Student Chronicle: Study trip to Brussels 2015 – part 2

As a part of their Master studies at University of Oslo, Hedda students made a study trip to Brussels in end of April. In this second post, Kate Belova and Raymond Olufsen write about the second half of their experience, including visit to the European Commission, EURASHE, European Student Union (ESU) and EQAR. 

Second day of meetings, exploring Brussels and departure

We awoke to a colder morning than the day before. However this didn´t put a damper on our company. After a delightful breakfast with scrambled eggs and ham, we headed again towards the western part of Schaerbeek. On our agenda we had a total of four meetings. Our first visit this day was to the European Commission (EC) DG for Education and Culture.

Meeting with the European Commission

After the necessary passport checks by the security guards, Ragnhild-Solvi Berg picked us up by the entrance and guided us to the meeting room through the multiple corridors of the large building. Here we were introduced to her colleague, Dr. Graham Wilkie (both of them work in the international cooperation unit. The two of them informed us on the specifics of the EC. The organization plays an important role when it comes to the European integration of higher education and supports national efforts regarding higher education reforms, as well as inter-governmental processes like the Bologna reform.

From left to right: Kate, Misar, Nirmal, Joshua, Ragnhild, Beatrice, Dr. Graham, Raymond and Tim

From left to right: Kate, Misar, Nirmal, Joshua, Ragnhild, Beatrice, Dr. Graham, Raymond and Tim

Overall, meeting with the EC representatives provided us with a unique opportunity to get a closer look at how the Commission works and what role the EC plays within not only European, but also international higher education. Even more importantly, we gained a valuable insight into the re-design of the student mobility programs that resulted in the creation of the all-inclusive and more internationalized Erasmus + program.  These are some of the bullet points:

  • As in the case with Norway House, the work of the EC DG for Education and Culture is based on the Open Method of Coordination.
  • Within the modernization agenda such issues were especially emphasized: the relevance of higher education (HE), strong social dimension in HE (e.g. participation and civic engagement), applying new technologies, making more fluid links between HE and research (ensuring that research feeds into pedagogy), linkages between universities and business (not to make HE a bubble, such as e.g. petroleum education in Norway today);
  • As to student mobility, one of the main goals of the international unit in the EC is to increase amount of international students outside the EU in student mobility programs. This now became possible due to Erasmus + program, which also offers a range of opportunities for doctoral candidates, staff and institutions from around the world.
  • Erasmus + still does not cover Sub-Saharan Africa due to continuing negotiations between European Development Fund and governments of several African countries. It is expected, however, that Erasmus + will include the whole world by 2016.
  • Norway is among the countries most involved in joining development cooperation and HE. The EC inspires this kind of tradition;
  • Around 2% of students worldwide are internationally mobile. Thus, the current challenge also touches upon a need to provide globalization skills, which are also highly welcomed by the employers, to the students who cannot participate in mobility programs.
  • The EC is also working for increasing credit mobility between European universities and higher education institutions outside Europe to ensure that giving credits towards the degree is supported for students from outside Europe.

After this meeting we had a couple of hours to kill. We sat down for a relaxed lunch in the park. This was a welcome opportunity to enjoy the sun and spring weather that we missed so dearly in Norway.

Relaxing lunch in the park

Relaxing lunch in the park

Meeting with European Association of Institutions of Higher Education (EURASHE)

Thanks to Erin Nordal, Vice-President of the European Student Union, and the representatives of other organizations who agreed to this, our next three meetings were held in locales provided by the ESU. When we arrived there; Johan Cloet, Secretary General from EURASHE, talked with us about professional higher education, highlighting the following:

  • The main focus of EURASHE is to create a strong link between higher education institutions and enterprises, facilitating students` employability and adaptation to ever changing society. EURASHE does this through policy development aimed at harmonization of approaches to professional higher education.
  • Some employers tend to focus more on the direct return on investment, however, it not always works like this.
  • Among the main challenges EURASHE is facing is the need of involving many stakeholders and negotiating with them; the challenge of migrant students` employability; ensuring life-long learning; adapting for special needs` education students; mutual recognition of diplomas; assessing of internships` learning outcomes.
  • EURASHE is practice-oriented and competence-based, aiming at dealing with the problems students are usually confronted with (e.g. multidisciplinarity, constantly changing environment etc.). Social dimension aimed at equality of opportunities in higher education is also the important part of EURASHE`s work.

Among EURASHE`s recent projects are: IDEAS − identifies effective and innovative approaches to enhance the social dimension of higher education, emphasizing creativity, small-scale social projects, student unions etc. –  HAPHE − Harmonising Approaches to Professional Higher Education in Europe –     PHExcel −  works on principles and guidelines for assessing and recognizing excellence as a transformative of a quality concept –

Meeting with the European Student Union

Erin Nordal from the ESU

Erin Nordal from the ESU

Second, Erin Nordal presented the work of the ESU, mentioning, amongst many other things, these ones:

  • ESU is an umbrella organization of 47 national unions of students, coordinating student voice among many political actors and with a particular focus on social, economic and cultural dimension for students.
  • ESU became one of the main stakeholders in higher education especially from 1999 with a Bologna process.
  • Working a lot with representation and advocacy, ESU also focuses on research and concept development, capacity-building and information exchange.
  • Among ESU`s core policy areas are social dimension (promoting higher education as a public good which should serve to all people, benefitting the whole society), governance and funding, quality and transparency, mobility and internationalization.
  • For the Conference in Yerevan (Armenia) in May 2015, ESU has prepared the report “Bologna with student eyes”.
  • The concept “student-centered learning” was developed by ESU.
  • For ESU, in contrast to EURASHE, employability is only one part of the role of higher education.
From left to right: Tim, Beatrice, Raymond, Misar, Joshua, Nirmal, Melinda, Colin, Erin and Kate

From left to right: Tim, Beatrice, Raymond, Misar, Joshua, Nirmal, Melinda, Colin, Erin and Kate

Meeting with the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR)

Finally, our last speakers for this study visit were representatives from the EQAR, Melinda Szabo and Colin Tück. These are some of the points they have shared with us:

  • EQAR is operating on a meta-level, providing quality assurance of quality assurance agencies.
  • Among the main incentives of higher education institutions wanting to participate in QA evaluation from outside is a wish to internationalize, a wish to go up in rankings, improvement of management, increase in potential students` numbers, better integration with Bologna system etc.
  • The selection criteria for a suitable quality assurance agency are: international reputation, peer review, language, country of origin, affordability etc.
  • Internationalization and more institutional autonomy are among the main opportunities for the work of EQAR. Yet, the national context, including cultural barriers, language, legislation, and higher education organization in a national setting are among the main challenges.
Melinda from the EQAR

Melinda Szabo from the EQAR

Exploring Brussels

On our third day we had the day off and we went out to have a look at Brussels famous attractions. We visited the Free University, the Atomium and mini-Europe.

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All in all we all agreed that we had a wonderful trip. We both learned a lot of new things and had the chance to explore one of the most important cities in Europe policy making. As a group we got to learn more of each others cultures and the backgrounds of our classmates.