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EUA Learning and Teaching Forum Day 1, Plenary session 1: Setting the stage

02 October 2017

Plenary session 1: Setting the stage
Meeting challenges together

European Learning & Teaching Forum Opening Session

“Enrolments worldwide in universities have increased from 14-32 per cent globally. We are no longer in the ivory tower producing elites,” said Jean Chambaz at this morning’s opening plenary.

Chambaz is a EUA board member and chair of the association’s Learning & Teaching Forum Steering Committee. He is also President at University Pierre and Marie Curie.

His message was about adaption: the need to adapt the system to ensure that universities have the autonomy to try out and roll-out new teaching models and make decision on staffing policy; the need to review reward and recognition schemes and shift mind sets so that research and teaching are valued equally; the need to adapt learning and teaching in a society where the fountain of knowledge is no longer in the lecture theatre and where, in the mass of available information and knowledge, the fake is too often deemed to be the reality.

“The world is changing very fast and we have to prepare students more than ever to be agile and efficient in the knowledge society,” said Chambaz.

His concerns were echoed by Sarah Lynch, Head of Sector Higher Education in Directorate–General Education, Youth, Sports and Culture at the European Commission.

Quoting a European Commission survey, she observed that with two million unemployed in the European Union and a third of employers struggling to find staff, change in the nature of the economy was evident. “Graduates,” she said, “need a wider set of transversal skills.”

The general theme was that the context of education has profoundly changed and universities have to adapt to it. “This is a digitally native generation,” said Lynch “that is thinking what do you have to offer that I can’t find by myself?

“Students like everyone else are focusing on a lot of very available information,” continued Chambaz. “Now they have a lot of on-line content on their discipline that might be contradictory. We have to develop their critical thinking skills to enable them to sort information and develop their own point of view.”

The balance of power in decision-making between governments and university management was a topic that cropped up more than once both in this session and in the opening addresses that preceded it. ‘Ease the regulation – we need more autonomy,’ was the message.

Autonomy on staffing policies and a space of freedom to research and invent new ways of learning and teaching were singled out. One delegate addressing Sarah Lynch on this topic said: “We need to invest more in our own teaching skills but we must have more autonomy. Of course, this should be audited autonomy that sits within a mission.”

Lynch pointed to the need, backed by proposed EU level actions, to fund more international exchange schemes, such as Erasmus+ and international peer counselling for lecturers and shared details on Commission projects aimed at identifying operational efficiencies across higher education systems.

Her apparent willingness to advocate for additional funding for Higher Education at EU-level was encouraging, and she acknowledged an increased focus within the Commission on learning and teaching. Higher education she eluded is seen as an important means of addressing wider European social and economic goals. “Innovation can only be driven by human creativity. How do we support that in higher education?” was a question she posed.

Reflecting on the stage and nature of the debate in hand Chambaz said, “we are here to learn how to learn to learn.” The Forum, with its focus on international best-practice sharing, was seen as a very positive step in this direction.

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