education and culture dg
ministerio de educaciónministerio de educación

The Social Dimension and Responsability of Universities

The Social Dimension and Responsibility of Universities


The social dimension and equity in higher education are crucial to legitimize the process towards the European Higher Education Area. There is an urgent need to promote the social dimension in the construction of the European Higher Education Area including widening access to underrepresented groups, providing flexible learning paths in a lifelong learning perspective and granting the return of knowledge to society through enhancing the social responsibility of universities.
The European Commission has underlined the need to open up higher education to more people, whatever their background or stage of the life-cycle ('Delivering on the Modernisation Agenda for Universities' 2006). The 2009 Bologna Ministerial   Communiqué stated that the EHEA "is an area where…all higher education institutions are responsive to the wider needs of society through the diversity of their missions." It also stated that "The student body within higher education should reflect the diversity of Europe's populations".
It is important to debate how can universities help to raise awareness and commitment in our society to develop a sustainable socio-economic model for the future. In addition, in order to provide society with graduates with the right skills required for the labour market, universities have to provide an ethical knowledge base, responsive to the social needs. 
Universities' commitment towards the community needs to be fostered, going beyond their contribution to innovation. Knowledge-sharing with society through interaction and permanent dialogue with civil society organisations, such as schools, museums, charity foundations, etc. has to be enhanced to address societal needs.


The objectives of the conference will be:

  • Widening access to higher education for underrepresented groups (including lifelong learners and developing flexible learning paths).
  • How to ensure equity, efficiency and quality in higher education.
  • Explore the ways universities may interact with societal demands and community engagement.
  • The models to enhance university – civil society organisations cooperation to drive the social responsibility of universities.

Target audience

The conference aims to promote a strengthened dialogue, mutual learning and exchange of ideas between policy makers and representatives of the university world, research institutions and civil society organisations.
A maximum of 150 participants is foreseen.


The Conference will last for 11/2 days comprising five different types of sessions:

  • Opening session by representatives of the Ministry of Education of Spain, Commissioners of Education and Civil Society Organisations;
  • Plenary sessions with distinguished speakers from Universities, Civil Society Organisations, their Associations and Ministries;
  • Parallel Workshops focusing on each of the aims of the Conference, i.e. widening access to higher education for underrepresented groups including the design of flexible learning paths for non-traditional student groups, how to ensure equity, efficiency and quality in higher education, ways universities interact with societal demands, community engagement, models to enhance university – civil society organisations to drive the social responsibility of universities. 

A moderator will introduce the subject. Two to three speakers representing universities, other stakeholders (Students, Enterprises, Scientific Parks, European Commission, etc.) and policy makers could briefly make short introductory speeches (10 minutes) followed by a reaction from the other panellists and a final Debate/Q & A session with the audience. A rapporteur should be appointed for each session summarising the main findings and conclusions of each workshop as an input for the Plenary Conclusion session.

  • Plenary conclusion session giving the feedback, conclusions and recommendations from the workshops
  • Closing session at political level involving the highest possible level from the Commission and the Ministry of Education.

Expected outcome:

To develop and further elaborate ways of dealing with concrete recommendations to properly design policy measures and incentives to foster the social dimension and responsibility of universities, i.e. a better understanding of the social dimension of universities revisiting university missions. Concrete outcomes could be:

  • Recommendations and good practice in widening access to higher education and developing new methods of learning to different students groups.
  • Recommendations, good practices and benchmarks for the further development of interactions between universities and civil society organisations.
  • Input for new Commission work, the follow-up of the Bologna process and possible Council decision/resolution on the topic encouraging Member States to further work together and co-ordinate their policies.
A deeper involvement of the engagement of all the stakeholders in the process.
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