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Higher Education Series

Fields of Activities

Currently, the CDESR work programme is organized around the following axes:

The programme of the Higher Education and Research Division aims to meet the concerns of at least two important target groups. On the one hand, the programme comprises activities that meet the concern of the overall political decision makers of the Council of Europe – foremost, the Committee of Ministers – and that contribute to the overall political goals of the organisation: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Thus it focuses on what might be labelled the social dimension of education like in higher education governance or the public responsibility for higher education and research.

The Council’s education programme must also be of interest and relevance to education policy makers, who in the case of the CDESR programme will include both Ministry officials and policy makers in the academic community. Such projects focus on the contents and structures of education, and recent examples include the Council’s longstanding work on the recognition of qualifications as well as several aspects of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), including quality assurance and the development of qualifications frameworks. The European Higher Education Area is far more than only an issue of structures in higher education. It gives the Council of Europe an opportunity to promote its traditional values including the focus on social cohesion, democracy and rule of the law in all of Europe.

Needless to say, the distinction between these two broad strands of projects is far from clear cut. The recognition of qualifications is very much about broadening opportunities for all learners. Lifelong learning has an obvious social dimension, as indicated by the focus of the recent CDESR project on Lifelong Learning for Equity and Social Cohesion, but improving the opportunities for individual learners to follow lifelong learning paths within the overall education system requires rethinking education systems and possibly contents. The current work on qualifications frameworks is clearly structural, but it has an important objective of social cohesion in devising structures that make it possible for more learners to obtain higher education qualifications, especially if we succeed in establishing real transferability throughout the whole education system, going beyond formal higher education, and in finding reasonable ways of recognizing prior education and learning.

The activities of the Higher Education and Research Division over the past years and which are still highly relevant include issues like

[Results and outcomes]

The CDESR also has an excellent record in cooperating with other institutions and organizations. On the international level this concerns foremost UNESCO, the European Commission, and the NGOs EUA, IAU and ESIB. On a regional level cooperation institutions and organizations like the Nordic Council of Ministers and, on the NGO side, the South East European Educational Cooperation Network and the Community of Mediterranean Universities has proven very beneficial. It is also noteworthy that cooperation is increasing with the OECD, with the OSCE (in particular in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and ENQA, and that contacts have been established with ALECSO.

The Council of Europe is playing an important role in specific priority areas. Over time, the areas have shifted somewhat, and efforts are now concentrated on two broad areas: South East Europe and a number of countries emanating from the former Soviet Union. This work is made possible by the experience of the intergovernmental work programme, but the point should also be made that in their turn, these targeted activities contribute to developing the intergovernmental work further. The relationship between the intergovernmental and the targeted activities is therefore interactive rather than one way. However, priorities for the targeted work are much more difficult to establish with any degree of certainty, as a part of the work consists of responding to urgent requests for assistance and advice. This work remains, however, an important part of the overall work programme.

For the future the programme of the CDESR must certainly also take account of the fact that our modern societies are changing in very profound ways, and this change takes place quite rapidly. One key aspect of this change is the need for flexibility and the need to develop transversal competencies as well as competence in specific subject areas. Another is the need to emphasize and transmit the core values of democratic and humanitarian societies. Not least, these developments – often summarized in the concept of knowledge societies – reinforce the role of and need for higher education and research, and it may be worth keeping in mind that higher education and research have at least four, interlinked main purposes:

The future development of our societies requires broad access to and investment in higher education, both to allow each individual to develop to the full extent of his or her possibilities and to allow society to make good use of the capacities and talents of all its members.