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Universities in Europe need to collect more student data. Here’s why.

universities in europe
Universities in Europe "hardly monitor" data on students' ethnic and migration backgrounds, a new report from the European Commission has found. Source: Shutterstock

Europe currently attracts at least 1.6 million students from abroad to its universities. This is about 45 percent of all international students abroad. While more than two in five (43 percent) are from the continent itself, the number of non-EU students are significant too. Combined, those from Asia and Africa, make up nearly the same number (42 percent) as EU students. As a study abroad destination, Europe is very popular.

These figures show access to universities in Europe has widened greatly for international candidates. Yet, for European students from low socio-economic backgrounds, migrant backgrounds and students with chronic illnesses or disabilities, higher education is still out of reach. One reason for this, according to a new European Commission report, could be the significant lack of data.

Reviewing European, national and institutional policies regarding social inclusion and widening
participation in higher education, the report found 16 policy measures to this end. This includes regulations explicitly governing access and social inclusion; financial aid; making courses more flexible and communicating higher education opportunities to prospective students.

However, without enough data about the social or ethnic background of students, countries are lacking “insight on the development of social inclusion in HE”.

“Monitoring of access and social inclusion is conducted in almost all case study countries. However, there is still a lack of information on indicators such as the social or ethnic background of students that would provide an insight on how equity in access has developed, and which student groups should be
addressed by widening participation policies,” according to the report titled Social Inclusion Policies in Higher Education: Evidence from the EU.

“Only a few countries invest in developing knowledge on the barriers to and facilitators of access for disadvantaged groups of students.” Most data collected only distinguish between national and international students, which the report criticised as insufficient to show ethnic background.

More data on the student population means a better foundation to adapt decisions and interventions to improve access, retention and study success.

In countries like Germany, it’s prohibited to follow up on individual students and their study progress.

The report found complexities in measuring the background of students (such as their ethnic and migration history, as well as social class) too.

Mabel Sánchez Barrioluengo, a researcher of the economics of higher education at the University of Manchester and one of the report’s authors, said: “Without specific evaluation mechanisms, it’s hard to understand the efficacy of the policy,” she said, reported Times Higher Education.

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