Operating the Strategy Level

Building a strategy for lifelong learning has to rely upon and be integrated into the overall university strategy. In general, universities in Europe base their vision and mission statements and their declaration of values on "The Magna Charta of European Universities", signed by the rectors of European universities in Bologna on September 18, 1988.

Many universities, of course, have strategies of much older dates, but essentially they cover the first fundamental principle of autonomy and services to society as providers of research and teaching and as institutions handing down culture (www.magna-charta.org/magna.html).

When it comes to integrating lifelong learning into the university strategy, the first three commitments for universities is to widen participation, focus on learning outcomes and adapt to a learner-centred educational model.

"European Universities, Charter on Lifelong Learning" sums up these arguments.

(www.eua.be/publications , see also "Organising Lifelong Learning" p. 10):

Seen in the light of the European policy framework for lifelong learning, European universities' engagement in lifelong learning will raise the knowledge level of European society and improve European competitiveness in the global market (see "Organising Lifelong Learning" chapter 1).

Vision , Mission and Value Statements

When formulating the vision, mission and value statements of a strategy plan for lifelong learning the following issues should be considered:


    Formulating the strategy:

    • Why does the university want to offer lifelong learning programmes?

    • What are the visions for the operation in a 3-5 years perspective?

    • How does the lifelong learning strategy relate to the overall university strategy?

    • What does it imply to become a mixed-mode university serving both students at campus and at a distance in lifelong learning programmes?

    • Will the offering of lifelong learning - e.g. the educational concept – have an impact on the mainstream educational programmes and the way they are taught?

    • What are the legal requirements for taking up lifelong learning?

    • In some countries it is a legal obligation for universities to be involved in lifelong learning (e.g. Denmark)! In other countries part-time studies as distance education have difficulties being recognised (e.g. Lithuania)!

    • Are there any restrictions in your country on the type of programmes that may be offered as lifelong learning or continuing education for adults?


In Practice

The next step in formulating a strategy for lifelong learning is to take a critical and analytical look at the institution with a focus on its strengths and weaknesses together with its possible opportunities and threats - in other words, to make a SWOT analysis.

From the many examples of good practices and innovative solutions offering lifelong learning in Europe, collected in the USBM project: "Showcases of University Strategies and Business Models for Lifelong Learning", it becomes clear that there is no such thing as a singular, definitive strategy that can be generically implemented in all institutions. The strategies differ markedly depending on the size of the university and the scale of operation.

On the one hand we find high volume courses offered by the large distance teaching institutions, and on the other hand there are smaller, face-to-face courses offered by mixed-mode (dual-mode) universities.

In between we find a range of different variations, as documented in the cases of good practice in the "Showcases of University Strategies and Business Models for Lifelong Learning". Each example is a response to meet a specific situation, depending on the mission of the university, the legal national framework and the demand from students/ employers.

Sometimes institutions are able to offer a course in different versions, one to a large generic audience and another, a more tailored style of course, to a smaller niche audience, which meet special requirements (e.g. The Open University, UK, see: "Showcases of University Strategies and Business Models for Lifelong Learning" p. 33-4).

Furthermore, courses and programmes have different delivery styles. They range from wholly face-to-face teaching at one extreme to wholly online teaching at another and with a rich diversity of blended learning in between.

Learning Outcomes

Finally, programmes and courses have different objectives and learning outcomes. They range across a spectrum from formal through non-formal to informal learning.

So far, formal learning has dominated within the university sector. BA and MA degree programmes are formal learning with exams and degrees and many of the lifelong learning courses and programmes offered by the same institutions are also within an accredited national structure. But not all lifelong learning students make use of the accreditation and take the exams. They are only interested in the learning, not in the formalities.

Increasingly, universities are offering non-formal education aimed at specific companies/ institutions and are fully financed by these. They are also offering education for the general public in form of open lectures. In both cases, the courses are structured but without formal assessment at the end.

Furthermore, there has been an increase in the offering of informal learning by universities. Within the open educational resource (OER) movement, some universities are supplying open access to their course material (e.g. MIT, US). Other universities are going further and providing small open courses prepared for self-study as open educational resources (e.g. the open universities within EADTU, see "Showcases of University Strategies and Business Models for Lifelong Learning").

SWOT Analysis

Basically, lifelong learning strategies have to be adapted to the local situation taking into consideration national legal regulations, financial options, and labour market requirements, among other more specific issues such as local and regional challenges.

When deciding on the objectives of a strategy plan for lifelong learning and planning the different strategic steps to take, the following issues should be considered:


    Identifying strenghts, weaknesses, opportunities and threats:

    • What are the strengths of the institution? Is the university basically known for its research in certain areas? Or is it known for the high-class education it provides? Is it primarily providing education for the private sector or for the public sector? Is the university mainly serving the nearby region or is it operating on the national level or even on the global arena within a certain language area? Does it have special relations with companies?

    • What are the weaknesses of the institution? Are the programmes offered, taught in very curricula and classroom bound ways that has to be totally reorganised in order to become student-centred flexible learning? Does the university have a net-based infrastructure to support students at a distance or in a working position as e-learning? Does the teaching staff have to be re-educated in order to facilitate a different group of learners?

    • What are the opportunities for the institution? Does the strength of the university – or some of the strong points – match the needs of a group of learners? If yes, does the university have an opportunity to create a course or set up a programme for this segment of learners? Are there companies or public institutions in the region or in the country that have a specified need for upgrading their staff within an area where the university has the competences? Again, if yes, does the university have the possibility to develop a further education programme to fulfil these needs?

    • What are the threats facing the institution? Are there other institutions within the region or the country – maybe even globally – which have the same competences and are they already offering courses in the area? Is the model for financing the development and delivery of courses and programme viable? Does the staff support the idea of offering lifelong leaning in the proposed areas? Otherwise internal problems could arise!


Informed by the key findings of this analysis, the university can decide upon adopting a strategy for lifelong learning, that is based upon its programmes and the strengths of the institution whilst focusing on how to address its weaknesses.

Opportunities can thus be investigated and elaborated further upon, in the business plan, which also sets out to reduce and avoid threats.


Examples of Strategy Level Implementation:

Context and Inspiration

In an effort to provide context and inspiration to the users of this site, selected examples of university strategies, can be found in examples of implementation, in the popups on the right side of this page.


  • The popups are based on information provided by the partners and furthermore elaborated upon in the context of strategic planning.

  • They provide examples of how universities have responded to the challenge of implementing lifelong learning in compliance with their overall mission of the university, taking into account the legal national framework and the demand from students/ employers.

  • From these popups you are also able to access a synthesis of the individual case studies, that are also accessible via Examples of Implementation.


Offering second chance learning opportunities
The Open Universities

Alternative route toward a university degree
the Adult Education Law in Denmark

Informal learning as a road towards widening participation in lifelong learning
The Open Educational Resource movement

Encouraging wider participation in lifelong learning through informal learning via television
The Open University, UK