National, system-level initiatives can support and enhance learning and teaching, as highlighted in the study National Developments in Learning and Teaching in Europe. While higher education institutions themselves are on the frontline for organising and implementing strategies and practices for their academic communities, this article describes drivers and enablers that clearly point to the role national authorities and structures can play.
Learning and teaching has undoubtedly attracted increased interest in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) in recent years. A great majority of higher education institutions (HEIs) are establishing systematic and strategic approaches through dedicated policies and support structures. More recently, the pandemic has challenged and at the same time opened perspectives on the way people learn and teach at university. At European policy level, the Bologna Process has confirmed interest in learning and teaching, while the European Commission’s European Strategy for Universities probably includes more ambition for enhancing learning and teaching than any previous EU initiative. In between the practice level at HEIs and the policy makers at the European level, the study National Developments in Learning and Teaching in Europe provides an overview of how the different EHEA countries and higher education systems are contributing to learning and teaching.
HEIs themselves are on the frontline to play the biggest role, with learning and teaching centres being created or reinforced, and more and more developmental measures and catalyst roles to support teachers. But the national, system-level actors clearly also take part and have a responsibility, in an ecosystem where learning and teaching relies not only on individual teachers, but also on interactions between several stakeholders (HEIs, ministries, national organisations, funding agencies, student organisations, national rectors’ conferences, social partners, etc.). In this context, it is worth paying attention to how a change in learning and teaching policies, in pedagogical paradigms or in the education offer, can be led, and by whom. The concept of “leadership in teaching”, understood as both an individual agency and a collective capacity to address organisational development and gear it towards enhancement, is still an emerging issue: it is not yet a priority in national systems, although individual HEIs may already be addressing it through various initiatives to support leaders in teaching within institutions.
The drivers and enablers identified as common across several EHEA countries are significant. Issues such as the lack of recognition for teaching in academic careers, the lack of national support or clear commitment for teaching, and the need for more capacity building and expertise in learning and teaching, need to be addressed at national level, in partnership and dialogue with stakeholders. Likewise, enablers such as collaboration on learning and teaching, and the post-pandemic window of opportunity for reviewing good practices, are also to be addressed at national level.
The study features a wealth of examples of good national practices in several areas, but also demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all in national approaches. Several countries have recently adopted national strategies or plans to define priorities for learning and teaching and to provide incentives. In other countries, more or new regulations have not been deemed necessary, either because there is sufficient capacity for HEIs to develop and implement their own measures, or because there are concerns about overregulation. In only a few countries, such as Ireland and Norway, is there a national structure serving as a central point for organising the enhancement of learning and teaching across the system. Elsewhere, multiple actors in the system (university or teacher associations, national rectors’ conferences, quality assurance agencies, and sometimes the ministry) may together, and in a complementary way, play the same role.
Finally, the right interplay and complementarity between policy makers, national structures and stakeholders active in learning and teaching need to be found, with opportunities for all stakeholders involved to exchange and build up mutual understanding across the sector on what needs to be done. In a context where leadership in teaching is not one-directional and should be seen as shared or distributed, such consensus building looks indispensable at national level.
“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.
All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.
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