Skills beyond school

Testing student and university performance globally: OECD’s AHELO


What is the AHELO Feasibility Study?

The OECD is carrying out a Feasibility Study for the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes. The purpose of this Feasibility Study is to see if it is practically and scientifically feasible to assess what students in higher education know and can do upon graduation.

More than a ranking, the AHELO assessment aims to be direct evaluation of student performance at the global level and valid across diverse cultures, languages and different types of institutions.

A full scale AHELO would be a a “low stakes” voluntary international comparative assessment designed to provide higher education institutions with feedback on the learning outcomes of their students and which they can use to foster improvement in student learning outcomes.

AHELO Brochure

Why the OECD?

For more than 40 years, the OECD has been one of the largest and most reliable sources of comparable statistics as well as economic and social data. The Directorate for Education has ample experience is this area with projects such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) testing the knowledge and skills of 15 year olds and the Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).


The Feasibility Study will look at outcomes in:

  • Generic skills common to all students (such as critical thinking,analytical reasoning, problem-solving, and written communication).

  • Discipline-specific skills in economics and engineering

Contextual questionnaires are also being given at the student, faculty and institution level to link the data to student backgrounds and learning environments.

As part of the work of the Feasibilty Study the OECD will also aim to do some research work on the measurement of value-added. A litterature review has already been produced (forthcoming) and an expert meeting is tentatively planned for the first quarter of 2013.

Find out more on the the assessment and the instruments here.


Students are tested at the undergraduate level (nearing the end of their first 3-or 4-year-degree). 23 000 students participated in the Feasibility Study.

Universities: for the purpose of the Feasibility Study 248 higher education institutions have been involved. Participation is on a voluntary basis.

Higher education institutions are also involved in the management of the feasibility study. The AHELO Feasibility Study was developed within the Institutional Management of Higher Education (IMHE) programme and under its Governing Board which includes members from governments as well as from higher education institutions.

Countries:  representing a wide range of cultures and languages are participating in the Feasibility Study.

Stakeholders: the OECD has invited a group of organisations with a stake or interest in higher education to join the AHELO Stakeholders Consultative Group. It is a channel through which information about AHELO can be presented and discussed with these organisations. It is also a forum in which those stakeholders can raise and formulate ideas on how the study can be implemented. Members of this group include international associations of quality assurance agencies, student organisations, universities, employers and unions, as well as representatives of the engineering and economics professions. 





The Feasibility Study will show:

  • What is feasible and what could be feasible.
  • What has worked well and what has not.
  • Provide lessons and stimulate reflection on how learning outcomes might be more effectively measured in future.

While AHELO takes a similar approach to other OECD assessments (like PISA) in that it will assess student knowledge and skills directly it will not provide information at national or system level. The focus will be on institutions and will not allow for comparisons at national level.

AHELO is not a ranking and will not provide league tables. At the feasibility study stage, participating institutions will be provided with anonymous data to allow them to benchmark their performance against that of their peers.



Phase 1 - January 2010 to June 2011 - development of testing instruments for the generic and discipline-specific skills in economics and engineering and small-scale validation of these instruments.

Phase 2 - January 2011 to December 2012 - administration of the tests (and contextual questionnaires) in participating institutions.

December 2012: end of the feasibility study and publication of Volume 1 of the feasibility study report on feasibility by the OECD (Design and Implementation - already published: Full report, Executive Summary).

February 2013: Publication of the second volume of the feasiblity study report on Data Analysis and National Experiences (already published (Full report, Executive Summary).

Feasibility study conference on 11-12 March 2013 in Paris: Measuring learning outcomes in Higher Education: Lessons learnt from the AHELO Feasibility Study and next steps

October 2013: Publication of the third and final volume of the report on further insight (and including the Conference proceedings).

Conclusion: based on the results of the feasibility study, OECD member countries will decide whether to delve deeper into the subject as well as set out steps towards conducting a full-scale AHELO.


What we have learnt so far

The three Volumes of the Feasibility Study Report have been published: Volume 1 on the Design and Implementation (Full report, Executive Summary), Volume 2 on Data Analysis and National Experiences (Full report, Executive Summary), and Volume 3 on the Value-added Measurement and the Conference proceeings (Full report).


The work of the feasibility study has been financed by the participating countries and through generous contributions from Lumina Foundation for Education (United States), Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy), Hewlett Foundation (United States), Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal), Riksbankens Jubileumsfund (Sweden), the Spencer Foundation (United States), the Teagle Foundation as well as the Higher Education Founding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Higher Education Authority of Ireland (HEA).

Testimonials from our sponsors are available here.

 Find out more

- Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs

- AHELO Brochure

- AHELO Feasibility Study Report - Volume 1 (published December 2012)

- Latest AHELO Newsletter

- AHELO in the news: Media buzz

- Publications, reports and documents

Who's who in AHELO: the governance of the project and the different groups involved.

- The AHELO Team


 Contact us

Contact  [email protected] with any questions or be placed on our mailing list.  


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Last updated: June 2014