While the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) has contributed significantly to the harmonisation of higher education in Europe, the Professional Higher Education (PHE) sector is still in significant flux. Thus e.g. ‘Fachhochschulen’ are increasingly becoming Universities of Applied Sciences while traditional universities are increasingly providing professionally-orientated programmes. The wide variety of systems, which now fall under the umbrella term of ‘professional’ higher education, makes it difficult to transnationally analyse this sector, hinders recognition of qualifications, and limits the ability of soft-policy tools to strengthen its growth.
To address this issue, the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) has put together a consortium of 11 dedicated actors in the field of PHE in Europe, with the intention of strengthening the sector, so as to improve its role as a specific player in interlinking education, labour market, research and innovation. The HAPHE consortium is working on bringing together a group of field experts, who, through a wide consultation with stakeholders from education, business and society, are focusing on Harmonising Approaches to Professional Higher Education in Europe (predominantly at European Qualification Framework (EQF) level 6 and above).
In the first phase of the project, the HAPHE consortium has carried out a wide mapping and surveying of different approaches to the PHE provision throughout EU-member states. It consists of PHE Country Profiles of 15 EU-member states (Denmark, Germany, Malta, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Belgium-Flanders, Netherlands, France, Ireland, Portugal, Poland, Lithuania and Croatia) and an even wider PHE stakeholders’ survey with 671 respondents from 17 countries (Austria and the United Kingdom in addition to the original set).
The outcomes of the mapping exercise have been published both as a publication, Profile of Professional Higher Education in Europe, and as an online tool on the HAPHE website. The online tool is providing a deep insight into the overall results, as well as overview in each of the countries researched. In this way, the information on the current state of PHE, the outcomes of the interviews, as well as a mapping of outcomes per country are available online.
In the second phase of the project, the HAPHE consortium has been working together with external experts on setting out the definition of PHE as well as defining characteristics of PHE programmes. This has been realised through a series of expert meetings and national stakeholders’ interviews in conjunction with a Validation Seminar for EU Stakeholders. The results of this validation phase has provided vast feedback on the first-phase outcomes, and once implemented, the definition and the set of characteristics were ready to undergo a larger validation process.
In the third phase, the project focused on strongly involving stakeholders in all stages (research, design, valorisation) to ensure the group’s ability to provide sustainable results by creating a critical mass of consensus, to allow the de-facto adoption of the proposals as a standard. This large-scale validation process was organised through National Validation Seminars. In total 11 events took place in the following countries: Denmark, Germany, Malta, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Belgium-Flanders, France, Portugal, Poland and Croatia. Around 200 stakeholders attended these events, providing feedback on various levels, and ensuring the overall validation of the work the project had done until that moment. The feedback was in the end adopted by the Expert Group and the final definition and set of characteristics were ready to be published!
In the last phase of the project, partners have focused on collecting best practices in implementing different sets of characteristics of PHE in their institutions and programmes. In parallel, the consortium has worked on policy recommendations for EU and national policy-makers, as well as institutional management.
The project concluded with a Launch Conference in October 2014 in Otocec (Slovenia). The conference gathered 76 participants from 19 countries, and allowed for direct access to the data on PHE and to the results of the consortium’s work, including experts’ and evidence-based policy inputs. Workshops were structured around the best practices, while the plenary sessions presented the outcomes and worked on policy implications. The input from participants fed into the policy recommendations.
All of the activities within the project lifecycle aimed at clarifying enhancement of a broadly shared understanding of PHE. It allows for the strengthening of the sector as such where policy instruments can be more efficiently used.
By strengthening the PHE sector, and improving the transparency of the PHE provision, the consortium wishes to enhance employability of European higher education as a whole, to contribute towards a more cohesive EHEA, and to support the modernisation of European higher education institutions by encouraging an increase in their responsiveness to enterprise and society.
Authors: Marko Grdošić, HAPHE Consortium
Publication Date: 2015
Report Institution: EURASHE