Opening Address: Higher Education Outcomes: Quality, Relevance, Impact

 

Opening address: Robert Berdahl, President, Association of American Universities, USA 

 

The discussion of “learning outcomes,” which has gained such traction world-wide over the last decade, has its origins from outside the academy in the demands for greater efficiency and accountability that arose in the 1980s, largely from the governments funding higher education.  From within academia, it began with a subtle, but significant shift from the emphasis on improving the quality of faculty teaching to an emphasis on improving the quality of student learning.  A substantial literature in the United States emerged dealing with understanding how students learn and how to alter the teaching methods accordingly. In the United States, there has also been the deep frustration among academics with the manner in which the most visible evaluation of American universities, the annual rankings of colleges and universities by the U.S. News and World Report, captured only “inputs,” not “outputs,” resulting in significant distortions, especially disadvantaging public universities.  Relying heavily on input measures such as SAT scores of students, selectivity of admissions, percentage of alumni giving, student:faculty ratios, the U.S. News and World Report rankings have long been a  thorn in the side of American university leaders.  Robert Berdahl will speak as an educator, about the outcomes and quality of higher education within the United States, with some reference to what is going on within Europe and the OECD. 

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Respondent: Sijbolt Noorda, President VSNU, Association of Dutch Research Universities, The Netherlands 

 

Higher Education always exists in a particular context. That was true in the proverbial days of the ivory tower and it is true today. It is hard to name a single aspect that is not stamped and wielded by present society and its global dimensions. This is not something lamentable, but a sign of strength and virtue. Surviving species have great powers of adaptation.
Quality, impact and relevance are important criteria by which society measures university performance. These criteria by the way are not new, nor is society’s interest in them. The innovation is in the process and the scope of the measuring. And it is there that we are struggling to find a balance between international transparency and comparability on the one hand and academic professional quality culture and individual performance on the other.

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