January 2011

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FLLLEX Project: The international review of university policies for lifelong learning

Josep Grifoll Saurí - Head of Quality Assessment department

This is the second in a series of articles, the aim of which is to present the Agency's international activity and to describe the projects it is working on.

At the European level, coordinated education policies have become more important since the adoption of the Lisbon Strategy, which defined the framework for promoting economic growth and employment in the European Union, in 2000. The quality of the different levels of education, from pre-school to university, has been recognised as being fundamental for the objectives of this strategy to be achieved. In a world that is rapidly changing, however, lifelong learning (LL) has now become a priority, if not a key element in employment and economic development, at the same time that it clearly improves the position of people and enables them to fully participate in present-day society and that of the future.

Out of the series of EU goals set for 2020, I'll mention just one: at least 15% of all adults (from 25 to 64) will be participating in some form of lifelong learning (continuing education). In addition to this figure, one should bear in mind the current values for the leading countries in Europe, where the figure is more than 25%.

Concentrated efforts have been made by the Catalan universities in this area. Perhaps the most interesting thing however is that this field of activity has still to reach its limit, and growth expectations are such that lifelong learning offers a highly important window of opportunity for business, if I may use the expression, for Catalan universities in the coming years.

Through ENQA, AQU Catalunya forms part of the FLLLEX project (The Impact of LifeLong Learning Strategies on Professional Higher Education), an EU funded programme that addresses the challenges and implications of the incorporation of lifelong learning into European higher education institutions. In particular, the project deals with the possibilities and impact of this new paradigm on HEIs, the role of higher education in this new wider landscape of lifelong learning, and the policies to be applied within this context. The consortium overseeing the FLLLEX project, which came into being on 1 January 2010 and is expected to be completed by August 2012, includes 24 partners from 10 different countries.

I'd like to point out that the FLLLEX project is one in which the participating countries mainly have two-tier higher education systems, i.e. where a first tier of what are considered vocational studies, rather than academic, are grouped together in HEIs that offer these types of courses (this is not the case in Catalonia, where the system is a unified one). Nevertheless, the methodology that has been developed is such that it can be used in either of these two types of higher education. The other element I'd like to point out is that the institution representing Finland, Laurea University, has been qualified as an centre of educational excellence by the Finnish national QA agency (FINHEEC), which is of particular interest in relation to good practices in this field.

The work of AQU Catalunya in the FLLLEX project involves the development of a methodology for the review of HEI policies for lifelong learning.

The methodology being proposed by AQU has been compiled to detect enhancement measures. This thereby reduces the importance of elements that distinguish the processes customarily associated with quality assurance. This approach, which is applicable to delivery processes, offers the possibility of being able to transfer a large part of the external review work to the internal sphere of activity. For example, one proposal is that each university organises focus groups that include representatives of the academic community, together with external stakeholders, to analyse in a structured manner their situation in relation to the institution and the consolidation of policies linked to lifelong learning.

This approach will naturally need to be accompanied by the corresponding stage in which a group of international experts of standing visit the universities to check that the discussion process has been correctly organised and, above all, to complement the result of the analyses obtained during the internal stage with external elements.

The visits by the team of international experts to the different institutions involved in FLLLEX and located in different countries will further consolidate and enhance the overall process of analysis.

Although no specific make-up for each focus group is laid down in the the methodology, the recommendation is made to work with four groups:


The review process consists of four units, each of which deals with a series of key issues that are for use by the officers in charge of the review process to draw up the work schedule of each focus group:

Unit 1. Identifying the context

Unit 2. The institution's current provision of lifelong learning

Unit 3. Institutional policy for lifelong learning

Unit 4. Quality assurance

International benchmarks are provided with the analysis process for each instituction as an aid for the reviewers.
The Institutes of Technology of Ireland (IOTI) has developed the following benchmarks:

  • a map of policy elements that include, for example, the flexibility of provision, access, the connection between education and employment, transparency of qualifications, the cost and/or involvement of the different stakeholders.
  • a comparison of the situation of lifelong learning at the national level in countries where institutions participating in this review process are located.

The guidelines provided in the methodology developed within the framework of the FLLLEX project may prove to be useful to Catalan universities for analysing how strategies for lifelong learning can be best planned.

PDF Self-assessment tool on institutional strategies for lifelong learning, January 2011


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