Senior European academics, university officers and policy makers met this month at the European University Association’s annual conference in Brussels to discuss the rapidly changing European higher education market.
European Union member states have increasingly standardized their degrees and courses under agreements known as the Bologna Process. Now, policy makers are looking to a future in which new teaching tools and changes in the student body could significantly alter the university landscape.
“There are changes in technology and learning expectations — and universities have to change to meet these demands,” Lesley Wilson, secretary general of the association, said after the conference, which brought together more than 350 education professionals to discuss how these trends mesh with an increasingly unified market — and one that is increasingly looking beyond Europe for students and academics.
“It’s not sufficient to have the European framework for degrees, it is really important to push student learning,” Ms. Wilson said.
Of particular interest are recent developments in digital and long-distance teaching technologies.
While much discussion of this topic in the United States is focused on prospects for wider, lower-cost student access, Ms. Wilson noted, European universities, which are often state subsidized, look at the possibilities through a different lens.
“Students are learning in a much more individual way, so every individual should be seen as individual,” she said.
Belinda Tynan, pro vice chancellor for Learning and Teaching at Open University in Britain, noted that digital learning is increasingly moving to handy, lower cost tablets and smartphones from desktop or laptop computers. She pointed to the university’s mobile app, podcast lectures and e-books as ways to engage the mobile market.
In a session on Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, several educators discussed their universities’ early experiences with the approach. One speaker commented that MOOCs seemed to help bridge the gap from secondary school to university by opening university level courses to high school students.
European educators, meanwhile, have been seeing a rise in lifelong learners, with many adults returning to postsecondary education to retrain for the work force after losing their jobs in the recession that followed the global financial crisis. Universities — long focused on the young and upwardly mobile — are learning to cope with the resulting demographic mix.
“It is the essence of teaching itself that is changing,” Ms. Wilson said.
Globalization is another challenge: Hiltraud Casper-Hehne, vice president for international affairs at the University of Göttingen, in Germany, said that courses delivered in English were helping to attract international students but that curriculum changes and training in cultural differences were also needed. “International content must be made accessible to all students to prepare them for a globally functioning world,” she said.
Source: Education News