The word ‘access’ requires interpretation, as it is not used with a single universal meaning. For example, in the 1997 Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (Lisbon Recognition Convention), access (to higher education) is defined as ‘the right of qualified candidates to apply and to be considered for admission to higher education’. This definition was followed by the definition of ‘Social Dimension’ (London Communiqué, 2007): “We share the societal aspiration that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels should reflect the diversity of our populations. We reaffirm the importance of students being able to complete their studies without obstacles related to their social and economic background,” while stressing the efforts […] to widen participation at all levels on the basis of equal opportunity.”
While this definition is intended to provide a clear-cut international legal definition of the term, access is commonly considered more as a synonym of entry or a combination of entry and participation. GAPS, however, supports the more comprehensive definition of ‘access’ used by the Council of Europe in its 1998 Recommendation on Access to Higher Education in which ‘access policy’ is defined as ‘a policy that aims both at the widening of participation in higher education to all sections of society, and at ensuring that this participation is effective (that is, in conditions which ensure that personal effort will lead to successful completion)’.
Access is multidimensional and should be looked at from a holistic view. Key dimensions of access include: affordability, availability, accessibility, accommodation, and acceptability. It is suggested that these “form a chain that is no stronger than its weakest link” and that access is only achieved if all its components are ensured.
GAPS interprets the term ‘higher’ education broadly to include all post-secondary or tertiary educational opportunities including the technical, vocational and academic streams and embraces the concept of lifelong learning.