Constant changes in societal and educational needs request that further emphasis is given on teaching excellence. It is expected that this will enhance Europe’s competitiveness in this knowledge-based economy, which requires increased and multiple higher skills and competences through a paradigm shift in the classroom towards student-centered learning. Student-centered learning (SCL) gained political recognition in Bologna process agreements only in 2009 through the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Ministerial Communiqué. ESU/ESIB has been a strong advocate for interaction between teacher and student, which we consider crucial for quality and relevance of learning outcomes. Also Student-centred learning has an immense impact on the process of acquiring those learning outcomes, responds to the diversity of profiles and needs of learners and therefore improves the higher education retention rates.
Despite Ministerial commitments and ESU efforts to gain more attention to the concept and benefits of SCL, there have been little progress on the national level to introduce strategies on rewarding excellence in teaching. Neither higher education institutions themselves were putting much effort in developing and implementing teaching staff development policies across the whole institution. ESU has been keeping a close track on the implementation of the SCL concept since Leuven/ Louvain-la-Neuve through its project “Time for a New Paradigm-Student-Centred Learning” (T4SCL) 2009/10, publications “Bologna at the Finish Line 2010”, “Bologna with Students’ Eyes 2012”, also numerous surveys to the member unions in 38 EHEA countries.
Based on T4SCL project, ESU together with Education International developed a comprehensive description of what SCL means in the Bologna context, what are its direct and indirect benefits, what are the preconditions for its implementation. A survey, launched to teachers and students in 22 countries helped to map the SCL related policies and practices, showed their perception on the barriers for the implementation of SCL; helped to identify key players, such as university leadership, quality assurance agencies. The project has had an element of involving those key players in national debates on mainstreaming SCL, which took place in more than 10 countries. On the later stage an indicative SCL checklist to empower higher education institutions, teachers or students to identify the gaps in implementing SCL and methodological recommendations on improving the situation have been published in a form of a T4SCL toolkit. The toolkit has been translated in more than 7 languages (French, German, Dutch, Lithuanian, Albanian, other). Then ESU identified a growing interest in SCL on the grassroots level, being confirmed through numerous invitations for ESU to speak about it at Bologna expert seminars, Directors General meeting in Cyprus in 2013, and national events.
In 2012 the importance of SCL and learning-outcomes based learning has been reiterated in the Bucharest Ministerial Communiqué and Communication on Rethinking education. The same year, Bologna follow-up group has developed its working agenda with a specific focus on improving social dimension in education through student-centeredness in teaching. ESU wants also to point out that a shift is required not only in the minds of the teaching staff, but also in the students’, to be able to enhance their learning experience.
Current quality assurance mechanisms do emphasise the importance of teaching (interaction between teacher and student, curricula design with respect to learning outcomes, assessment schemes), however current quality assurance procedures have their limitations. Program level evaluation can give better understanding on the methodological set-up of the individual study programme. SCL is not limited to certain methodology; it is rather a cultural shift in the institution. It also builds up on the successful implementation of Bologna tools, such as recognition procedures, ECTS based on the learning outcomes. Institutional reviews, performed by the quality assurance agencies, rarely signify the aspect of teaching and learning as a core one, which also give a false signal to the institutional leadership about priorities in management. In reality it means that research activity is rewarded significantly more, than excellence in teaching, there are fewer incentives for the academic staff to invest in development of their teaching skills, employ new methods like problem-based learning, project- based activities. At the same time, there are only few good practices, which put emphasis on students and encourage them to take a more active role in designing their learning path, take advantage of collaborative learning methods and develop critical thinking through challenging the authority. PASCL project aims at bridging this gap by figuring out and piloting a robust assessment framework that can be used to enhance the “student-centeredness” of higher education institution in Europe. Thanks to the planned assessment and procedures, in case of successfully carried out, this action can lead to the award of a “Student-centred institution”.
The other partners of consortia observed similar trends and challenges, especially UNICA, which also runs Bologna experts’ project. ESU has had longstanding cooperation with UNICA on promoting SCL mainly though its Bologna seminars and bi-annual UNICA student conferences. The above mentioned T4SCL toolkit been developed in close cooperation with experts from University of Jyvaskyla, which expressed the interest to work on the next steps of promoting the SCL concept. Together with Central European University, ESU has been engaged in promoting European Award for Excellence in Teaching in Social Sciences and Humanities (http://20.ceu.hu/teaching-award) and a number of Bologna process promotion activities. ESU also has collaborated with KIC and Melius on previous projects and showed an interest in SCL area.
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