Around 350 university leaders and representatives from the higher education sector gathered last week (3-4 April) for the EUA Annual Conference, hosted by the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) in Belgium. The theme of this year’s conference was “Changing Landscapes in Learning and Teaching”.
Discussions highlighted that the importance of the core university mission of learning and teaching has been rising in recent years, and is likely to grow in the future. Participation in higher education, which has already increased substantially, is set to rise further. In addition, Europe is facing demographic and economic changes, and higher education is expected to play a critical role in lifelong learning.
More diverse student bodies and growing pressure on universities to respond to different economic and societal pressures mean it is likely that universities will need to provide more flexible learning paths and individualised support for learners. Plenary session presentations also demonstrated for example, that diverse student populations provide an opportunity to mix different groups of learners so they benefit from “cross-learning”; there was also discussion of combining traditional research-based learning with practical and experiential learning.
A number of speakers pointed to the fact that while today’s students, with exposure to new technologies, have different approaches to learning that need to be taken into account, this does not mean that at the same time they do not benefit from more traditional approaches of knowledge generation and presentation, which studies have shown, are particularly appreciated by students.
The potential of ICT to enhance teaching and learning was a central theme throughout the event, with new technologies transforming environments for students, teachers and universities. While ICT may not be a “silver bullet” to address all the challenges universities face (including massification and budget cuts), discussions highlighted that it offers an enormous opportunity for the reorganisation and enhancement of learning and teaching. This will require strategic approaches from university leadership and resources.
The conference also included a session dedicated to the topic of massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the final afternoon. This was an opportunity for several European universities to share their experiences with developing MOOCs and to discuss with participants their potential and that of e-learning more generally for the future of European higher education.
Meanwhile, presentations by representatives of institutions from China, Brazil and the US confirmed that other regions around the world are facing many similar changes and challenges as Europe. The conference discussions also highlighted the increase in higher education of both cooperation and competition, not only internationally but at other levels as well (including national and regional). The point was made that universities, wherever they are located, will increasingly need to be part of competitive “ecosystems” while at the same time maintaining a focus on cooperation that is crucial to developing high-quality education in a globalised world.
EUA President, Professor Nazaré, closed the conference by underlining that the conference title, confirmed by the discussions that had taken place, does not only mean that the (learning and teaching) landscape is changing but also that universities have the potential to actively change the landscape.
Presentations from the conference are now available on the conference website.
Photo: © Agustina Peluffo