Universities propose Europe-wide professional body for teaching

Continental version of UK’s former Higher Education Academy among suggestions on how to boost educational standards

February 14, 2019
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Universities have proposed the creation of a Europe-wide professional body for teaching enhancement, in a bid to drive up educational standards.

A report published by the European Universities Association on 14 February proposes a set of models that could address the “patchy” use of teaching enhancement in higher education institutions, including the creation of a European professional body modelled on the UK’s former Higher Education Academy.

The HEA, now part of Advance HE, was a professional body that developed a professional standards framework for universities, offered training and certified professional development courses.

“Such a professional organisation would contribute to building a shared agenda that values learning and teaching at a European level, following a supportive, peer- and membership-based approach,” the EUA report says.

The EUA says that the new organisation, which would be funded by a mix of membership fees, grants and sale of services, could offer teaching certificates. However, the paper cautions that countries with similar national schemes would be unlikely to find this useful.

And it adds that defining professional standards on a continent-wide basis “may be a complex task, and might not be appropriate given the diversity of higher education systems”.

Other suggestions in the report include the establishment of networks of institutional centres for teaching and learning, the creation of a network of advisory bodies to support national approaches, and for university consortia to develop collaborative staff development programmes.

According to the EUA, a Europe-wide teaching enhancement approach would not only facilitate the exchange of ideas and teaching traditions between countries and promote greater scrutiny of the teaching that goes on in universities but would also help to achieve parity of esteem between teaching and research in academic careers.

Michael Gaebel, director of the EUA’s higher education policy unit, told Times Higher Education that the association was responding to the lack of formal pedagogical training for lecturers in many European countries.

“We looked at the teaching enhancement offers, such as training and pedagogical staff development, and found that there was an acceptance that it was an issue to address,” Mr Gaebel said.

The EUA report says that institutions are left to develop their own approaches to teaching enhancement in most European countries.

“On the one hand this is good: institutions have different missions and needs and are therefore able to tailor it to their needs; but on the other hand, it could be more helpful to have a collective approach and coordination among higher education, to share resources and approaches,” Mr Gaebel said. “That would be a good argument for the recommendation to have a European academy, like the HEA.”

Mr Gaebel admitted that it “might be difficult to develop the one European academy that would serve all the needs that are there in the sector”. It would also likely require a major investment and would need a clear and sustainable business model, he said. “That’s why we came up with a range of proposals and will continue to develop them.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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