Integration of University Studies for Older Adults in the EHEA (Berlin document)

The Interim Board of Directors of the Spanish National Association of University Programmes for Older Adults, gathered in Alicante on July 3rd 2003, has agreed to send you the document named "THE INTEGRATION OF UNIVERSITY STUDIES FOR OLDER ADULTS IN THE EUROPEAN HIGHER EDUCATION AREA".

We have taken into account for its creation the fact of making clear the situation of those programmes in Spain as well as in Europe, highlighting their growth in the last few years. It is logical, therefore, that the process of European convergence must take into account these students and the chances that, in a more or less distant future, will appear for exchange and mobility on these programmes.

That's why we deem urgent the understanding that this training actions must become part of the educational policies of our country and from the Spanish National Association of University Programmes for Older Adults we are forced to seek the recognition of these programmes and their acknowledgement as full part of the European Higher Education Area.

Taking into account that the next meeting of European Ministers of Education in Berlin will take place on September 18 and 19 to monitor the progress and establish guidelines and priorities for the next stages of the process towards the European Higher Education Area, we formally request the normalization of these studies inside the university structure, becoming part of the training project of those universities, as well as part of the University Studies for Older Adults inside the European Higher Education Area, because we consider that these programmes have an specific place inside this area by the aforesaid reasons stated in this document.  

La Laguna, 1 September 2003



Signed by José Arnay Puerta
Secretary of the Interim Board of Directors of the Spanish National Association of University Programmes for Older Adults




Global ageing has become one of the main features of XXI century societies. This fact forces to develop social, economic, educational, cultural and scientific adjustments to these new situations. Access to knowledge, education and training are key facts for an active and full life that favours the development of societies and equal opportunities.

This was ratified by Kofi Annan, the UN General Secretary, in the Second Assembly about Ageing held in Madrid on April 2002. When we talk about seniors, if we encourage their active engagement in society and development, we will ensure that they put good use to their incredible talent and experience. Seniors who are able and want to work must have the opportunity to do so, and every person must have the right to enjoy lifelong learning.

This same philosophy is present in many documents of the European Comission, as is the case of the Memorandum about lifelong learning [1], that considers that education must seek objectives that, apart from easing maintenance and adaptation to labour market, are useful to encourage active engagement of citizens and strengthen social cohesion. 

These changes imply new challenges for Spanish universities in the framework determined by the preliminary title, section 2 and in the Fourth Title of the Organic Law passed about Universities (LOU) and the process of European convergence in terms of higher education.

University Programmes for Older Adults in Spain.

In the last years a swift development of University Programmes for Older Adults in Spain has taken place, because only 5 programmes were available at the beginning of the 90's. However, now, they are present in more than 40 public and private universities. This growth comes from obvious reasons, from social,  demographical, educational and economical areas that justify this need, and without a doubt, from the growing sensitization of institutions in charge of social welfare and universities that have greatly eased these projects so far. 

However, Spain still lacks a legal and institutional framework in the national, autonomical and university level that allows the development of the rights of older adults to higher education and that allows to significantly increase the number of seniors in the area of lifelong learning, nowadays a little bit lower than the EU average.

That's why we consider the actual process of European convergence in the field of higher education the most suitable one so that these programmes find the place they deserve through a series of regulations that don't exist at present.

University Programmes for Older Adults in Europe

Nowadays there are Universities for Older Adults in every European country with a wide range of structures and objectives reflected in the terminology of the studies offered: Senior Studies, University of All Ages, Scientific Continuing Education for Older Adults, Ongoing Studies for the Elderly. The curricular design of the Programmes for Older Adults varies according to national and regional conditions, as well as personal and economical conditions. The importance that each universitiy gives to older students is a political decision that corresponds to each university. Most of the programmes are connected with national and international networks, among which we can find associations such as the International Association of Universities of the Third Age (AIUTA) or the European Network Learning in Later Life (LILL).

The European policy on higher education

The convergence process in the European field for the creation of a European HIgher Education Area in 2010 is one of the main objectives of the European Ministers of Education to promote cooperation between Higher Education institutions in Europe.

Europe considers that this convergence between universities will allow to make reality the processes that nurture the knowlege society and to achieve the aim set in the Lisbon European Council 2011: to become the most competitive and dynamic economy of the world based in knowledge, able to sustain economic growth and create a greater number of better quality jobs and a greater social cohesion. [3]

To assume all challenges that these questions involve, Europe designs an overall strategy in 1998, with the Sorbonne declaration, the reform of the higher education systems. This strategy takes into account that education is a far reaching value that affects not only the intellectual and technical dimension of society but also the social, cultural, economical and business dimension.

The establishment of the European Higher Education Area is consolidated and enlarged with the Bologna declaration (1999), where European education ministers call on the EU Member States to develop and implement in their countries different actions in the educational sphere. Later, in the Prague Communiqué (2001), some additional lines are introduced. These highlight the importance of lifelong learning as a key element of the European Higher Education Area. They state lifelong learning as basic element to reach a greater European competitiveness, to improve social cohesion, equal opportunities and quality of life. [4] In this way, all learning stages are covered, from childhood to the post-retirement phase and covers the formal, non-formal and informal learning spectrum. 

Continuing education and lifelong learning are essential answers to the growing competitivity and the use of new technologies. Therefore, they belong to the approaches to reach the European strategic objective of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge society of the entire world.

However, we consider that the framework document of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, "The integration of the Spanish university system in the Europan Higher Education Area" (2003) (development in Spain of the Bologne declaration), does not evenly state the aspects of competitiveness and mobility and the fact of conceiving universities as lifelong learning spaces, where seniors were also embedded. 

The Commissioner of Education, Viviane Reding, [5] stresses that making reality a lifelong learning space is based in the Lisbon strategy of making Europe a prosperous place to live and work in the XXI century. Everyone should have equal and open access to quality lifelong learning opportunities. In this way, lifelong learning becomes the principle to be followed by EU education and training policies.

For its part, The European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture boosts and encourages European cooperation through the Socrates programme. With it, a quality education and the chance to update their knowledge is offered to European citizens. The guiding principle of the programme is lifelong learning.

Inside this guidelines we deem fundamental the actions focused in developing adult education. The main aim of Grundtvig is to boost quality, the European dimension and accesibility to lifelong learning. It also makes easier to promote adult education in universities on the basis of cooperation projects between Member States. All this under the concept of lifelong learning (LLL). 

Amongst the priorities for action to carry out lifelong learning in the EU we highlight three that we regard as essential:


1.    1. a new European global approach aimed at appreciating learning as a previous requisite for the lifelong learning space based in the freedom of movement inside the EU. 


2.    2. invest time and money in learning with the aim of increasing investments in education and training.


3.    3. drafting of proposals in connection to an innovative pedagogy that would give greater importance to the development of skills better than knowledge, as well as to the new roles that teachers and students will play. 

National policy on higher education

Spain as a EU member takes part in all these matters and assumes, under the organic law on universities 6/2001, the commitment of performing the neccesary reforms in their higher education system to reach the quality level and international competitiveness that society demans. 

In this regard, we understand that Spain must promote a firm support to the University Programmes for Older Adults as formative activities directly embedded in the lifelong learning processes. This will be a key factor of its Europen convergence process in the higher education field. 

Furthermore, we must highlight that the Conference of Vice-chancellors of Spanish Universities [6] supports the principles enshrined in the Bologne declaration and the creation of the European Higher Education Area. An area based in the European tradition of an education as public service, therefore open to all citizens. Its main objective is lifelong learning not only for personal development but also for the development of society as a whole.

Consequently, lifelong learning in universities must incorporate the access of older adults and seniors assuming that it is a fundamental right of each and everyone of us. [7]

[1] European Commission, Memorandum about lifelong learning, October 2000.
[3] European Communities Commission, Communication from the Commission. The role of universities in the Europe of knowledge. Brussels 2002.
[4] Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports. The integration of the Spanish University system in the European Higher Education Area. Framework document. February 2003.
[5] Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Lifelong learning: citizens’ views. 2003
[6] Agreement of the General Assembly of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE), The Bologne declaration and its impact in the qualification structure in Spain, July 2002

[7] CRUE Higher Education Bulletin, Adults at the University, Roc Fager.