Higher education quality: too much talk, not enough rock
When we talk about a knowledge-based society, innovation, skills and use of those skills, and the desire to guarantee young Estonians a competitive higher education, we can't skip part of the work needed to achieve them.
We can't talk of wanting our young people to be educated without ensuring that they have the environment in which they can become just that.
That means consistent work has to be done on curricula. It's a process consisting of different stages, and thus it is important that development be oriented to future perspectives. There's input-based, output-based and process-based learning, but in Estonia higher education is mainly output-based.
So what's the problem? In Estonia, curricula tend to be too academic and cumbersome. The links between the curricula and the learning outcomes are weak.
The student confederation (EÜL) has proposed greater student involvement in various processes as one way to resolve the quality problem. A system for this exists, but again, involvement is just a formality.
Although students do take part in meetings and are allowed to represent the interests of the student body, they are not necessarily able to express their opinion in the right place. Knowledge of curricular development is relatively poor if not non-existent, but there is no university or state-side initative for increasing awareness of development activity.
Many students do not even consider feedback and involvement to be an important part of developing academic quality. But maybe institutions of higher education should pay more attention to what measures to use to increase the desire of young Estonians to be a part of the development process. I would say on the basis of experience that quality assessment doesn't seem appealing to students, and thus the topic is remote for them as they lack knowledge about how much their opinion really counts.
Just as important as student feedback is the need to involve patricipants from outside the university system. How high a percentage of the higher educated can actually apply their skills and knowledge in real life so that the invested resource is earned back? Among other participants, we need to involve alumni, employers and professional associations or legislative drafters. Employers are a direct target group to whom the individual who has acquired an education gravitates.
Making curricula output-based will not be enough by itself. The labour market-based, knowledge-based society is shaped by continuous processes and thus changes have to be dealt with every day. It can't be said at any moment that a curriculum is now ready and no additions are needed. In a globalizing world it is important to understand what is happening on the other side of national borders - recognition of internationally acquired learning is complicated in the absence of outputs.
Heidy Roosimägi is head of the academic quality assessment project at Tallinn University. This piece was abridged from the original on uudised.err.ee.