Guest blogger: Higher Education Learning Outcomes – do they matter?


Hanne Kvilhaugsvik (University of Bergen)

Hanne Kvilhaugsvik is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Administration and Organization Theory, University of Bergen. Her research interests are organizational change in universities, governmental steering of higher education, and university governance. Her PhD project explores how learning outcomes and criteria of relevance for the labor market are used to evaluate and steer higher education in Norway and Denmark. This blog post is based on material from her master’s thesis in Administration and Organization Theory from 2015.

By the end of 2012, Norwegian higher education institutions were required to introduce written descriptions of the intended learning outcomes for each and every course unit and study program, in every discipline. Learning outcomes are connected with qualifications frameworks, the Bologna process, and the OECD, and have therefore been introduced throughout Europe during the last couple of years. So, what happens to higher education institutions when learning outcomes are introduced? Do they improve the quality of education and provide transparency, or are they simply formal requirements?

What are learning outcomes?

Learning outcomes can be defined as: “[…] written statement[s] of what the successful student/learner is expected to be able to do at the end of the module/course unit, or qualification.” (Adam, 2004: 5). In pedagogy, learning outcomes have been connected to a paradigm-shift “from teaching to learning” or “from input to output”. The recommendation is to use expected learning outcomes as a starting point for planning course units and study programs (Biggs and Tang, 2011). This is described in contrast to planning based on traditional input factors, such as reading list and content descriptions.

Learning outcomes can be understood as administrative tools or formalities. However, they have increasingly been described and promoted as instruments for reform and change (Lassnigg, 2012; Bjørnåvold and Coles, 2007). There is no shortage of goals for using learning outcomes: To improve the quality of education, provide transparency, ensure relevant qualifications for the labor market, and provide better opportunities to steer education. Learning outcomes can therefore be understood in connection with New Public Management ideas, and especially with ideas of reforming higher education towards more ‘complete organizations’ (Brunsson and Sahlin-Anderson, 2000). While learning outcomes have been studied much within pedagogy, there has been less research on learning outcomes as political instruments or policy tools (Souto-Otero, 2012). It is therefore interesting to study how learning outcomes are introduced and defined as instruments in higher education.

A case study on learning outcomes in higher education 


Call for applicants: Doctoral and post-doctoral research fellowships at the University of Western Cape

call-for-applicationsThe University of Wester Cape in South Africa has announced 7 doctoral and 3 post-doctoral positions. The Institute for Post-School Studies (IPSS) is an institute at the University of Western Cape (UWC), located within the Faculty of Education. Relevant research, teaching and development activities across the three domains of the IPSS contribute towards growing the knowledge base on post-schooling particularly in Africa and globally.

The Doctoral degree is a three-year full-time research-intensive programme. Entry into the programme will be very competitive as it is a fully funded programme. A post-doctoral research fellowship is a 12-month contract that can be renewable for another period of 12 months. The position is a full-time research intensive fellowship in accordance with the regulations of the IPSS/UWC. The successful postdoctoral fellows would be expected to perform research within the scope of the projects and other related tasks assigned by the post-doctoral supervisor and academic mentor.

Eligibility: To qualify for Doctoral and Post-doctoral positions candidates must be African nationals and able to make a substantial contribution to teaching, research and publications in the field of higher education studies. The doctoral candidates must have completed the master’s degree at the time of their application. Read more about the specific eligibility criteria for the positions here (pdf)

Read more about the positions and the application procedure here (pdf)

Podcast: Quality Management of Norwegian Higher Education

Professor Peter Maassen

Professor Peter Maassen (University of Oslo)

We are pleased to share with you some of the recordings that were made during a seminar that was arranged on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Oslo. The presentations are made by members of the ExCID research group that focuses on studies of higher education and work, with particular emphasis on expert cultures and institutional dynamics.

The seminar recordings were made on 27th of September 2016.

In the following presentation, Peter Maassen presents key insights from recent projects on quality in higher education, titled: “Quality Management of Norwegian Higher Education: complexities and visions on possible future developments“. Before the presenration, professor Monika Nerland introduces the overall seminar.

Listen without the Flashplayer

View the powerpoint presentation for this seminar.

Stay tuned for more content from the seminar!

Hedda master programme in higher education – Global admission round now open!

So, are you curious about higher education as a research field? Have you worked in higher education and want to expand your competencies? Are you a former student politician who wants to study higher education further? Or perhaps you just think higher education a very fascinating field to study? Perhaps it is not you, but you know someone like this? Here is an opportunity!

The Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Oslo (Norway) is delighted to announce that the admission round for global applicants is now open and will close 1st of December 2016! For EEA and Nordic applicants, see deadlines below.

The two year research focused international programme is the first Master’s programme on higher education in Europe and one of the few in the world covering a broad range of disciplinary perspectives on higher education. The programme aims to educate candidates with a solid basis for analysing and critically assessing change processes at all relevant levels in higher education, and for understanding the management dimension in these processes.

Listen to the Director of Hedda, Professor Peter Maassen talk about the Master Programme:

Multidisciplinary programme

The programme is focused on changing functions, policies, and operations of Higher Education using an international and comparative perspective. The students receive a solid basis for analysing and critically assessing change processes at all relevant levels in higher education – from activities inside the classroom to understanding national and global developments.

International focus

Over the years, the programme has attracted students from more than 40 countries from the four corners of the globe, from Asia to Southern and Northern Europe, to Africa and the Americas. The diverse student group allows for sharing of experiences and knowledge of the higher education systems from various countries. Students get to learn from each other’s experience and go beyond the textbooks. This program is a unique opportunity to study in an international environment.

Research integration

The programme is research oriented and the students have the opportunity to have their master thesis integrated into research projects and learn first-hand skills of conducting research in a team.

Multiple career opportunities

Understanding the key institution of the knowledge economy – higher education – is a highly valued competence in the modern society. About 40% of the graduates continue onto a PhD, and the graduates of the programme are employed within higher education in various international and supranational organisations, such as the European University Association and the EU, ministries of education and national agencies, as well as university administrations around the world. You can view what some of the alumni say about the programme here.

Comments from our alumni

Read what our alumni has said about the programme:  (more…)

Conference review: Only connect – Collaboration, cooperation and capacity building through HE partnerships – EAIR 2016

Isabel Roessler  (CHE)

Dr. Isabel Roessler

In this report, Isabel Roessler writes about the 38th annual EAIR Forum. Isabel works at the German CHE – Centre for Higher Education and focus upon her research on Third Mission, applied research and the reform processes of the HE system.

About 200 participants from all over the world joined the 38th annual EAIR Forum in Birmingham. The conference was organised by the Birmingham City University and took place from the 31 August 2016 to 3 September 2016. This year the tried and trusted remained and a new “idea” stand the test.

The title “Collaboration, Cooperation and Capacity Building through HE partnerships” indicates that the conference deals with the work beyond the traditional boundaries and confines Higher Education. Teaching and research as the traditional missions of universities do not cover the whole spectrum of activities: Higher education institutions cooperate with a diverse range of external partners form outside and inside academia. They cooperate inter-departmental as well as inter-institutional, collaborate with local communities, with industrial and commercial sectors of the economy and organisations like NGO, NPO or foundations. Hence, this conference focused on the partnerships of HEI in and with Higher Education.

As usual the EAIR started with a number of special interest groups on Wednesday: “Impact of Quality insurance”, “Graduate School Management and Accreditation of PhD Programmes”, “Widening Access to Higher Education” and “Student as co-designers: creating contemporary curriculum” and in addition “How to get published”.

In the evening, the opening keynote was about “Students and Serial Killers: The Legacies of Clarice Starling”. No doubt, the conference promised to become special. The keynote of Thursday morning addressed directly the title of the conference: “Partnerships and collaboration – lessons from another setting”. Right after the keynote the sessions started. Plenty of presentations were given in six different tracks. The first track concentrated on “Working in partnerships with students: the importance of experience and engagement”. Familiar the track “Learning and teaching in higher education: the perfect partnership?” Participants with a stronger interest in innovation choose the track “Innovative higher education practice through partnership work”. The other three tracks were about “Emerging quality partnerships”, “Creating impact through higher education research partnerships” and “Higher education governance in an age of collaborative working”. In total 86 presentations and five keynotes. The not yet mentioned keynotes in a nutshell: “Higher education and its stakeholders: Protecting ‘the commons’” (Maarja Beerkens), “Internationalising initial teacher education – A case of partnership working across boarders” (Bärbel Diehr), and “Cultural Intelligence – the next big thing for HE” (Marie Mohan). (more…)