Ensuring that educational success is not dependent on a person's origins, background or to other circumstances beyond their control is a long-standing goal of modern higher education systems.

There can be many rationales for prioritising the social dimension of higher education. Three of the most common rationales are the following:

      • social justice: according to this rationale, no individual should be at a particular advantage or disadvantage (in education or in society at large) due to circumstances that are outside an individual's immediate control (such as socioeconomic background, gender, race, migrant background, etc). Since low educational attainment is correlated to the risk of poverty and social exclusion, ensuring genuinely equal opportunities in education can redress social inequalities make a real contribution to building fairer societies.
      • economic development: another rationale is to emphasise that widening participation in higher education to under-represented groups is a way of maximising the potential and talent that exists in the whole population, which contributes to the development of human capital and of competitiveness in the context of the knowledge-based economy.
      • social development: according to this rationale, increasing the educational attainment of the population, especially of under-represented or disadvantaged groups, has a range of broader benefits for society as a whole, including the strengthening of social cohesion and mutual trust, improving public health, increasing state revenue from taxes, fostering broader civic engagement and political participation, etc.

For more information, the document below provides an edited extract from a report drafted by the Bologna Follow-Up Group's Working Group for the Social Dimension (2009-2012), which expands on some of these arguments and provides some references. (NB: the extract has been edited).

Arguments for the social dimension