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The evolution of the modernisation agenda for higher education

28 February 2018

by Eva Åkesson
Rector Uppsala University

On 24 January, the Coimbra Group broke new ground by holding its first High-Level Workshop on Lifelong Learning and Employability. The Workshop was a great success and bodes well for similar events in the future, bringing Coimbra Group university leaders together with European higher education experts and policymakers to discuss how comprehensive, research-intensive universities can contribute constructively to the higher education modernisation agenda.

This exciting and timely event was very much in tune with the Coimbra Group mission statement and with our thinking at Uppsala University. We are keenly aware of the need to build on our strong traditions by continuously adapting so as to continue to contribute to a better world.

Last year at Uppsala University, we concluded an evaluation we called Quality and Renewal. Critical friends from universities around the world helped us to thoroughly examine our research and research environments. As a result, our University now has a road map for developing our institutions to reach the goals we have set for the future.

Engaging others to help in evaluation is a model Uppsala University has found successful. We believe in our own ideas and visions but sometimes you need new perspectives and angles to see what is right before your eyes.

Evaluating research is not a new idea. It has always been done, formally or informally, and we have learned from experience how to do it better.

In December our University launched a new tradition: we held our first annual conference on educational evaluation, with more than 200 participants. The conference will be an annual feature of Uppsala’s new quality assurance system for education.

In our model of educational evaluation, the responsibility for design, implementation and follow-up rests with the disciplinary domain/faculty boards. The model has two components: annual systematic follow-up of education, and evaluations by an external reviewer every sixth year. The annual follow-up is part of the domains’ responsibility for the quality of their educational programmes. The more comprehensive external evaluations are intended to assure and enhance the quality of programmes, with the overarching purpose being to achieve the University’s general goal of offering education of the highest national and international standard.

In February 2018 the faculties will present plans for the evaluation of all their programmes over a six-year period.

Before the conference, ten pilot evaluations were carried out. Experience and results from these pilot exercises were presented at the conference. While experiences differ in detail, one point almost all had in common was that the local educational environments felt strong ownership and considered that the process of working on educational evaluation in itself enhanced quality. The enthusiasm was palpable.

It was pleasing now and promising for the future that a University-wide conference on educational evaluation attracted so many enthusiastic participants – teachers, students, directors of studies, degree programme coordinators, deans and others from every part of our broad University – working together and exchanging ideas on how to make our educational programmes even better.

I believe this to be an important tool for the future of our University. In an academic world of increasing collaboration and growing student mobility, it will be essential to identify the strengths of a particular educational programme. By the same token, it will be vital to tackle weaknesses more quickly and more strategically than we do today.

We look forward to working with you all to find new and fruitful ways forward, starting in the EHEA2018 Ministerial Meeting in Paris.