THE Europe Teaching Rankings 2019: collaboration is key for keeping students engaged

Encouraging good relationships between faculty and students, and creating diverse, international classrooms are priorities in Europe, finds Ellie Bothwell

July 4, 2019
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Browse the full THE Europe Teaching Rankings 2019 results

Many universities highlight the close interaction between students and scholars as a key element of their student experience.

But Copenhagen Business School takes this approach to a whole new level.

Each of the institution’s degree programmes has its own “study board” that is made up of students and academics who collectively make decisions about curriculum design and delivery.

“A key point here is that each of our degree programmes is co-owned and co-run between students and faculty members,” says Gregor Halff, the university’s dean of education.

“That means there is permanent critical debate…about how we should structure their education and the courses.”

Halff adds that the students’ union also “permanently engages with faculty members…over curriculum design”, and there is “a very low power distance” between scholars and students, who are generally seen as peers and collaborators rather than part of a hierarchical relationship.

Halff says this relaxed environment is generally most felt by international students, who make up 40 per cent of postgraduate students on campus and are not used to “being able to call your professor by her or his first name”.

Meanwhile, CBS offers a broader range of subjects than most business schools, says Halff, with the presence of historians and philosophers on campus enabling students to “reflect critically…about the value of business, the value of economics, the value of organisations”.

“That spirit of engagement, that spirit of critical reflection, is very much part of what CBS is,” he says.

Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that CBS is one of the top performers for “student engagement” in the Times Higher Education Europe Teaching Rankings 2019. The institution, which makes its debut in the list this year, is ranked 45th overall and seventh in the engagement pillar, which is based on a survey of 125,000 students across 18 countries. Questions include the extent to which the university supports critical thinking and the extent to which students have the opportunity to interact with faculty and teachers.

Athens University of Economics and Business is another newly ranked business school in the table. It ranks in the 101-125 band overall, but sixth in the engagement pillar.

Dimitrios Bourantonis, the institution’s vice-rector for academic affairs, says “personal, diverse and individual” is “the way to describe the approach that AUEB’s professors deploy towards our students”.

He admits that large enrolments on several courses could be a hindrance in this regard, but says that teachers are evaluated and rewarded on the ways they manage to maintain such an approach, which incentivises them to “inspire their students”.

Meanwhile, curricula are designed to include “discussion on relevant everyday topics, teamwork on projects and case studies to understand how the real world works”, says Bourantonis.

A team of psychologists at the university also run weekly workshops under the theme “Successful completion of studies at AUEB” to “listen to the students and their concerns and advise them how they can stay focused, manage failure and set realistic goals”.


“A student is engaged when he or she feels valued, understood and sees that his or her learning objectives are met on a daily basis,” Bourantonis says.

“Youth nowadays are extremely connected people who pursue instant gratification, constant stimuli and rich experiences in order to remain engaged. Universities need to be in a position to provide challenging, relevant and rich curricula in order for their students to understand the knowledge and the skills they receive instantly and the exact ways this knowledge will help them to create a better future for themselves and the society, in their post-student life.”

However, while the current generation of digitally native students may provide new challenges for universities, Bourantonis says there are also new opportunities for universities to exploit the fact that many young people are “even more interested in the social role that universities play”, through their education and other activities, on issues such as climate change and equality. This allows universities to “enhance the ‘bond’ between them, their students and the society as a whole”, he explains.

Italy’s IULM university is another strong performer for student engagement, ranking joint fourth in this pillar (and 201+ overall).

Rector Gianni Canova says that the phrase “know, know how to be, know how to do” represents the “three cornerstones at the basis of IULM’s teaching mission…to train and teach professionals capable of taking on the challenges and the opportunities emerging from an ever-changing environment”.

“Moreover, it prepares students to think critically [and] it provides them with values and skills, an open mind and questioning spirit, which will enable them to be a positive contribution to society,” he adds.

Spain’s IE University, which is ranked joint 33rd overall, tops the engagement pillar and is also ranked first for environment. This measures student and staff gender balance as well as two new metrics this year: share of international students and share of students participating in the European Union’s Erasmus+ student mobility programme.

Maria-Eugenia Marin, head of international relations at the institution, describes IE as “an international higher education institution that just happens to be in Madrid”, noting that more than 120 nationalities are represented on campus, with over 75 per cent of students coming from outside Spain.

“We definitely believe that having a diverse, international classroom fosters a much richer learning environment,” she says, adding that cultural diversity “fosters creativity, tolerance and team-working skills” and success in any career “involves having this broader global perspective”.

While other highly international universities have chosen a multi-campus model or launched a small number of significant institutional partnerships to drive global recruitment, IE has just one main campus (with a second smaller site in Segovia) and a network of 30 offices around the world.

This enables the university to easily attend local student recruitment fairs, engage with alumni in different regions and build relationships with companies to help provide job opportunities for students.

One might assume that because IE has a highly global campus its students have no need to seek out other international opportunities, but it has found the opposite to be true.

“It seems that the more international you are, the more students want international opportunities,” she says. “Sixty-five to 70 per cent of our undergraduates – and they’re not required to do so – go for a semester abroad.”


Trinity College Dublin is ranked joint 37th overall and second in the environment pillar. Of the 18,000 students on campus, 26 per cent come from outside Ireland and 18 per cent are from outside Europe. As at IE, students hail from over 120 countries.

Linda Doyle, dean of research, says this international student mix is “hugely important on two levels”.

“On the first level, bringing in people from outside gives a totally different perspective on problems and that’s beneficial for every student,” she says.

“Secondly, the cultural diversity is particularly important for the student experience in terms of their critical thinking. In a world where things can be very polarised with huge moves to the right in certain countries…we would be very much promoting that ability to think critically for yourself.”

Juliette Hussey, Trinity’s vice-president for global relations, adds that the institution’s new five-year global strategy includes a commitment for half of undergraduates to spend part of their study overseas. Just over a third (34 per cent) currently do so.

Portugal’s NOVA University of Lisbon is another strong performer in the environment pillar, ranking eighth in this area and joint 35th overall.

Rector João Sàágua cites the institution’s network of exchange partnerships, the affordability of the country, the perceived academic quality of the university and the institution’s network of “corporate and social partners that facilitate a connection with the labour market and graduates’ placement overseas” as reasons why it attracts a high share of international students.

Meanwhile, its portfolio of both English and Portuguese-based courses helps it attract “a diverse group of foreign students, including applicants from the 290 million Portuguese-speaking market that cannot be assimilated by strictly anglophone institutions”.

IE’s Marin agrees that language of instruction is a vital factor when it comes to internationalisation, claiming that some universities’ failure to embrace teaching in English is the reason why “a lot of [them] struggle” to become more global.

“Almost all our undergraduate programmes are in English and that’s the only way you can really bring in that diversity from all over the world. Maybe it will be Chinese in the future, [but at the moment] English is the lingua franca of international higher education,” she says.

“If you want to be a global university and attract that diversity into the classroom, which obviously I think is key…you have to find a common language.”

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