I would like to begin with an indisputable fact – universities have always been and must remain the solid pillars of knowledge for a better future of the society and state.
Besides many other reflections, the experience with COVID-19 revealed the true nature of the university space. Despite several instrumental and procedural shortcomings, non-vitality and obsoletion of the current system, universities have demonstrated that they can survive and work compellingly independently, without major dramatic interruptions.
To a certain extent, the last few months have shown that the blended or fully online learning could well compete with traditional learning. It is thus the responsibility of universities to explore and find the right approaches, which will enable and help their students and staff adopt new modes of teaching and working. The main challenge, lying ahead of HEIs, is to identify the right mix of basic and professional knowledge, as well as skills, needed to equip higher education graduates with ongoing “survival” skills for the labour market of the future. This mix should consider the new dynamics of labour market demands for higher education graduates upon their labour market entry and thereafter, during their entire career. A higher education degree should be perceived as a qualification for labour market entry and should provide graduates with a sound foundation to build upon, and to update and upgrade their knowledge and skills through lifelong learning, throughout their career.
Graduates need to be made aware that they are the ones who are primarily and ultimately responsible for maintaining their skills and knowledge up to date. This is neither the responsibility of their current or future employer, nor the responsibility of the state. The crisis has shown that many jobs, traditionally considered repetitive desk jobs, can be done online, which also means that they can be done from anywhere in the world. Due to professions no longer being bound by physical offices and spaces, HEIs face new challenges, threats, and opportunities. Some of the main challenges faced by HEIs are how to ensure the employability and competitiveness of graduates in the global labour market, and how to position themselves – as universities – in the global market of higher education providers in the same field.
“However, governments also face the same challenges, as they need to rethink the objectives of their national higher education regulatory systems, as well as the role and objectives of the communication and information systems.”
In the future, we expect to see an increased offer of shorter programmes (micro credentials), which will be offered by universities that will focus on both professional and scientific knowledge, in order to enable their students to obtain degree(s) through flexible learning paths. More emphasis will be put on student-centred learning, i.e. an objective of Bologna process, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020.
As part of preparations for the upcoming Rome declaration of the Bologna process, a significant milestone for the European higher education area (EHEA), we need to take another look at the objectives of the Bologna process for 2020-2030 through the perspective of the COVID-19 crisis.
Slovenia considers the implementation of the Bologna process and EHEA membership a competitive advantage that will help our HEIs better position themselves in the global higher education market, while ensuring the employability of Slovenian graduates and facilitating foreign graduates’ transition to the Slovenian labour market.
However, the same way we see education and the university space as two key constitutive elements for the future development of a small and smart country, we also need to see the state supporting all the above.
Professor Dr. Simona Kustec is the Slovenian Minister of Education, Science and Sport. Besides her ministerial appointment, she serves as a full professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Political Science, Chair of Policy Analysis and Public Administration. In 2019/20 academic year she also lectured at the Venice International University, Italy. Professor Kustec is a political science researcher with a rich and diverse body of work. Furthermore, she is actively involved in several research project groups in Slovenia and abroad.