New opportunities for research-led education: a perspective from Brussels

This week’s Times Higher Education Academic Summit in Glasgow will focus on the close relationship between excellence in research and teaching.

Speakers will consider how new teaching methods, new digital learning formats, and novel assessment practices can enhance learning outcomes, and ensure that research defines what – and how – students learn. So how do the educational strategies of the EU, formulated in Erasmus and Horizon Europe, fit into the debates articulated in Glasgow?

The new Erasmus proposal envisages a tripling of students engaging in Erasmus-funded exchange programmes (from around 5% to 15%) from 2021-2027. And indeed, the European Council itself has advocated the creation of European Universities, with the aim of reaching a mobility rate of 50% within the participating alliances. But how would this new level of mobility be supported? It is one thing to integrate a small percentage of incoming students into a curriculum designed for home students. Therefore, our pedagogical considerations and our welfare support structures will need to adapt to such radical increases in mobility if these are to be realised.

A second concern of the Commission is that universities in Europe need to embrace open science more, not least through the training they provide, including in transferable skills (such as digital literacy, ethics, etc.).

There are increasing pressures on universities from employers, (often fee-paying) parents, and public authorities to provide research-led education that is ‘relevant’ to future employment. And in recent years, it has also become clear that we have taken the development of citizenship too much for granted.

At university, students learn to take responsibility for each other, for their communities, and for what they believe in. A university education cannot just be about the added value of transferable skills or internships, important though these are. Universities are able to create an environment that enables students to prioritise their learning whilst embracing the civic and intercultural experiences that are so important for cultivating citizenship.

Universities need to balance the demands we place on students to ensure that they are enabling, not overpowering, and that they enhance – rather than compromise – student welfare. For this reason, we must think about new pedagogies, new tools, and new approaches to learning. Any holistic picture of research-led education should integrate the EU’s agenda (or that of any public body) into a wider set of academic considerations about the student experience.

These considerations must be based on research about technology, pedagogy and education, as one of many defining features of research-led education. I look forward to three stimulating days at Glasgow!

Published July 9, 2018 6:56 PM - Last modified Aug. 30, 2018 10:13 AM