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EUA Learning and Teaching Forum: European principles for the enhancement of learning and teaching – strengthening institutional approaches (Parallel session 4)

29 September 2017

Putting Principles to the Test

The EFFECT project aims to facilitate the exchange of experience and effective methods in terms of university teachers’ development at the European level. 
A key outcome of the initiative will be the publication of a working paper: European principles for the enhancement of learning and teaching. 

A set of 10 principles, or aspirations aims to drive a common understanding of Europe’s education mission; it is to become part of a collaboration toolkit that would inspire and guide conversations and joint work on  learning and teaching in various contexts: at institutional level, for strategy development or enhancement, but also to facilitate conversation among diverse groups from different institutions and systems.

In the spirit of collaboration and exchange, delegates attending the session were invited to share their thoughts and feedback with representatives of the EFFECT project working group. 

Lewis Purser, director of academic affairs at the Irish Universities Association and Alison Robinson Canham, Assistant Director for Strategy and Development with the Higher Education Academy, UK, invited delegates into the debate drawing on their diverse perspectives. 

“We want to capture feedback on whether – or not – the principles we have identified and defined in the paper are practical and useful,” said Purser.

“Putting this paper together we partnered with associations, universities, trade unions and student bodies to research the education function in different countries. We distilled our findings into this set of fundamental principles that underpin the missions of different universities – it’s an attempt to capture or articulate what they believe they are supposed to be doing.” 

The objective is not to have a “document on the wall,” said Robinson Canham. “We want to deliver a working tool that will enhance collaboration – turning the principles from words on a page into policy and practice.” 

“We think it’s a broad consensus. We believe we have captured a genuine spread of perspectives,” she said, “but today we are putting it to the test with delegates. We want to know what these 10 principles look like from their perspective – how they would animate each of these concepts in their universities and institutions.”

Delegates were invited to read each principle and discuss their relevance and the potential application in their own institutions. Feedback was captured through group discussion and crystallised into “guiding questions” that will be fed back to the project’s steering committee.

“We’re open to this being uncomfortable,” said Purser. “We are hoping to capture the diversity of perspective and approach of the professors, senior managers and students in the room. We’re using the session to put ideas – these principles – to the test. This is a good methodology for testing ideas, capturing contributions.”

One of the key pieces of feedback from delegates was to highlight the danger of a “cut-and-paste” approach to concepts or best practice in higher education across diverse systems and cultures.

“The goal is not to delineate a set of rules for all. This is a means of capturing commonality as part of a drive towards cooperation. At EU-level, the function of bodies like the EUA is to facilitate knowledge sharing and exchange. The onus falls to individuals – professors, institutions – to interpret shared concepts and work out how they can take responsibility to animate them.”

Common goals and practices exist across Europe for collaboration in research, says Purser. But there is very little policy covering collaboration in teaching. 

“The benefit of projects like EFFECT and papers like this is a kind of European ‘added-value.’ We have the opportunity to learn from each other, build on what we know as a diverse and broad community and to facilitate mobility for European students and academics.”

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