SEMINAR FOR BOLOGNA AND HIGHER EDUCATION REFORM EXPERTS: Research-based Education: Strategy and Implementation. Budapest, November 3-5, 2012
Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. On November 5-7 of 2012, a seminar on Research-based Education mostly concentrating on strategic and implementation issues was held for Bologna and Higher Education reform experts. The seminar was co-organized by the European Commission, UNICA Network and Brussels Education Services being hosted by one of the main higher education institutions of Hungary. There is clear evidence that research – teaching linkage is central to teaching and learning in higher education. It was also widely acknowledged that that research teaching linkages enhance the development of core employability attributes. Therefore, the participants had convened to identify the key elements for a long-term strategy towards research based education (RBT) and single out the possible risks on that way by turning the challenges into opportunities, as there are tangible benefits to linking research with teaching, thus, obligating the institutions of higher learning to concentrate on this topic and devise a development plan in order to address the need.
The Seminar evolved around three structured discussion settings – plenary sessions, trainings groups and Bologna Café. The purpose of training sessions was to thoroughly discuss the challenges and recommend follow up actions to the appropriate higher education institutions and governments. The session explored the variety of ways in which undergraduate research and inquiry based learning could be undertaken, using strategies that would make this practice a sustainable endeavor. The idea of Bologna Café was to trigger off a discussion on a burning issue related with Higher Education Reform in general or, else, focusing on the role of the Experts in their home countries. Armenian HERE Nvard Manasian and Alexander Hakobyan facilitated and monitored one of the training sessions and Cafés. The training session discussions were analyzed and shared with all of the participants, helping them to further elaborate future actions and adapting some of the tools presented during the seminar to their respective cases.
The examples discussed during the training session suggested that there was a diversity that needed to be consulted cautiously when devising strategies for research based education at bachelor level. However, one thing was clear that a rather wider definition of Research was needed in almost all cases, as most of the times it had rather elitist stance or was narrowed due to linguistic definition, thus, limiting the creation of knowledge and postponing the scientific inquiry. In most of the cases the research elements were already identified at 3rd year of undergraduate study, nevertheless, requiring further restructuring and curriculum revision to either equip the graduates with research and inquiry skills or prepare them for advanced studies. Although there was a wide consensus that students have to be introduced to star teachers as early as possible, the overall stance was to have a healthy mix of mostly post doctoral faculty members and less experienced academic staff. Some of the countries might face problems with integrated research staff, which could be mediated by creating twinning arrangements or matrix management, inviting external expertise to boost the performance. It was suggested that QA could be viewed as an external driver in ensuring that learning complies with NQF’s broad definitions of research related learning outcomes, especially at Bachelor and Masters levels in order to avoid limited integration of research. Finally, it was highly recommended to avoid choosing teaching option as a demotion in response to poor research, as it would not serve the intended objective, making the policy counterproductive.
A Workable Strategy for RBE: The group discussed possibilities for developing a workable strategy that could be applied in most of the cases, regardless of the objective diferenciations in the context and diversity of heritage. It was suggested to develop a policy that would value employability by requiring the students to identify research projects relevant to the needs of employers, meanwhile, linking it to Reward and Recognition system. This in its turn suggested that devising a HR policy where Promotion and Benefits would be linked to measuring the performance of staff based on reformed curriculum with embedded research could create additional incentives for RBE. The participants stressed the importance and effectiveness of team work, when it comes to research, therefore, they emphasized the need for a policy that would enable RBE in teams. Another facet of RBE was the marketing. It was obvious that successful results needed branding and marketing to be pursued by the management at the university level. Thus, the participants highlighted the need to market RBE products, the appropriate researchers, including the students. Finally, research relevance to social context was another aspect that could make RBE a reality, thus, suggesting the HEIs to focus on the formulation of complex problems of interest to the society and stakeholder groups, asking research teams to develop competitive research projects and linking this to different schemes of competitive financing.
During the training session participants were asked to split into 8 groups and think of ten ideas that would help to develop RBE strategies. Some of the most favorite (see below) were filtered by applying a voting system and the four-star recommendations were shared with all of the participants.
MARKET AND DISSEMINATE
- Recognize the successful teacher led undergraduate research and spread the good practice among peers
- Post best examples of specific research projects within regular syllabi on HEIs website or spread it via the social network
- Create an enabling environment for students and staff team research from different departments (interdisciplinary research)
- Organize interdisciplinary symposia with students including swap shops
Challenges of RBE Implementation: The cultural context impacts implementation as it is highly sensitive to the discipline, having loose connections in some cases and being tightly intertwined in the others. Nevertheless, it was stressed that attitudes could influence the level and ease of RBE integration into the curriculum, thus, suggesting a need for close cooperation at department level and with the faculty concerned. Finally, being aware of RBE counts considerably and previously established tradition of research impacts the facilitation process, making it easier in cases when the department or university has an extensive experience in RBE based curriculum, considering research as a value to be obtained through structured endeavors. In these cases, it was recommended to develop strategies and RBE implementation plans at institutional level, extensively share good practices and introduce internal ranking systems, as well as benchmark the success.
Institutional context is another variable that influence RBE and apparently size impacts greatly. It became obvious that larger universities would be better off in developing a RBE strategy at departmental level, whereas had to approach it by supporting the creation and networking of excellence centers. Finally, the smallest ones were at their best if innovative reward and funding mechanisms were designed and implemented. Therefore, when thinking of RBE strategy it was highly recommended for the management of HEIs to take into account their size and structural specificities. It was recommended that the management at HEI level considers applying some of the below stated actions in their respective RBE implementation plans:
- Devise Reward and Recognition system and make it public to raise the awareness,
- Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of RBE already taking place,
- Link the success of employability with RBE by gathering data and developing performance measurement systems,
- For centralized model rely on Senate in managing RBE, whereas in decentralized HEIs put the responsibility on Departments,
- ally with student groups, progressive faculty and employers in promoting RBE,
- Create a center or a committee that has representatives from different key stakeholders internally starting grassroots discussions on RBE and ways for implementation.