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University group seeks EU support for blended learning

Increased use of online tools due to Covid-19 must also benefit disadvantaged people, group says

Universities have urged the EU to help them develop equitable programmes that blend on-campus and virtual learning as they prepare for a future shaped in part by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We should support learning environments where the combination of carefully intertwined physical and online activities is shaped by an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of different pedagogies in the context of each course,” the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities said in a position paper on the European Education Area it published on 13 July.

It added: “The rapid technological transformation will enable universities to reach broader segments of society by offering greater flexibility in study programmes, but at the same time it risks possible exclusion of people with a disadvantaged background.”

The Guild encouraged the European Commission to target areas that “most urgently need support”, by using the EU’s Erasmus+ mobility programme and other programmes to help overcome digital divides in education. It said universities would welcome EU support on data ownership and privacy issues when using digital platforms, for example.

It also called for more experimentation on combinations of physical and virtual learning, for instance in the EU-funded European University Initiative cross-border alliances.

But it cautioned that this should not compromise the fundamental mission of universities to provide deep subject knowledge and “stimulate enquiring minds”, based on excellence in teaching and research. “We need to build on digitalisation as a means to an end, not as an end in itself,” the Guild said.