22.11.2022
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Executive Summary – Statement on the future of student-centred learning 

ESU adopted in its 83rd Board meeting a Statement on the future of student-centred learning (“SCL”), aiming to put the discussion about the implementation of student-centred learning across Europe back in the forefront of the European Higher Education Area (“EHEA”) and the member states.

Even though there is no formal definition of SCL, ESU believes that SCL is “both a mindset and a culture […] characterised by innovative methods of teaching which aim to promote learning in communication with teachers and other learners and which take students seriously as active participants in their own learning, fostering transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking.”

ESU believes SCL needs to be seen in a whole-change approach and that student participation and social dimension are key enablers of SCL. In this context, SCL is seen by ESU as a tool that can transform the inner structures and processes of HE as a whole.

However, we highlight that the real impact of SCL in student life is often limited, as several countries are far from implementing the SCL approach. In this sense, the risk is high of putting any reform in the basket of “implementing SCL”, even though it is more lip service than a systemic change. ESU asks for a clear delimitation between what falls within the implementation process of SCL by developing a clear yet flexible set of indicators related to the implementation of SCL.
ESU is committed to pushing for a real implementation of SCL through adequate tools and to regaining momentum in terms of SCL not being taken for granted or seen as a ‘buzzword’ in policy documents, without any follow-up, but as commitments at the European level being translated into action plans and policy interventions that bring actual change in student experiences. ESU calls on member states to thoroughly act on implementing SCL, which requires funding, strategy, structural reforms, and responsible structures.

For SCL to strive, ESU demands that developments in international higher education, be it at EHEA, European Union or global level, always be seen through the lens of SCL. As European higher education becomes even more interconnected and cross-border, relying on the capacity to implement SCL at the institutional level proves to be less realistic. The role of grassroots institutional level agency for implementing SCL is crucial, but to strive, we need to jointly develop at national and European levels the processes conducive to making SCL a reality, including through guidelines and support.

Despite the mentioned broadness of the concept of SCL, the paradigm is by no means unclear, and it is obvious when policy actions are having a negative impact on SCL. For example, governments cannot, on one hand, declare that they promote SCL and, on the other hand, decrease core funding for HE.

However, governmental or institutional policies are not the only ones affecting how SCL is evolving. The changes in student learning patterns, the influence of digitalisation and the professional development of teachers are all having an impact in the development of SCL as well.

ESU sees SCL not only as a policy-driven endeavour but also as a political objective towards changing the role of students in HE. To support the operationalisation of indicators that would monitor the implementation of SCL, ESU reiterates some core features:

  • SCL needs to be seen as a pedagogical paradigm to ensure student agency, including the adaptability of teaching methods and the generalisation of the usage of learning outcomes.
  • Student assessment is a key enabler of SCL: assessments should be fair, consistent, and designed based on learning outcomes that need to correspond to the covered curriculum.
  • Teachers’ initial and continuous professional development is a prerequisite for SCL. ESU believes in a HE system that does not subordinate teaching to research. Students, as well as staff, should have full access to adequate and free support services, including psychological counselling and mental health support. Furthermore, continuous training should be a requirement for all teachers, as well as academic staff, to improve the quality of the teaching and make it more inclusive.
  • SCL demands flexibility in learning paths and the promotion of lifelong learning. This also requires adapting and using the Qualifications Frameworks and promoting the right to recognition, including prior (non-formal and informal) learning.
  • Meaningful and decisive student participation in all decisions related to learning and learning systems is a way to ensure agency. Student participation should be available to all students: inflexible studies, strict requirements, low or no financial compensation and the burden experienced by students are obstacles to student participation.
  • SCL focuses on the learner as an individual, so it needs to cater for the needs of a diverse student population, thus reinforcing the social dimension. This also entails access to adequate, quickly accessible, and free support services, including psychological counselling, academic counselling and tutoring, career guidance, and mental and physical health support, which not only focuses on treatment but also on prevention.
  • ESU highlights the importance of the learning environment and having adequate resources. Of all the barriers to SCL, the lack of up-to-date educational resources and quality educational infrastructure is probably one of the most evident ones. The design of the learning environment heavily influences student expectations, flexibility and interactivity, and as a consequence, higher education institutions(HEIs) should not take investment in renovating and adapting existing facilities for granted.
  • Mobility supports SCL both at the individual and systemic levels,s and HEIs should take active steps to learn from mobility experiences.

SCL should be covered by fit-for-purpose (as understood by the ESGs) internal and external Quality Assurance procedures and national regulations, guidelines and funding.

ESU believes SCL should be a feature of and applies to microcredentials as well. Since education is valuable in and of itself and helps students develop personally and professionally, it is important to consider students’ requirements, boundaries and well-being regardless of the specific aim of micro-credentials as envisioned by states.

In the case of joint programmes, the involvement of students in drafting the inter-institutional cooperation agreements is lacking and ESU calls on creating coherent and efficient inter-institutional overarching frameworks and structures as a prerequisite for an SCL environment.

For transnational university alliances, the creation of a shared community in which students actively participate at all levels is starkly missing. For many students who are enrolled in HEIs who have been members of the alliances for three years already, nothing has changed, and they see no impact of the alliance. In this situation, even though their focus should be on learning and teaching, other priorities are pursued, and the transformational potential of the alliances remains unused.
Regarding digitalisation, the use of digital tools can for sure enhance the SCL, but only if digitalisation is not seen as a goal but as a tool intentionally devised to be implemented with the scope of promoting SCL.

As a paradigm shift, ESU considers that SCL still serves its purpose, and its broad vision can encompass the new tendencies and challenges from within European HE. ESU believes a cornerstone of SCL is its ability to fulfil its goal of helping students achieve their objectives, taking into consideration their needs and improving the quality and outcomes of the learning process.

ESU believes SCL should be considered a key commitment in EHEA and follow the approach of the Thematic Peer Groups, with countries submitting action plans on SCL. In this way, not only can we contribute to the mainstreaming of SCL, but we can also grasp the national understanding and approaches that would serve as a peer-learning process to improve SCL at the European level.

Finally, ESU believes that the European Union should embrace more clearly and explicitly the SCL paradigm as it was understood and developed within the Bologna Process, of which it is a member.

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