Polak (Secretary-General, International Association of Universities) and Prof. Julia Preece (University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa). Following them, was a panel debate moderated by Jamie Merisoties (President, Lumina Foundation for Education) about the core ingredients for success in accessing and widening participation.

This panel showed clearly that every level of the higher education area needs to take responsibility. The European Students’ Union (ESU) presented its latest policy inputs on the social dimension and a proposal for redefining access to higher education. The idea that access should not be considered solely as admission to higher education, but more fully as the means and mechanisms by which a student enters, is supported during, and is given the tools to succeed following a course in higher education, was appreciated by the audience,” says Florian Kaiser, a member of ESU’s Executive Committee who attended the conference.

Access and quality

Other parts of the conference focused on the relation between quality and access to higher education. Sjur Bergan (Head of Education Department, Council of Europe) gave a presentation titled ‘Quality, Excellence and the Social Dimension: what is the connection?’. Then, Germain Dondelinger (Vice Chair of the CoE’s Steering Committee for Education and Practice) and Vanja Ivoševic debated the relation between access and quality of education.

The participants were invited to listen to researchers and practitioners in the education field in a parallel session. Various topics were on the agenda, ranging from ‘The politics of participation’ (Dr Graeme Atherton, NEON, UK) and ‘Widening participation and the Bologna Process: new visions of higher education’ (Willy Astrup, Aarhus University, Denmark) to ‘Students as experts: expanding the student voice from ‘student-as-student’ to ‘student-as-community’.

Challenges for Roma people

Under the panel title ‘The access crystal ball: what does the future hold?’, chaired by Prof. Kerry Ferguson (Pro Vice-Chancellor, La Trobe University, Australia), the involvement of Roma people in  higher education was debated. This panel explained the complexity and the cultural challenges for Roma people in entering higher education. But much more, it underlined how important it is to involve underrepresented groups in the work on accessing higher education.

World Congress in October

The next event of the European Access Network will be the first world congress on access to postsecondary education taking place in Montreal, Canada, from 7 to 10 October 2013. Further information and the opportunity for registration can be found at

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For more information, please contact:

Karina Ufert, ESU Chairperson: +32/473.669.892 // or Robert Hlynur Baldursson, 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 39 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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