Lifelong Learning

Second EQUNet State of Innovation Report: Release date Autumn 2011

Main Focus

The 2nd EQUNet-Report will focus on access for students with different formal qualifications and on different routes to enter higher education. Thus students can enter higher education via traditional routes that means by directly starting university after having completed ISCED 3A. Apart from that, students can enter higher education by non-traditional routes which, roughly, fall into two categories:

  • Students who are older than the historically typical undergraduate student (usually aged 18-25), and had interrupted their studies earlier in life
  • Students who did not enter HE by the “main road”, i.e. schooling at level 3A and who do not hold a degree (“adult learners” in the sense of the EQUNet project application)

By distinguishing between traditional and non-traditional students, the report aims to analyse and compare the extent and the possibilities of lifelong learning within the HES in the European Union.


Non-traditional access patterns are crucial for making lifelong learning reality, widening access to higher education, and the securing the supply of a well-educated workforce in times of demographic change. European countries differ vastly in the extent of lifelong learning in HE and the EQUNet-project will make some effort to provide more international comparative data on that issue. Also the Commission’s recently released “Agenda 2020” includes a reference to lifelong learning. Thus, lifelong learning “needs to be much more accessible and universities should be more open to non-typical learners.” The European policy goal regarding lifelong learning thus schedules a percentage of 12.5% of the adult population to participate in lifelong learning activities.

Objective of the report and outline of the report structure

Firstly, the 2nd EQUNet-Report aims at describing the routes undertaken by students to enter higher education. The report will distinguish between

  • traditional routes (direct transition from ISCED 3A to ISCED 5A, possibly also from Bachelor to Master)
  • and non-traditional routes (vocationally-oriented upper secondary certificates, upper secondary certificate through attending adult secondary education, validation of work experience of real competencies, post-professionals) to enter higher education.

Secondly, the report is supposed to shed light on the different modes of study undertaken by students in general and non-traditional students in particular :

  • Attending part-time
  • Working full time while enrolled
  • Having dependents (children)
  • Being a single parent

Thirdly, barriers to higher education, that non-traditional students often are confronted with, are being discussed.

  • Not having a formal qualification for entering higher education
  • Recognition of non-formal and informal education
  • Access for home-students, distance learners
  • Compatibility with occupational and family commitments (part-time studies, implementation of credit points based study programmes, childcare facilities
  • Assistance to lifelong learners
  • Tuition fees imposed to lifelong learners

Measurements of equity are not straightforward in this context. Proportionality is no feasible criterion. However, the issue of equity can be raised (1) with regards to the existence of formal barriers vs. the recognition of non-formal and informal qualifications (equal access for people with equal qualifications, disregarding the way these qualification have been attained), (2) in the sense of affirmative action  (e.g. ease access for people with work or family responsibilities, (3) by comparing the social background of non-traditionals with traditional students, and (4) by comparing the social composition of adult learners with the social composition of the population with the same age (further propositions are more than welcome). Thus differences according to socio-economic, educational or migrant background, gender or other variables will be discussed where appropriate.

Lastly, strategies for lifelong learning also differ vastly at the institutional level. Case studies at institutional level might be an appropriate way to give examples of best practice with regard to lifelong learning.