Knowledge and education are key factors in the economic and social development in European countries, yet remarkably little research has been conducted into the processes which generate this knowledge i.e. higher education and its relationships to the rest of society. Existing research in this field is typically heavily influenced by short-term policy agendas and is relatively narrowly-focused within national contexts and traditions.
As European national boundaries become less significant for future economic and social development, there are pressures on national higher education systems to become both more compatible and more innovatory. As a primary step towards achieving the necessary changes and developments, the ESF will carry out a new Forward Look in order to examine how higher education can be studied, across international borders in the future.
The aim is to develop a long term research strategy to explain the relationship between higher education and social and economic change and therefore, how higher education can lead the way to the successful creation of a so called 'knowledge society'.
European research has already inspired a forum for the standardisation of higher education in European countries, in the form of the Bologna Process. This Process started in 1999, when 29 countries signed a declaration to harmonise the standard of academic degrees. Since then more countries have been invited to join and, every two years, governmental meetings are held to continue the process.
In order to take the key step in defining what developments will be needed in the future, this Forward Look will examine a number of aspects of the higher education research agenda, in addition to its potential economic contribution. These include its governance, funding and the need for it to provide equal opportunities and social justice for all who have the potential to contribute to a successful 'knowledge society'. This is a major step in shaping a fair and transparent higher education system.
Professor John Brennan from Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, in the UK's Open University, will lead the Forward Look. He commented:
'Universities as research centres tend to study absolutely everything but not themselves! I would like to see higher education, as a field of research, taken more seriously. I see this Forward Look as an opportunity to develop a clear, long term research agenda.'
Principally, this is a Forward Look aimed at the research community, in order to provide clear and effective guidance for the direction of research, but it also has the potential to connect the research community with the decision makers directly. It has already received interest from policy makers at the national level and also from the European Universities Association (EUA). With the policy questions that this study aims to pose, this could be the starting point for a more transparent and cohesive higher education system across Europe.
'Europe has a common cultural and economic heritage, so it makes sense to look at Europe as a whole for the purpose of this study' Professor Brennan explained. 'Once we have established what is particular about higher education in Europe, we can look outward and see what implications this might have on a global scale.'
European Science Foundation
1, quai Lezay MarnÚsia
F-67080 Strasbourg Cedex
Tel: +33 (0)3 88 76 7114
Professor John Brennan
Centre for Higher Education Research and Information
The Open University
44 Bedford Row
tel: +4420 7447 2564
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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