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World Access to Higher Education Day: Raising Global Awareness Around Inequalities in Access to Higher Education

«Even though the access and participation to and in Higher Education has been widened, the inequalities in society have at the same time increased… Social Dimension means to take these inequalities into account when designing the higher education environment to reach the goal of true participation in higher education by all members of society.. »

(ESU 2015 Policy Paper on Social Dimension)

Tuesday the 26th of November marks the World Access to Higher Education Day. On this occasion, the European Students Union wants to highlight its positions and constatations regarding the current state of play when it comes to accessibility of higher education in Europe. In 2019, numerous obstacles of different nature still prevent equal access to higher education all across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). 

Financial accessibility remains one of the major barriers. Besides tuition fees, students have to bear external costs that take up most of their monthly budget. Housing costs take up the biggest part of students’ budgets across Europe, averaging at around 26%. In addition to these spendings, students still have to afford merely sustaining themselves and covering the costs directly related to higher education. 

As a result of the financial pressure, more than half of higher education students work more than 20h per week which is time-consuming and hinders the fast progression within their studies. The current solutions set by higher education systems are not sufficient. ESU firmly believes that grants need to be high enough to cover the actual living costs of students

In addition to the financial barriers and as higher education is not separated from the societal environment, discriminative mechanisms present in all layers of society do not stop at the doorsteps of our higher education institutions. Religion-based discriminations, xenophobia and racism are still blatant in higher education institutions and their consequences can hinder the mere possibility for some students to enrol in a programme. 

Gender-based discrimination has consequences on how women experience higher education, be it in the choice of curricula or on daily life on campus, where sexual harassment and sexual violence is still present. The same happens to LGBTIQ+ students who are targets of discriminations, sometimes at a structural level, for instance with the non-recognition of one’s gender identity at the administrative level. The very physical accessibility of campuses is an additional factor limiting access to higher education for students with disabilities. 

All discriminative mechanisms, which reflect on the academic world, have an impact on whether a potential student will decide to enrol in higher education, and whether they will be successful in completing their studies. For ESU, this is an unacceptable situation and concrete measures need to be taken in order to make higher education accessible for students from all layers of society

Therefore, ESU strongly advocates for:

  • Higher Education systems that promote inclusivity and diversity with concrete measures such as recognition of prior-learning, anti-discriminations measures, early-stage interventions. 
  • The abolition of tuition fees.
  • The establishment of sufficient financial and material student support systems.
  • The promotion and establishment of flexible learning paths to encourage student participation and retention
  • The creation of Principles and Guidelines for Social Dimension within the Bologna Process. 


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