A look at changes to the student population in selected Bologna Countries

Dominic Orr and Galiya Yelubeyeva, @FiBS_Research

Today the Bologna Process Implementation Report has been released. It provides overview quantitative and qualitative data on all 48 signatory states of the Bologna Process, one of the most significant higher education reform programmes we have ever seen. The ministers responsible for higher education are convening in Paris and on Friday 25 May they will release the Paris Communique, which lays out the work programme for all signatory states until the next ministerial meeting in spring 2020.

One of the most important commitments, which is currently included in the draft Paris communique, is to make higher education more inclusive of our populations:

“In order to meet our commitment that the student body entering and graduating from European higher education institutions should reflect the diversity of Europe’s populations, we will improve access and completion by under-represented and vulnerable groups.” – Paris Communique 2018 (draft)

The Bologna Report contains a lot of data for a lot of countries, but this short blog will focus on one simple question and one group of countries:

  • Question: are we seeing changes to the age structure of higher education?
  • Region: so-called non-ESS countries, i.e. those countries which are part of the Bologna Process, but not part of the EU and not usually part of the standard Eurostat statistical system.

The question of age structure is particularly relevant and worth pursuing for three reasons:

  • Many countries are seeing a demographic decline with a shrinking younger population, meaning that their higher education system has to look beyond recruiting younger populations in order to maintain their size (Orr, 2010; Orr & Hovdhaugen, 2014).
  • Having a highly qualified labour force is probably the only sure guarantee of a labour force which can adapt to the future challenges brought on by digitalisation in our economies – and higher education plays a significant role here (cf. Arntz, Gregory, & Zierahn, 2016).
  • Older students tend to study differently (e.g. are more likely to study part-time and to have other commitments alongside their studies) (Hauschildt, Vögtle, & Gwosć, 2018).

The region is interesting for two reasons:

  • Although these are members of the European Higher Education Area and signatories of the Bologna Process, we tend to know less about their developments and dynamics.
  • As these countries are outside the normal European statistical framework, special efforts must be made to collate their data. See the special note on how we did this below.

Participation dynamics at a glance for non-ESS countries

This table presents three statistics for each country and the median for the whole European Higher Education Area (EHEA): (1) the percentage change in the total number of students, (2) percentage change in the enrolment of the age group 18-34 as a percentage of the same aged national population and (3) percentage change in enrolment of students who are 30 years or older. The table therefore shows – the general dynamic, the dynamic applied to the typical student population (using the standard EU indicator) and the dynamic applied to an age group, which has been typically underrepresented in the student population. Changes to the relative size of this latter age group is an indicator for how inclusive higher education might be becoming, especially since this age group probably has a quite different educational biography and career pathway.




  • The EHEA average (median) of all 48 Bologna-countries with data available shows a small growth in the number of students studying (less than 1%) between 2009 and 2014, but a larger relative growth when only the younger age group is viewed and compared to the share of people of the same age in national populations (over 5%). This is a first sight of the demographic decline being experienced by most countries on the European continent.
  • This trend is reflected clearly in the data above for Armenia, Moldova and the Ukraine, where there is an overall decline in both number of students and participation rate, but the decline by participation rate for 18-34 year olds is less dramatic.

An interesting question is whether there are any countries in the table above, which appear to be increasing the number of older students in order to compensate for declines in the number of younger students. This could be justified on the grounds of both being more inclusive of the total national population (“social dimension”), but also providing chances for older people to re-enter the labour force with higher qualifications (“up-skilling”).

  • The overall trend for EHEA countries is, however, a decline in participation of this age group.
  • In the non-ESS countries above four countries, however, do appear to be bucking the trend: Azerbaijan, Moldova, Russia and the Ukraine. This is a positive trend in these countries, especially if they are able to couple such “up-skilling” of the old part of their population with better chances on the labour market. It should be noted, though, that these countries all start from a very low participation rate for older learners, which is well under the EHEA average of 15.7% (1.4%, 7.7%, 11% and 6.3%, resp.), so this may be a first expansion in an effort to catch up with the other European countries.

The only conclusion that can be drawn here is that all countries, including the region observed here, should be making more efforts to include older parts of their populations in higher education. This is part of the agenda going forward to the next Ministerial conference of 2020.

Data from non-ESS countries is what makes the Bologna Process Implementation Report special

This report attempts to cover all 48 signatory members of the Bologna Process, twenty of which are not members of the European Union and 15 of which are not part of the European Statistical System (ESS). That is to say that European reports would not normally have standard statistical data for the following 15 states: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Former-Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lichtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine. So, in the context of putting together this report special efforts were made in the implementation and collation phase of the Bologna report to include data from these countries.

Much of the data used in the Bologna Report is part of the standard data set collected globally through the joint data collection by UNESCO, OECD and the EU. However, there are differences. Broadly, those countries not within the EU nor members of the OECD have slightly simplified (although comparable) surveys to fill in.

For this reason, a team of researchers from IHS Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna (Martin Unger, Angelika Grabher, David Binder) and FiBS Research in Berlin (Galiya Yelubayeva and me) contacted all 15 countries to survey whether the data required for the Bologna Report was available within the national statistics system and to support the national statisticians in understanding the requirements of the report. The support consisted of email contact, telephone calls and Skype meetings. They were carried out largely in August 2017 and resulted in contact with over 40 national contacts. In some countries, these contacts were necessary in order to identify the correct addressee for the data request, in others, the data request was handled jointly by different agencies. The result of the support is that at least some data is provided by all 15 countries and in most cases the support resulted in an improved data provision in comparison to the first reactions to the formal request for data. That is how the data from many of these countries was able to be included in this report.

References used

Arntz, M., Gregory, T., & Zierahn, U. (2016). The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries – A comparative analysis. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers (Vol. 2). https://doi.org/10.1787/5jlz9h56dvq7-en

Hauschildt, K., Vögtle, E. M., & Gwosć, C. (2018). Social and Economic Conditions of Student Life in Europe. W. Bertelsmann. https://doi.org/10.3278/6001920cw

Orr, D. (2010). Integrating an aging student population into higher education – challenges for evidence-based policy in Europe. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 40(3), 25–42. Retrieved from http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/cjhe/article/view/2013

Orr, D., & Hovdhaugen, E. (2014). ‘Second chance’ routes into higher education: Sweden, Norway and Germany compared. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 33(1), 45–61. https://doi.org/10.1080/02601370.2013.873212


[Credits for featured image: Martin Pettitt on Flickr CC BY, Birmingham, The Big Hoot Owls, Wise Old Owl]



Digitalisation of teaching and learning – time to review strategies

A collaboration between FiBS-Research, Germany, and Institute of Educational Technology from the Open University, United Kingdom, has investigated how digitalisation is being applied to teaching and learning in higher education in nearly 70 cases from across the globe.  The study, which was commissioned by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), found evidence of strategic application, but most higher education institutions appear to be in the phase of experimentation. With this in mind, the study concludes with a report and database of cases, but also a step-by-step guide to review and develop a digital strategy. The study, the database of cases and guidelines for strategy have been published today by ICDE – see http://bit.ly/oofat_database.

The study’s research question was: What do sustainable models of open, online, flexible and technology-enhanced (OOFAT) approaches to higher education look like?

The study took an approach, which aimed to: get away from the ‘disruption’ and ‘revolution’ rhetoric in education technology and look at what higher education institutions are actually doing, be globally inclusive and encourage peer learning between institutions. Unlike other studies, the focus was on the changes made possible by digitization and less on the technologies themselves. The study thus assumes that it is not technology but strategy that determines the extent of digital transformation.

The research baseline is a model, which encapsulates three core processes of higher education provision: development of content, delivery of learning opportunities and recognition of learning. Regarding each of these processes, the team surveyed how digitalisation was being applied with a focus on two dimensions: how organisationally flexible are three processes and how socially open are they? In the case of flexibility, this is largely a question of how digital technology is harnessed to reduce the need for physical presence, while in the case of openness, this is largely a question of who has access to and is involved in the processes. This model was transformed into an international survey through which the data from the case studies was collated and analysed.

On the basis of this scheme and analysis of the responses, six typologies were developed to which the cases could be aligned. Each one integrates the OOFAT model in a different manner into the practices and processes of a higher education provider. The most common of which was, however, OOFAT for multiple-projects, where very different initiatives are undertaken by the provider, experimenting with different aspects of the OOFAT model and not as part of a unified strategy. However, ten cases really are attempting to harness flexibility and openness in all of their core processes of higher education provision.

We propose that peer learning on the basis of the existing cases and OOFAT models could support new efforts to integrate digitalisation into all higher education processes.

Since the study was also interested in how institutions are developing strategic focus, it also looked at the cases’ business strategies. A business strategy is the way an organisation (public or private) moves from setting goals to achieving objectives. This is highly relevant context information for a study on how higher education providers are changing in their efforts to harness digitalisation effectively and efficiently. Using Miles’ and Snow’s conceptualisation, the global survey sought to find out whether providers were aiming to become more efficient or more transformative through the adoption of their OOFAT model. Based on describing seven dimensions of their business models, the study uncovered five business strategies from the cases. The most common of these strategies was to innovate on the periphery through harnessing social media and developing new communication channels, although some cases are adopting highly innovation-focussed strategies to harnessing digitalisation in their higher education provision.

Key messages

  • For higher education institutions: they can learn from one another in their efforts to develop more focussed digitalisation strategies. To this aim, the study provides a guide to developing such strategies and a comparative database of the cases studied.
  • For policymakers: higher education is at a key juncture in considerations of how to fully benefit from the new opportunities for learning offered by digitalisation. Policymakers should review governance frameworks, regulations and incentives to assure that these support and don’t inhibit this change.

For more information see also: http://bit.ly/OOFATStudie




Towards a digital transformation of higher education – which focusses on goals

Bologna Digital

In the last few weeks, we have been promoting our position paper “Bologna Digital” through blogs on various platforms and at conferences in Berlin, Paris and Saragossa – and there is more to come. The reason we have been doing this is our impression that digitalisation in higher education is seen as a challenge or a disruptive technology – or both, but too seldom as part of a clear and comprehensive strategy at state or institutional level. In our position paper, we align what the capabilities of digitalisation with the key action lines from the European Bologna Process and provide key recommendations.

To find out more about our paper, see the following blogs:

https://kiron.ngo/2018/03/27/bologna-digital/ (eng)

https://hochschulforumdigitalisierung.de/de/blog/bologna-digital-positionspapier-europaeischer-hochschulraum (deu)

OOFAT Models from a global perspective

A new study commissioned by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (one of the endorsers of the position paper) will be presented by Martin Weller, Rob Farrow and myself on Wednesday at a webinar. This study, which was led by FiBS Research in Berlin in collaboration with the Open University, UK, provides an appropriate backdrop to the position paper. Whilst the position paper starts from the policy-perspective, the OOFAT study starts out from the institutional perspective. Its approach is presented in the following nice infographic, which (full disclosure) was designed by my sister Lindsey Orr.


Our study will be presented on Wednesday at 15h Oslo time during a webinar at the Open Education Global Conference in Delft. One thing we find, is a predominance of activity, but lack of comprehensive strategies, which highlight the potentials of digitalisation for flexible and open provision.

Follow link for more information: http://bit.ly/ICDE_OOFAT

Looking AHEAD

I hope that all of these initiatives will help us to think about the future of higher education in a way that focuses less on disruption as a metaphor and more on transforming for change. This is a goal for the outcome of a third project, also led by FiBS Research in Berlin, that I would like to mention. It is the AHEAD project, which is charged with looking to the future of higher education in Germany in 2030. There is lots to discuss!

See our blog here: https://ahead.tugraz.at/2018/02/15/key-challenges-for-the-ahead-study/


Incomplete recognition of people’s talents

Here’s a short piece on another European data set. This time it is data from the European Skills and Jobs Survey (ESJS). This week I’ve been at Open Belgium presenting our European project entitled MIRVA (Making Informal Recognition Visible and Actionable). The project is looking into new ways to recognise the skills, competencies and abilities people have. It starts out from several assumptions:

  • formal education presents bottlenecks, especially for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and those without straight pathways of transition through schooling and beyond
  • over people’s lives they acquire skills, competencies and abilities, which are only partly fully recognised in their social environment, especially in the workplace
  • looking into new ways to make this acquisition visible and useful (‘actionable’) is important for the empowerment of all members of society, but also for the smooth and efficient running of the economy.

Here are two interesting charts I made using data taken from the ESJS, which look at people’s response to the question: “Overall, how would you best describe your skills in relation to what is required to do your job?” The data set facilitates a comparison between this response and the self-assessed skill level in a number of specific key skills (there are some differences, but nothing really striking). Here we look simply at how people respond based on their formal education level and their type of occupation. The striking finding is how many people in the labour market feel that they have a higher level of skills and competences than is currently required of the job they pursue. It tends to be over one third, irrespective of educational level or occupation.



There are several conclusions that can be drawn from this evidence:

  • There is a need to review how people’s jobs are organised and to increase the share of autonomy and innovation they can bring to their job.
  • There is a need to look into better methods to make people’s real skill profiles (often we talk of ‘tacit knowledge’) more visible, so that both individuals and society can fully harness their skills and competencies.
  • There is a need to activate people’s recognition of the need to learn and support their learning pathways, especially in the dynamic ‘digital economy’ we are currently entering.

On this second point, there are a number of open badge, open pathway and open recognition initiatives being undertaken in Europe and elsewhere to try and facilitate a better matching and use of people’s real skill sets. For instance, the BE Badges initiative from Belgium, which is also represented by a member of MIRVA project. One interesting project from Singapore called Indorse is even trying to connect Blockchain technology with endorsement methods. Its a little too “awesome” in its presentation, but it will be interesting to see how this and other efforts develop in the near future. On the third point, we also need to look into ways to connect skills profiles with suggestions for new learning pathways. This might be a particularly good use for AI with personalised recommendations.

Position paper: Bologna Digital

Today we are doing a ‘soft-launch’ of our position paper on digitalisation in higher education on various websites. This paper argues for a cool-headed, but expansive discussion on digitalisation within the context of the Bologna Process. We put forward the claim that digitalisation is not an additional challenge, but a powerful means to meet existing challenges for higher education.

In this, we recognise the work of countless universities and colleges within the European Higher Education Area, but also policymakers who are already working from this perspective. It is our aim that the Paris Communiqué, which Bologna Ministers from 48 states will sign in May 2018, and the work programme which comes after it, should pay even more attention to the benefits and the challenges related to the increasing digitalisation of our lives.

We are convinced that this perspective on digitalisation has two main benefits in contrast to approaches starting out from the question of what new technology offers us (‘technology-first’). Firstly, the new processes and procedures can be more easily integrated into mainstream discussions on challenges such as how to assure inclusive higher education and how to ensure high quality learning environments. Secondly, this perspective is less likely to ignore any new barriers, for instance, obstacles to accessing higher quality learning for all through digital networks, discussed in many reports as the risk of creating a new ‘digital divide’.

The paper was a collective piece of work initiated in December 2017 by the coordinating authors Florian Rampelt, Ronny Röwert, Peter van der Hijden, Renata Suter and myself. It was an iterative process and this version we now release into the wild is our eighth internal version. It has already been endorsed and supported by five organisations and we are hoping to get more endorsements in the coming weeks.

Please view the paper here.

We hope to kick-start debates, new practical initiatives and new research with this paper. You are welcome to contact us directly on any of these points or join the debates on twitter at #BolognaDigital and we have started a padlet here to collect more examples of practice from across the globe.

[picture credits: europeana.eu, id: lnb-zl-12542, 1980, National Library of Latvia: Elektroniskās skaitļošanas tehnika Rīgas Politehniskajā institūtā | Salcēvičs, Romvalds, 1949-]




Regional higher education provision as aspect for the social dimension

This is a short blog on the topic of regional higher education provision. It stems from playing with a rather complex indicator from Eurostat entitled “Ratio of the proportion of tertiary students over the propotion of the population by NUTS1 and NUTS2 regions” (ref: educ_uoe_enrt05). Initially, I found it hard to understand and found no publications using it (but there must be some!). But it leads to some interesting insights.

It compares the share of student enrolment in a region with the share of a population in a region of a country. When the share is greater than 1 that means that there are more enrolled students than would be expected based on the share of population living in the region; vice versa, lower than 1 means there are less.

This is relevant for discussions of the social dimension of higher education because:

  • If the share is greater than one, this likely means that it is a hub of creativity and innovation, but also that the large student population might suffer from insufficient or inappropriate local infrastructure. For instance, affordability of student housing is likely to be an issue for those attending from outside the region. (See some EUROSTUDENT data on this issue here.)
  • If the share is lower than one, this is likely to be a problem for accessibility to higher education, since prospective students will have to move away from home. This is particularly an issue for non-traditional students, who are often more tightly bound to their family / social context (e.g. with jobs alongside studying, families or childcare duties).

In both cases, there is cause to rethink the issues of modes of delivery of higher education provision and flexibility. Both of these issues are tied to questions of new digitalisation issues, but also quality assurance of provision (i.e. the response can’t be interaction-poor online course delivery).

So, which regions of Europe are we talking about? The first chart shows the values for selected regions. I have chosen those with a share of student population equal to or more than 0.5 times higher than expected based on the general population and those with a share equal to or more than 0.5 times lower.

The first table highlights the ‘student cities’ Bratislava, Prague, Bucharest and Vienna and – at the bottom of the table – some of the regions, where student enrollment appears very low. This is a screenshot from Tableau. Full active chart and data here.

See full chart and data on Tableau here

The second chart relates the distribution of the student population in a country to the population density in the regions to see if this is simply an urban vs. rural issue. The analysis highlights regions such as  in Spain, Norway, Sweden, Belgium and Slovenia in the top lefthand corner of the chart, which seem to be interesting regional hubs for student learning despite low population density. It would be interesting to further investigate their efforts to attract students to their regions and whether they are particularly successful in attracting non-traditional students. (But that is for another day.)

See full chart and data on Tableau here

Photo used above from: Leif Knutsen, 1992, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1131447

Bologna Digital – Part 4 of 4: New forms of international exchange and simplifying mobility for all

The internationalisation and mobility of students and staff within the EHEA is seen as a key route to a person’s formation as a global citizen and to improving social cohesion between populations of different nations. The Erasmus programme and various national initiatives have been highly effective in supporting physical movement of students and staff within the European region [see here]. Indeed, there is a Bologna benchmark for more than 20% of graduates of tertiary education within the EHEA region to have experienced foreign studies by 2020. However, this is only one element of internationalisation, especially when one considers that only a fraction of each nation’s students and staff take part in such programmes – and especially non-traditional students are least likely to be internationally mobile during their studies [see research here and here and this short youtube video from Eurostudent on the topic].

Additional initiatives must be implemented to support ‘internationalisation at home’ for all students and staff in higher education. Digital technologies can play a role here in promoting virtual connections between citizens and open curricula can assure that teaching and learning materials are cosmopolitan and include perspectives on society and environmental developments and scientific achievements from across the planet.

Our paper already mentions two significant intiatives:

  • EMREX aims to streamline electronic transfer of student records between higher education institutions in Europe, which would signficantly improve transparency and recognition of students‘ achievements abroad. This project is coordinated in Finland: http://emrex.eu/
  • A cooperation between 8 leading universities in different countries across the globe aims to provide cooperative distance learning programmes – therefore enabling a new type of ‘internationalisation at home’. One of these universities is Delft from the Netherlands http://studenten.tudelft.nl/nl/informatie/onderwijs/credits-for-moocs/

Can you provide us with examples of how digitalisation is being used in different settings to facilitate new forms of credentialization and qualification?

To see the full document – and to add your examples of practice from across the European Higher Education Area and beyond – please visit the google-doc here.


Background: Proposed call to action

“The digital revolution is radically changing teaching and learning processes and associated services in higher education. We call on the BFUG to propose measures and guidelines on how to implement ‘Bologna Digital’ for our learners and how to encourage peer learning between policy-makers and between higher education institutions to improve teaching and learning and further support widening participation for all parts of society.”

Coordinated by Dominic Orr @DominicOrr, Florian Rampelt @FloRa_Education, Ronny Röwert @RonnyRoewert

Purpose of this blog

The premise of this series of 4 short blogs is that the Bologna Process, which is in fact a high-level international working group on reforming higher education in 48 countries from the European continent, is neglecting discussions on how digitalisation can contribute to higher education.

This is a third note of 4. Each one looks at one of the centre action lines of the Bologna Process and sketches where digitalisation is likely to be making an impact. Each one has the following request to the community:

We call on members of higher education institutions, project leaders, policy-makers and activists to name examples of innovative use of digitalisation in order to reach some of the core Bologna objectives.

To see the full document – and to add your examples of practice from across the European Higher Education Area and beyond – please visit the google-doc here.