Quality assurance and the enhancement of learning and teaching are no longer exclusively the responsibility of those with the explicit responsibilities attached to their job titles. As EUA’s Tia Loukkola explains, a shift in culture around learning and teaching towards a more collective responsibility is underway, meaning an opportunity to bring added value to universities.
Quality assurance processes are on often criticised for being too process-focused and not touching upon the core issues of learning and teaching. Remarks were made by policymakers and academics alike when the 2015 Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESG) were under preparation. Quality assurance professionals themselves have echoed these remarks as they seek ways to promote quality culture through quality assurance. When the ESG were fresh from the oven, an EUA report found that a key change in the ESG 2015 was a strengthened link between quality assurance and learning and teaching. For this to work universities need to establish co-operation between different institutional actors to ensure that quality assurance has an impact on the quality of learning and teaching.
Against this backdrop, it is interesting to read the recently published EUA Learning & Teaching Thematic Peer Group reports because quality assurance and quality enhancement play a role in all of them. In these groups, a selected number of education leaders and managers from EUA member universities were invited to discuss a specific theme relevant for developing learning and teaching in the European Higher Education Area with the aim to find common ground and ways forward.
The reports may not always use typical quality assurance terminology and may not make explicit references to quality assurance, but essentially, they cover many areas of internal quality assurance systems at universities. The group findings discussing how students can be given an active role in their learning provide tips for operationalising student-centred learning in teaching and underline that the quality of learning process has a value all its own, and not only in the learning outcomes.
Another group showcases several examples of how to support the development of teaching competences of staff, underlining the importance of quality enhancement measures in this respect.
The report discussing teaching in academics’ career paths is closely linked to teaching competences and brings forward proposals on how acknowledgement of achievements in teaching can be rewarded through career paths.
From the outset it was clear that the group discussing how learning and teaching are evaluated at the programme level would have close links to quality assurance. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that out of the wide range of issues the group could have chosen, it addressed the challenge of motivating participation in these evaluations. Fostering motivation and commitment to quality are goals that the quality assurance community continuously struggles to achieve and has been highly debated in literature, including in EUA’s various reports on quality culture.
Reading the thematic peer group reports is reassuring as they demonstrate that quality assurance and enhancement of learning and teaching are no longer considered to be of concern only for those with explicit responsibilities for quality assurance processes attached to their job titles. A cross-cutting theme in the reports is a shift in culture around learning and teaching towards a more collective responsibility than perhaps what was the case traditionally. If quality assurance can tap into this shift and show its value in supporting this culture, it can bring added value to universities and add to its effectiveness.
Therefore, the reports are certainly recommended reading for all quality assurance professionals as they demonstrate a commitment to quality within the teaching community. As such, they give hope of more vibrant quality cultures.
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All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.