The focus groups will verify and further consolidate the evidence collected through previous project activities about the implementation challenges, share good practice, and discuss the proposed approaches to solving these challenges and their applicability in different contexts. They will take place in 2017. Each will address different stakeholder group. About 20-25 participants will take part in each focus group.
Chronologically, the six focus groups are:
- students, Brussels (Belgium), 16-17 February 2017, for more information contact Blazhe Todorovski
- universities, Vienna (Austria), 2-3 March 2017, for more information contact Caroline Marissal
- lecturers, Brussels (Belgium), 15-16 March 2017, for more information contact Louise Hoj Larsen
- universities of applied sciences/PHE, Le Havre (France), 30-31 March 2017, for more information contact Alexandre Wipf
- quality assurance agencies, Oslo (Norway), 3-4 May 2017, for more information contact Anaïs Gourdin
- national authorities/EQAR, Prague (Czech Republic), 19-20 October 2017, for more information contact Melinda Szabo
- Universities of applied sciences/PHE
- QA agencies
- National authorities/EQAR
Ever since the beginning of the focus group, participants identified common challenges, such as for instance the lack of student participation or the need to find more qualified individuals working on Quality Assurance processes on specific fields.
They were further asked to identify the predominant purposes of higher education (HE) in their system or institution: preparing students for active citizenship, preparing students in their personal development, preparing students for their future careers or creating a broad and advanced knowledge base and stimulating research or innovation. The latter was, without doubt, the one that participants recognised as the most powerful purpose for HE in their countries, followed by preparing students for their future careers and with only one country each for the first two purposes stated above. The same was done for the four approaches to defining internal and external quality assurance (purposeful, exceptional, transformative or accountable). It was identified that both internal and external QA had purposeful and transformative traits, leading to the question of whether HE being seen as leading to employability and QA as purposeful could be linked and why.
Following the first day, a lot of questions were answered but even more remained. Participants engaged in discussions on issues such as the difference students make when participating in the QA processes or how could QA work towards facilitating student-centered learning.
Summing up, it is of the utmost importance that students don’t stop their proactive involvement in all aspects of higher education, especially in QA review panels while applying the principles of the ESG. Nonetheless, there is a need for a more substantial involvement which leads to one of the major questions asked during the focus group: what can be done in order to have a greater student participation in QA?
On the first day we had some wide ranging discussions about the purposes of higher education and approaches to defining quality. One point raised with regards to both topics was the difference between the approach that is defined on paper, as part of the national or institutional strategy, and the approach that is taken in practice. Many participants agreed that it can difficult to bridge the gap between theory and reality.
On the second day we addressed some more concrete issues related to QA in universities and shared ideas of how to deal with them. While some common trends emerged, it was also clear the extent to which approaches to these problems depends on a range of contextual factors, including: country and region, type of institution, disciplinary variations and the external QA framework.
Many thanks to all the participants for their insightful contributions, and to WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) for hosting us. Some photos from the event are available here: www.eua.be/activities-services/events/event/2017/03/02/default-calendar/equip-focus-group-esg-2015-impact-challenges-and-solutions
This event was just one in a series of discussions being held with different QA stakeholder groups over the course of the next few months. The findings will be presented in a study to be released at the end of the year.
Get involved in the discussion! One of the challenges covered was how institutions go about linking QA with strategic management and how could this be improved. Do you have good examples to share? Please feel free to contribute your ideas and experiences below.
Education International represents the teaching profession in the EQUIP project, which comprises experienced education unionists and experts who have discussed ways to resolve challenges to the implementation of the ESG in the EHEA.
The other partners of the project are the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE), the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), the European University Association (EUA), the European Students’ Union (ESU), the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR), the University of Oslo (UiO), and the Portuguese Polytechnics Coordinating Council (CCISP).
While quality assurance in general, and the ESG 2015 in particular, are vital in enhancing the attractiveness and competitiveness of European higher education, studies have shown that inconsistent implementation has been a major issue.
The EI EQUIP focus group said the higher education sector needs sufficient resources and reinvestment to ensure a balanced approach. In addition, academics and their unions need to be fully involved in collaboration with stakeholders and policy makers, particularly when changes are being introduced. Indeed, the involvement of the teaching profession varies considerably across countries that have introduced – or are introducing – change processes.
The EI EQUIP focus group also will provide input for the EQUIP study that will examine the impact of the ESG revision on relevant stakeholders, the changes in practices necessary to comply with new elements of the ESG, and innovative approaches to tackling the challenges that arise as a result of the new elements of the ESG. The study, to be published at end-2017, will include recommendations for each stakeholders’ group for developing the quality of higher education through the use of the ESG.
Based on the conclusions of the EQUIP study, policy recommendations addressed at policy makers and to be presented to Ministers in charge of higher education at the 2018 EHEA Ministerial Conference in Paris, France will be devised.
On the first day we exchanged more broadly, first addressing the 4 purposes of higher education (Council of Europe) and the 4 approaches to quality (Schindler et al). One interesting point raised was the dichotomy between the emphasis put by national authorities on research and innovation and the legal and financial barriers some universities of applied sciences face to actually carry out research and innovation activities.
On the second day we approached more specific QA issues for institutions. This concerned student-centred learning and QA, strategic management and QA, the quality of programmes, and the use of external QA reports. Next to some bold suggestions on external QA reports, participants exchanged extensively on the impact of student-centred learning. One question we asked was whether they had defined their own understanding of student-centred learning it their institution. This seems critical as there are very different understandings of what is included under ‘student-centred learning’, e.g. the provision of flexible learning paths to students or their involvement in decision-making structures.
We’d like to thank all participants, as well as our hosts the IUT of Le Havre, Université Le Havre Normandie. A couple of photographs are on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eurashe/albums/72157682235117985.
As colleagues have mentioned before, this event was just one in a series of discussions with different QA stakeholder groups – next up are quality assurance agencies! The findings of all focus groups will be presented in a study at the end of the year.
Share with us your thoughts! Have you defined your own concept of student-centred learning when working with it? Do you have good examples to share?