The concept of the social dimension of higher education was first developed within the Bologna Process in the Prague Communiqué of 2001 and, broadly speaking, refers to the goal of removing inequalities in access to higher education in the European Area of Higher Education.

The goal of the social dimension was most clearly defined in the London Communiqué of 2007:

"We share the societal aspiration that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels should reflect the diversity of our populations. We reaffirm the importance of students being able to complete their studies without obstacles related to their social and economic background. We therefore continue our efforts to provide adequate student services, create more flexible learning pathways into and within higher education, and to widen participation at all levels on the basis of equal opportunity." 

Addressing the social dimension should take into account that three key factors tend to determine educational success: student ability; material and immaterial (e.g. social and cultural) resources; and opportunity. In particular, non-academic factors such as social background and aspiration, and study framework conditions (e.g. balance between work and studies) affect participation and success in higher education. Indeed, visible student ability may have been affected by a person's material and immaterial resources at a previous (e.g. secondary) educational level.

The social dimension therefore entails looking at various stages of the education system and adopting measures that can help individuals to overcome such or disincentives to access, participate and complete higher education.