The online meeting of the Directors General for Higher Education held on 24 March 2020 as part of the Croatia's Presidency of the Council of the EU

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In accordance with the program of the Croatia's Presidency of the Council of the EU, an online meeting of Directors General for Higher Education (DGHE) was held on 24 March 2020.

The Minister of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia, Prof. Blaženka Divjak, underlined the importance of delivering teaching to the greatest possible extent so that there would be no interruption in the study programmes. The Minister reported on the ministerial online meeting of UNESCO Member States on 23 March 2020 attended by three EU ministers of education. The conclusion was that global cooperation on distance teaching and learning should be strengthened since it has become a main format of teaching. Open education resources should be disseminated because translation is faster than creating new online contents. The Minister called for the use of the Learning Analytics and emphasised the importance of ensuring the quality of the online learning process.

Ms. Sophia Eriksson Waterschoot, Director of the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture at the European Commission, stressed that the current situation should also be seen as an opportunity to pilot new ways of learning and teaching. Ms Waterschoot gave an overview of the European Commission's initiatives for 2020 and 2021:
  • Drafting a Council Recommendation on European universities which can serve as an example of the transition towards the universities of the future;
  • The second call on Alliances of European universities: 62 applications were submitted and the results will be published in July 2020. Funding for 24 new alliances has been provided in the Erasmus+, while additional funding for 17 alliances approved under the first call has been provided in the Horizon 2020;
  • Brain circulation should be directed towards physical and virtual mobility within the European campuses, and the mobility should be embedded into the curricula. Cooperation among higher education institutions should be deepened and based on mobility, quality assurance, governance and funding;  
  • Preparation of the framework for micro-credentials (‘documented statements that acknowledge a person’s learning outcomes related to the smaller volumes of learning’). It is crucial to enable a flexible curricula and the recognition of learning outcomes;
  • Further activities on the synergy between the European Education Area and the European Research Area;
  • In 24 EU Member States graduate tracking is either a legal obligation or a well-developed practice, usually by surveying graduates one year after the graduation for the purpose of quality assurance. The pilot EUROGRADUATE survey is in its final stage;
  • Member States should step up efforts towards automatic recognition of mobility periods and qualifications, in accordance with the 2018 Council Recommendation, notably by dissemination of the concept of automatic recognition and capacity building of NARIC’s;
  • EC supports the wider use of the European student card and invites the national authorities for education to overcome national legal and administrative barriers, and ensure connectivity of IT systems for secure exchange of data.
The discussion highlighted the importance of documenting learning outcomes acquired and validated online in the diploma supplement. The European Commission has been invited to coordinate the implementation of this process.

The following topic was brain circulation which is among the priorities of Croatia's presidency. The introductory presentation was delivered by the Rector at the University of Rijeka, Professor Snježana Prijić Samaržija. Prof. Samaržija gave an overview of the brain circulation within the alliance 'Young universities for the future of Europe' and stressed that the University of Rijeka had joined the initiative of European universities in order to participate in the comprehensive internationalisation and brain circulation that has potential to reduce the gap between EU 13 and EU 15 and reduce brain drain. Following EU trends, they have been developing new models for transnational collaboration, strong interdisciplinary cooperation with the business sector, smart specialisations, public engagements and regional innovation ecosystems (in line with the EU priority for research).

The discussion related to the brain circulation was focused on the need to adapt the definition of mobility in order to include virtual and blended mobility. Consequently, the mobility indicator should be revised. It is realistic to expect an increase of shorter periods of mobility (less than eight weeks). Physical mobility should remain a priority since it includes cultural component and European dimension.  

Two reports on recent Peer Learning Activities (PLAs) were submitted by representatives of the European Commission. The PLA on academic integrity was hosted by Cyprus. The participants agreed that the academic integrity was essential for trust in quality of higher education in the European Education Area. Examples of national and institutional strategies, policies and tools for solving digital challenges related to the academic integrity were presented and discussed in order to formulate recommendations. These include: holistic and preventive approaches across all levels of education and research; elaborating the national framework for guidance, monitoring and reporting on academic integrity; intensifying the quality assurance focus on academic integrity; increased communication and training of higher education teaching and non-teaching staff on academic integrity; as well as collecting comparable information on Member States approaches to integrity through the Eurydice network.
Austria hosted a PLA 'Inspiring creative thinking in the digital era: STEAM instead of STEM' aimed at discussing how Member States deal with STEAM education. The participants elaborated a joint definition of STEAM: 'a trans-disciplinary, inclusive, future-oriented approach to learning that prepares active and reflective individuals. It develops transversal competencies, creativity and innovation by sharing experience in a lifelong learning perspective'. Some Member States already have a national strategic approach to STEAM, while others implement it at some higher education institutions. 

The following topic was student-centred approach to teaching and learning and learning analytics. The introductory presentation on the application of IT technology in teaching and learning was delivered by Professor Dijana Šimić, Faculty of Organization and Information Science of the University of Zagreb. This is an example of a higher education institution that regularly uses technology-enhanced teaching and learning (blended learning, MOOCs, web-based teaching and learning, collects data on student behaviour during online learning), as well as monitors the acquisition of learning outcomes in order to apply the learning analytics (measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learning and learning contexts). For a week all courses have been delivered online, and teachers are encouraged to apply guidelines for online teaching, using Moodle, recording video-lectures etc. Benefits of learning analytics are tracking students' progress, detecting students at risk and outstanding students, evaluation of curricula, as well as ensuring academic integrity.

The discussion on the potential of student centred learning and teaching to accelerate the transformation towards 'the universities of the future' resulted in the following conclusions:
  • higher education institutions should establish the institutional system of monitoring online teaching;
  • both teachers and students need training and support in technology-enhanced teaching and learning;
  • university management need training and support for establishing institutional strategies for technology-enhanced teaching and learning and managing technological infrastructure;
  • peer learning at European and global level can speed up technology-enhanced teaching and learning (e.g. Germany has a national programme and funding for promoting student-centred and digital learning).

Participants agreed on the need for more synergy between the European Education Area and the European Research Area in order to overcome bottlenecks on the policy and programme level. Current priorities include: digitalisation, contribution to the UN 'Sustainable Development Goals', and mobility of students, teachers and researchers. Possible new topics are: European Universities, open education/open science and cutting-edge research. In the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 there are several actions aimed at further transition of universities. National instruments should be aligned with the EU instruments.       

At the end of the meeting the future German Presidency presented its priorities in the area of education, research and innovation in the second half of 2020. Horizontal topics are challenges related to the climate crisis and digitalisation that call for the innovative and green transition of education and research.   

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