Track I. The role(s) of higher education institutions in contemporary society

Throughout history, institutions of higher learning have played a number of roles, including transmitting, producing and conserving knowledge, selecting and educating elites, facilitating social cohesion, transmitting high culture, feeding the labour market with skilled workforce and so forth. Today it seems that there is a growing disparity between what society expects from higher education, on the one hand, and what higher education provides society with, on the other. In parallel, it has been argued that the traditional pact between higher education and society is undergoing significant change, while there is striking diversity in response among institutions of higher education with respect to this change.

The questions arising under this theme are ample. How do higher education institutions perceive their role(s) in contemporary society? In what way and to what extent does higher education affect wider social dynamics? In what way do contemporary higher education institutions select and educate future elites and, more widely, the student body as a whole? Has the role of universities as conservers of knowledge and culture changed and if yes, in what way? To what extent do today’s higher education institutions contribute to equality in our societies and/or to social reproduction? The European policy level increasingly sets targets to improve the social dimension of higher education. What does the emergence of this actor level tell us about the transformation of higher education in Europe?

Track II. The effects of the wider societal dynamics on higher education

It is generally acknowledged that in the last several decades virtually all aspects of the way in which our societies function have been affected by the changes in technology, communication and information. The advancement in these domains of human activity has been unprecedented. The social, economic and political changes arising in the meantime have shifted the dynamics of and relationship between human institutions. Consequently, the nature, purpose and internal forces at work within higher education institutions have shifted too.

The discussion under this track would seek to answer some of the following questions. In what way do higher education system-level policies reflect expectations from higher education? In what way do higher education institutions respond to the external demands? How do they react to change essentially outside their walls, but directly or indirectly affecting them and/or provoking change in their practices? What effects on teaching and learning processes that arise from the influence of the outside world can we identify? Has the role of teachers changed and how? Are today’s students different and how does this affect the learning process?

Track III. Higher Education at the Borders of Europe

Most of the research on higher education being carried out nowadays addresses cases and phenomena takes place in Western countries, i.e. the USA, Western Europe or countries like Australia, which among other things makes for a rather distorted “European” profile in the sphere of higher education research. The aim of this track is to address the conference theme with research conducted in Eastern, Central and South-Eastern Europe and by doing so attempt to rebalance the European profile of higher education research and at the same time contribute to current debates.

This track seeks to answer questions such as the following: What characterises higher education systems in these regions? How do these characteristics relate to those of the Western Europe and the rest of the world? In what way are international and European trends reflected in these systems and how do their institutions respond to these trends?

Track IV. Core themes in higher education research

This track is meant to accommodate high-quality proposals pursuing themes of continuing relevance in higher education research that are not directly connected with the conference theme.