HERE team Annual Conference (12-13.12.2019, Prague, Czech Republic)


Title of event: HERE Annual Conference for national higher education reform experts ‘From social Inclusion to skills: Pressing themes in higher education policy making’, conducted with the support of the EU

Dates: December 12-13, 2019

Venue: Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic

Programme and materials: 

Participants: representatives of higher education institutions (HEIs), Ministries of Education, National teams of higher education reform experts (HERE) of the countries neighboring with the EU, National Erasmus+ Offices, EU experts and partner countries experts, representatives of the Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Total number of participants to the event: 30 persons.
Ukraine was represented by:
Kozievska Olena, Deputy Head of the Committee Secretariat, Parliament’s Committee on Education, Science and Innovations (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine);
Volodymyr Bakhrushyn, Professor of the Department of System Analysis and Computational Mathematics, Zaporizhzhia Polytechnic National University, Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Professor;
Vadym Zakharchenko, Vice-rector for scientific and pedagogical work, National University “Odessa Maritime Academy”, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor;
Zhanna Talanova, Analytical Manager of National Erasmus+ Office – Ukraine, Doctor of Educational Sciences, Associate Professor.


The purpose of the conference was to familiarize the representatives of national HERE teams with the actual concept of social inclusion in higher education; identifying links between social inclusion, internationalization and mobility; with experience of different countries of the European Higher Education Area in reforming higher education at institutional and national levels, understanding of the role of higher education in changing the landscape of the labor market in the current context.
The conference was a platform for exchanging experience in reforming national higher education systems, implementing credit mobility programs, and provided valuable guidance and advice on how to address specific issues of building higher education capacity. Participants also had the opportunity to demonstrate and evaluate the potential and performance of national HERE teams, the role of students in facilitating reforms.
The conference was the final stage to assess the contribution of national HERE teams in the development and support of national higher education reforms, the relevance and usefulness of specific measures to strengthen the institutional capacity of national teams, and to identify the goals and strategy of the SPHERE Team for 2020.

The conference was opened and its goals and key objectives were outlined by:

Radka Wildová – Vice-Rector, Charles University Prague
Kamila Partyka – Directorate General for Education and Culture, European Commission
Nicolas Patrici – SPHERE Team

The keynote speakers of the conference were:

• Anne Spangemcher, Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisual and Culture, European Commission (EACEA), Acquaintance with the results of SPHERE Team activities during 2019, carried out with the aim of providing information, expert support on various issues of higher education development to HERE teams
• Helga Posset, Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science, and Research, report “Social inclusion strategies in higher education within the European Higher Education Area
• Howard Davies, EUA/SPHERE Team, report «SPHERE study: outward mobility of disadvantaged students from Partner Countries in Erasmus+ ICM»
• Lewis Purser, Irish University Association, Ireland, report «Higher education provision, skills, and labor market»

Conference participants were briefed on the results of a survey conducted by SPHERE, which demonstrated the existence of a national social inclusion strategy in most countries. Mostly European and Eastern Partnership countries understand social inclusion quite broadly, including persons with disabilities, rural residents, minorities, refugees, orphans, people from low income families, etc. Each country, depending on its internal political and economic context, determines the list of persons in need of assistance. Each country also identifies the means to support these individuals in order to secure access to higher education. In particular, scholarships, free tuition, special admission requirements for universities, financial support (e.g. – financial support for persons teaching Albanian minorities in Montenegro), etc.
Survey participants also noted the increasing attention of governments to the issue of inclusive mobility, and pointed to those categories of people who have the most problems with their realization – people with low income, persons with physical disabilities, refugees, persons with disabilities, persons with poor knowledge of English. The major obstacles to inclusive mobility were the inability to self-identify as persons belonging to the category of persons eligible for inclusive mobility, as well as the lack of sufficient resources at the university to provide support centres for such persons capable to help students to self-identify and engage in mobility programmes. Barriers to the implementation of credit inclusive mobility were discussed, which were, first of all, financial and logistical problems (late payment by the university, long visa process, etc.).

During the first day of the conference, a series of thematic round tables were held to discuss regional higher education issues within the framework of the European-Eastern Partnership. At each of these roundtables, representatives of the European Commission gave presentations on further initiatives for the development of higher education to address social inclusion issues in higher education. Also the representatives of the national HERE teams presented their own experience of reforms and the results of international cooperation in higher education:
• Group 1: Teaching in diverse classrooms
• Group 2: Outreach policies and support for underrepresented groups
• Group 3: Inclusion in internationalization
• Group 4: RPL as a vehicle for including diverse student profiles
During the discussions and speeches, it was stated that the goals and priorities of the European Higher Education Area are to achieve equality, inclusion, accessibility and diversity, which are essentially components of the social dimension. Therefore, for the development of the social dimension, each university needs to solve a number of tasks related to the incorporating the inclusion into its strategy, involvement and developing appropriate human resources, evaluation system for the implementation of relevant projects, including mobility, availability of information systems for such projects, debugging mechanisms for cooperation with other universities. It was also informed about the Erasmus+ priorities after 2020 for the implementation of credit mobility for people in need of social inclusion. In particular, clear definition of the selection criteria for such persons; increase in financing of organizational expenses; flexibility in organizing visa support; study and disseminate good practices to cover the costs of the program prior to training; possibility to organize shorter credit mobility programs; empowering PhDs.

The second day of the conference was devoted to the issues of interconnection between higher education and the labor market, developing students’ entrepreneurship skills, creativity and innovative thinking, and was divided into the following thematic break-out groups:
• Group 1: Student tracking and employability: data, analysis and follow-up
• Group 2: Life-long learning and continued professional development
• Group 3: Digital provision & new credentials (micro credits)
• Group 4: Sector skills cooperation and ‘green professions’
After discussion, the results of further development of the higher education system in the following directions were presented:
• Increasing graduates’ mastery in the skills necessary for today’s economy. Under this priority, emphasis is placed on a better understanding of the patterns of change in the labor market, modernization and improvement of teaching methods, educational programs that, collectively, will provide opportunities for students to acquire the competencies necessary to be competitive and efficient in the labor market. In the face of new threats to society (terrorism, war, migration problems, etc.), so-called “soft skills” are especially important – the ability to communicate, the flexibility of thinking. Creating inclusive higher education systems. The focus here should be on increasing fair access to higher education and the opportunity for lifelong learning, promoting the civic and social responsibility of students and universities.
• Universities as centres of innovation and economic growth. The focus here is on the activities of universities, which should be the focus of innovation and promote the development of the region, the university’s relationship with enterprises, business and the public sector, which will help to ensure that European Investment Funds are used effectively to promote higher education and enhance its role in innovation.
• Supporting effective universities: identifying and sharing models and practices of effective use of available human and financial resources by universities.

Conclusions and recommendations for Ukraine:

1. It is advisable to initiate the elaboration of a strategic document on the internationalization of higher education in Ukraine, which would include issues of social dimension, inclusive mobility with clear goals, qualitative and quantitative indicators of their achievement.
2. It is advisable to introduce the compulsory development by every university its internationalization strategy, which should take into account its particularities as a higher education institution, as well as the priorities for academic mobility, including inclusive mobility.
3. The mechanism for collecting data on persons belonging to categories that are underrepresented at higher education, their needs, and tools to support them in higher education should be improved to ensure the quality of their education.
4. Monitoring and reporting mechanisms for the implementation the international activities (international education and research projects) of universities should be improved to provide analytical information, including on inclusive mobility.
5. Universities should be more involved in the implementation of all components of a lifelong learning policy and must consider research, innovation and lifelong learning in a more integrated context. Participation in the implementation of the various components of a lifelong learning policy should be one of indicators of university activities and their role in the sustainable development of society.
6. A nationwide graduate employment tracking system should be established based on the recommendations of the EU Council and using the experience of the EHEA countries (EU Council Recommendations: % 3A32017H1209% 2801% 29 
(The Commission’s proposals to these Recommendations: 

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