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The Role of Universities in Promoting and Providing Lifelong Learning – DUK’s Strategic Approach

Nino Japarashvili

You may have heard the idiom that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’? Well don’t tell the Danube University Krems, a university dedicated to the concept of lifelong learning (LLL) leading the way in facilitating LLL across the Austrian and European educational arenas, who deliver over 200 different courses to 9,000 students from 90 countries.

The drivers for LLL have become widely acknowledged in the context of demographic change towards an aging society. With increasing global competition and a world where skills have a shorter shelf-life, companies and their employees are under increasing pressure to update and improve the skills throughout the life of their career.

Moreover, given the increasingly rapid change in our societies, early-life study programmes cannot be expected to provide all the knowledge an individual might need throughout their working and living life, and rather what has to be learned, ‘must be continually re-invented and renewed’[1].

There is also little doubt that universities have a leading role to play in promoting and delivering more formal LLL programmes. Going by various names, including “permanent”, “continuing”, “professional”, “extended” or “industry” education and training, LLL has become more prominent in European higher education since the inception of the “Lifelong Learning for All” initiative in 1996.

Given the on-going process of globalisation, demographic shifts in many countries, and the rapid technological development, HEIs around the world face a strategic imperative to broaden access to LLL opportunities, ensuring that education and learning are fully available to a diverse student population.

Despite this, there are very few HEIs committed to the development of postgraduate skills to the same degree as Danube University Krems (DUK). Founded in 1994 as a centre for continuing education in Austria, DUK is one of the most pioneering higher education institutions in Europe. It is a specialised institution in the sector of LLL offering university-based advanced education.

At DUK, continuing education is not just a field of training but rather a core competence. The entire teaching structure is geared towards the particular standards and requirements of middle-aged professionals and executives guided by the experienced LLL specialists, with more than 50 per cent of students having worked in their fields for more than 10 years.

Their courses are offered through a framework of continuing education practice including: scientific learning, practice-based learning, activity-based learning, competence-based learning, outcome-based learning and individualised learning.

The teaching and learning methods as well as course structures are specifically designed to permit a maximum degree of flexibility through the use of modularisation, block courses and blended learning. The study programmes at DUK can be offered in the blended or distance learning format. Distance learning programmes remain flexible, so students can adapt them to their individual time resources and current location.

Apart from that DUK is also putting more strategic efforts into transdisciplinary applied research in the field of LLL, to inform teaching and highlight the university’s commitment to knowledge and technology transfer. This would not be possible without close collaboration of DUK with diverse regional, national and international stakeholders, including businesses, which play a vital role in the provision of DUK´s LLL strategy.

DUK’s business partners are not only directly participating in co-designing the curricula by informing and consulting university about their needs, but also ultimately advise DUK’s management through being an active part of the university’s board.

The results are impressive with around 85% of alumni rate the strong value of the personal development through LLL, 60% reporting high level of skills and competence development in the fields of their actual employment and even 15% of the students have successfully launched their own companies after their studies.

So with recent studies revealing that Generation X (born 1963 – 1980) are more adaptable than their baby boomer (born 1944 to 1962) predecessors, perhaps, a more contemporary idiom could be ‘live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever!’[2].

Want to learn more how DUK is strategically approaching lifelong learning? Read the detailed case study at: http://ub-cooperation.eu/index/casestudies


[1] Faure, E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura A., et al (1972) Learning to Be: the world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: UNESCO. [2] Offered by Mahatma Ghandi


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