Conference Details

The joint contributions of policy makers, experts and researchers are expected to make positive inroads for the policy agenda of EHEA and would constitute a valuable contribution beyond the 2024 Ministerial Conference in Tirana. Experts and policy makers are invited to explore the convergence and interaction of specific issues within research papers presented during the conference.
Upon selection by the Editorial Board based on the abstracts presented, the submitted papers will become part of a two-volume of proceedings, edited by an international publisher. All the papers should fit under one (or more) of thesix topics suggested by the organizers. Each of them is allocated to members of the Editorial Board as thematic coordinators and is briefly described in the following paragraphs.

The academic papers that will be presented during the conference will tackle one of the five topics of the event:

1. Internationalization of Higher Education – beyond 2020 EHEA targets

2. Access, inclusion, completion and employability – responding to the needs of students and society

3. Building an EHEA furthering the fundamental values of higher education

4. Digitalization and the Future of European Higher Education: Implications for Public Policies

5. Innovative teaching and learning towards a sustainable and effective student-centered learning

1. Internationalization of Higher Education – beyond 2020 EHEA targets

Challenges from the past years (COVID-19 and global conflicts) have had an impact on internationalization of higher education in shifting priorities at national and institutional level, but also accelerated the development and progress of initiatives such as European Universities Initiative, the discussion on flexible and inclusive learning opportunities through micro-credentials (Council of the European Union (EU) (2022) adopted a Recommendation on a European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability ), the development of virtual mobility, hybrid mobility and blended intensive programs, green mobility and inclusive internationalization through new Erasmus+ 2021-2027. “International cooperation and capacity building” and “quality of teaching and learning” are seen the main areas that benefit and are improved through internationalization (Marinoni 2019 ). Main goals of internationalization in EHEA according to EAIE Barometer 2019 are preparing students for global world, improving quality of education and research, increasing institutional reputation and financial benefits. It seems that financial consideration can be both a possible driver for internationalization or a barrier to internationalization .

The European Commission launched the European strategy for universities which aims to empower universities to become “actors of change in the twin green and digital transitions”, “strengthen the European dimension in higher education and research”, “reinforce universities as drivers of the EU’s global role and leadership”. The four “flagships to boost the European dimension in higher education and research” are reinforcing transnational cooperation between universities (EUI), encouraging legal statue for alliances of HEIs, developing a European Degree label and implementing European Student Card initiative.

European Universities Initiative has grown to 44 European Universities alliances with around 340 higher education institutions that play an enormous role in boosting internationalization, transnational cooperation efforts together with achieving deeper institutional cooperation, virtual campuses and blended mobility for all students and staff.

As well, European University alliances play a major role in finding and developing solutions for key societal challenges, in developing research and teaching initiatives, developing double and joint programs and fostering internationalization of curricula, bringing close interdisciplinary collaboration, innovative teaching methods and so on.

Given the rising importance of this topic in the EHEA and beyond, the interested researchers should submit their contributions on good practices, innovative approaches to or new theoretical insights on internationalization of higher education, either for the institutional level or for national level, in the context of the latest European developments.

2. Access, inclusion, completion and employability – responding to the needs of students and society

As student cohorts start to include a significant percentage of Gen Z representatives, the focus on access, inclusion and completion of higher education studies is shifting towards a new paradigm. It is crucial to comprehend their social context and beliefs to fulfil their needs and improve their educational experience. First-generation and low-income students are among those who encounter difficulties in higher education admission (Hossler, 2022) .

Both financial aid (Furquim et al. 2017) and a tailored educational experience are vital to increasing the completion rates of the most vulnerable students. Above all, maintaining or developing student population diversity is a good indicator of how successful is a national higher education system (Thomas et al. 2021) .

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on student mental health. Due to the closure of schools and universities, many students had to adapt to remote learning and isolation from their peers. This has led to feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as increased stress and anxiety. Additionally, the uncertainty and disruption caused by the pandemic has made it difficult for many students to maintain a sense of structure and routine. Thus, it is also important to address mental health and counseling services in the context of disrupted educational process in the last couple of years due to Covid-19 pandemic.

As the social dimension of higher education is evolving within EHEA, it is expected to understand the national contexts better. Therefore, in order to support the EHEA members in developing social dimension policies leading towards inclusive environment in higher education fostering equity, diversity, and responsiveness to the needs of local communities, a dedicated Working Group has been tasked with furthering previous work to develop indicators and benchmarks.

Not least, the green economy transition and the Covid-19 pandemic stressed the labor market significantly worldwide. Regional conflicts such as the Ukraine war with international outcomes proved, more than ever, the resilience of higher education graduates. Nevertheless, it is essential to have a deeper understanding of the challenges ahead, in order to provide a tailored education aimed to maximize graduates’ employability.

As such, contributions submitted should focus on better inclusion of all students, concrete monitoring of social dimension and evidence-based policies in this area, as well as addressing more recent challenges such as post-pandemic well-being and dedicated skills for employability in new societal contexts.

3. Building an EHEA furthering the fundamental values of higher education

The Rome Ministerial Communiqué (2020) listed institutional autonomy, academic freedom and integrity, participation of students and staff in higher education governance, and public responsibility for and of higher education as fundamental values within the European Higher Education Area.

With a dedicated working group tasked with developing a common understanding and with a comprehensive framework aimed at and assessing the degree to which fundamental values are honored, the future of EHEA is strongly connected with how members states understand and promote these fundamental values.

The Rome Ministerial Communique already adopted the definition of academic freedom seen “as freedom of academic staff and students to engage in research, teaching, learning and communication in and with society without interference nor fear of reprisal (Annex I)”. Similar statements for the other values on the list are currently being developed by a dedicated BFUG Working Group and are expected to be presented for adoption at the next EHEA Ministerial Meeting in 2024.

There are several initiatives globally that aim at defining and developing indicators to monitor and assess fundamental values. The “New building blocks of the Bologna Process: Fundamental Values” project aims to support he implementation of the Bologna Process commitments, in line with the Rome Communiqué and contribute to the BFUG Fundamental Values Working Group, by proposing a set of indicators on monitoring and assessment of fundamental values.

The challenges in the past years with the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the suspension of Russia and Belarus as members of the EHEA has brought important challenges on how member states and EHEA defend the fundamental values. A wider discussion is also taking place at EHEA level on how to adjust the existing rules and procedures to properly respond to present-day challenges. Bringing the full attention of member states on the importance of fundamental values will support the institutions in fulfilling one of their roles: educating students to become active and responsible citizens.

Taking into account these challenges and developments, interested researchers should submit their contributions on good practices in defining and monitoring fundamental values, challenges regarding existing practices in the context of the war in Ukrainian and the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Digitalization and the Future of European Higher Education: Implications for Public Policies

The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant impact on education, with many universities transitioning to remote learning. This shift led to an increased use of digital tools and platforms for teaching and learning, as well as a greater emphasis on online and blended learning models. Additionally, the pandemic highlighted existing disparities in access to technology and internet connectivity, which has led to efforts to address these issues in order to ensure that all students have equal access to digital education.

The European Commission has taken a number of steps to support digital education in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of these include:

  • launching the “Digital Education Action Plan,” which sets out a number of measures to promote digital education in the EU, including increasing investment in digital skills, developing a European digital education ecosystem, and promoting the use of open educational resources;
  • supporting the development of online platforms and tools for remote learning, such as the European Schoolnet Academy and the European Schoolnet Learning Resource Exchange;
  • promoting the use of digital technologies in education through various initiatives such as the Digital Single Market and the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program;
  • encouraging collaboration and sharing of best practices among EU member states in the field of digital education through various platforms and instruments, not least of which is the European Digital Education Hub

The Rome Ministerial Communiqué has also highlighted that “intensified use of digital means has brought to light certain limits”. Ministers also committed to reinforcing social inclusion and enhancing quality education, using fully the new opportunities provided by digitalization. “While our societies increasingly rely on innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence, we must ensure that these observe ethical standards and human rights and foster inclusion. We recognize that digitalisation does not offer ‘one size fits all’ solutions, and ask the BFUG to propose ways in which all learners can benefit from the new technologies. ”

Interested researchers should submit their contributions discussing how digitalization is shaping the future of higher education in Europe., addressing aspects such as the role of microcredentials in this transformation and how public policies can adapt to support these changes, considering the principles of the European Degree Label.

5. Innovative teaching and learning towards a sustainable and effective student-centered learning

The Rome Ministerial Communiqué set up several recommendations for enhancing higher education learning and teaching in the EHEA. Public authorities in charge of higher education are committed to “make student-centered learning a reality”, also by “supporting higher education institutions in their efforts to start or maintain a structured dialogue on innovation and enhancement of learning and teaching, involving students, teachers and also relevant external stakeholders “.

The future Ministerial Conference will adopt “a view to achieving joint progress in the EHEA “. A crucial step forward will be to measure the progress of teaching and learning through qualitative indicators across EHEA. As decisive steps are to be taken to better assess and support staff development, EHEA member states are expected to foster innovative pedagogies.

Interested researchers should submit their contributions on changing teaching methods, active and self-directed learning, the use of technology in enhancing student-centered learning, new assessment and evaluation methods or the use of micro-credentials in furthering teaching and learning.