Social Engineering or Social Inclusion?

social engineering or social inclusion conference

Dear Colleague, Re: The 14th EAN Annual Conference, University of Vienna, Austria, 6th – 8th July 2005

As the host of the 14th annual conference of the European Access Network, I have the pleasure to invite you to participate in the event.

The conference title is “Social Engineering or Social Inclusion?” and the debate and discussion will focus on the impact of fees and admissions policies on under-represented groups in higher education.

I enclose the conference flyer and hope that you or a representative of your institution will be able to attend. Participants at EAN conferences are academics, practitioners, researchers and policy makers. They come mainly from Europe, Australia, Canada, South Africa and the USA.

This international mix is reflected in the line-up of speakers. My contribution to the conference will be in the First Plenary session with an overview of the Austrian perspective on fees and admissions while Professor Tom Schuller, CERI, OECD, will take a more global look at the future of universities. In the Second Plenary Professor Hans Pechar, University of Klagenfurt, will concentrate on the fees issue. Professor Steven Schwartz, Vice-Chancellor, Brunel University, who recently completed a comprehensive review on admissions for the UK government will focus on admissions on the last day of the conference. The conference will be in English but there will be a workshop conducted in German. The session will address concerns relating to European university admissions under the Bologna process in general, and in particular, the future of RPL (recognition of prior learning) and the consequences of tuition fees on university admissions for under-represented groups in Europe. The session will explore existing concepts and build on experiences gained so far. The full conference programme and names of all the speakers can be found on the following website:

I hope you will be able to participate and look forward to seeing you in Vienna in July. Arthur Mettinger Vice Rector, University of Vienna President UNICA

********The above was found here: **** 

The 14th EAN Annual Conference took place at the University of Vienna, Austria over three days from the 6th – 8th July 2005. This conference which was the 14th in a series has taken place every year since 1991. This year’s theme on the impact of higher education fees and admissions policies on the widening participation of disadvantaged and under-represented groups (social engineering or social inclusion? ) was expected – and indeed proved to be, a very hot subject for discussion. The strong negative feelings expressed by some academics and access practitioners that this was likely to lead to the detriment of social inclusion was in marked contrast to the somewhat optimistic picture painted by administrative heads and university rectors present who were beginning to rub their hands at the rosy prospect of obtaining a major new source of revenue through increased fees.

The conference began with an overview of various fees and admissions policies as practiced in different countries and how they impact on access, equity and widening participation issues. Tom Schuller of the OECD presented an international perspective and three very different national views were presented by speakers from Germany, Austria and Australia.

The second day began with three talks covering the thorny question “Fees – to charge or not to charge?” Tom Mortenson of the Pell Institute, USA gave a clear sighted and from-the-heart view on what he believes is the growing gap between policy and reality in higher education opportunity, at least from the USA standpoint. Claire Callender of South Bank University, UK describing the latest English student funding reforms in terms of whether they are likely to prove to be a fair student funding policy or a threat to widening participation firmly came down on the latter and backed up this view with recent social research findings. As to whether fees deter young people from participation in tertiary education, the very special case of Austria was highlighted by Hans Pechar, University of Klagenfurt. Here, a small country, having as a neighbour a much larger country speaking the same language as itself, finds it necessary to alter its admittedly very open and free admissions/fees policy to avoid – as it believes – being inundated with foreign students. The problem arises however, that the chosen policies appears to be incompatible with European Community law, as far as the free movement of people is concerned, and as such will need to be replaced with new policies.

Three further and very different invited talks covering merit, fairness and transparency in the admissions process were presented, from Spain (Maria San Segundo, Minister for Education and Science) who described the Spanish model to admissions – fairness being ensured through the use of computerised selection; England (Steven Schwartz, Vice-chancellor, Brunel University and author of the admissions to higher education review) who characterised his talk in terms of "fair fees, fair admissions and fair play"; and Greece (Ekaterini Douka-Kabitoglou, Vice-Rector, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) who covered the issues of access and equity in terms of responsibilising citizens or developing responsive professionals.

For the second year running there were two special working groups which provided opportunities for more in-depth discussions, focusing on national funding policies and national admissions systems. Each working group aimed to provide a wider pan- European as well as international perspective, so that delegates could share, compare and better understand the various systems in Europe and beyond.

was encouraged through feedback from students; on the issues of fees and admissions, BEST (The Board of European Students of Technology) disseminated the outcomes of their symposium held in May 2005; and students from challenging backgrounds (formerly Bosnia Herzegovina but now in Australia), were there to share their experiences.

A highlight of the meeting was an animated conference debate on the motion “The introduction of fees and adequate bursaries will enhance higher education without excluding students from lowincome groups”. Speaking for the motion was Geoffrey Copland, Vice-Chancellor, University of Westminster, UK and speaking against the motion was Rosa Nentwich-Bouchal, Officer for Education Policies, National union of students, Austria. The final voting tally, for and against, was very close with the “against” just ahead. This probably reflected more the geographically mixed nature of the audience itself, some having experience with fees, others not. ********** of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, USA wound up the final plenary session with a clear and comprehensive powerpoint summary of the results of the preceding three days (where he found the time to prepare this while rushing between sessions, I do not know!). This, together with all the other invited talks, will be uploaded shortly on the EAN website.

However, I take the liberty of reproducing below his conclusions which I believe sum up fairly and squarely the results of our three days of intense reflection;

  •  “Inclusion is essential to achieve the public and private benefits of higher education
  • Fee and admission policies alone have not substantially widened participation for under-represented groups
  • Fees appear to be an inevitability; key is to keep fees low and ensure adequate bursaries 
  • More creative approaches needed in student aid (the HECS hex)
  • Admission policies need to become better articulated to achieve stated goals
  • Dialogue about how these policies, in concert with other strategies, must take place on a pan-European level 
  • What do we expect the social impact of HE will be at the national and European level?” 

On the last evening a scrumptious Conference Dinner was held at the very grand Hotel Astoria in the centre of Vienna. We had the added honour and pleasure to listen to Sir Graeme Davies, Vice- Chancellor, London University, UK giving the 4th Maggie Woodrow Memorial Lecture. Next year we look forward to meeting together once more for the 15th EAN annual conference, this time in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 30th August – 2nd September 2006. The theme will be on the “Social Role of Universities: Reaching out to the Community” and our host will be Anastasia Efklides, President of the Social Policy Committee, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Irving Mitchell Executive Director 



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