We tend to have a one dimensional, traditional view of education: it is a once in a lifetime experience, and its purpose is preparation for work. Neither assumption can do justice to the education experience. In addition to preparing for the labor market, higher education must also prepare for life as citizens in democratic societies, stimulate the personal development of learners and develop and maintain a broad, advanced knowledge base. The social dimension of higher education cuts across all of its major purposes, and lifelong learning is an important element of it.
Higher education must enable learners to tackle the “big issues” such as making our societies sustainable – not only environmentally, but also economically, politically, socially and culturally – and coping with diversity.
Democratic culture is what makes democratic institutions and democratic laws work. It relies on well educated citizens willing to engage in the public space, which requires a broad range of generic competences. With US partners, the Council of Europe has launched a project on the Responsibility of Higher Education for Democratic Culture . This project aims to develop a broader view of higher education emphasizing a greater sense of civic responsibility as well as of the connection between classroom and society. The project will hopefully also help universities and members of the academic community to see more clearly their role as actors in society.
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