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Improving teaching quality moves to top of agenda

Minister of Education and Research Torbjørn Røe Isaksen has promised to make improvements to the quality of teaching at universities a cornerstone of the government’s education programme and will present a White Paper in 2017.

He made the announcement at the yearly contact meeting between the ministry and the heads of Norwegian higher education institutions in Oslo on 12 January, and has invited universities to contribute ideas during this process.

“The importance of the work of improving the quality has only grown – even in this period of great structural changes in Norwegian higher education,” Isaksen said, “and the improvement of quality of teaching is now central on our agenda.”

He said there were five areas needing increased attention. First, the institutions have to set higher ambitions for the students to get them to work harder on their studies compared to other activities.

“We have data that show that students working 28-29 hours a week [along] with their studies still are getting good grades at their exams, and this could indicate that the requirements set are not high enough,” he said. “We hence want more effort and involvement from the students themselves.”

Second, he wanted engaging and varied teaching methods. The third task is to create a “quality culture” at universities. “This is a clear responsibility of the leadership at our institutions,” Isaksen said.

“Internationalisation is important from a quality perspective”, Isaksen said. “Presently we have 30,000 Norwegian students abroad and receive 20,000 foreign students in Norway." Internationalisation done correctly can make an important contribution to the development of a quality culture in education.

Fourth, he stressed, was greater inclusion of students in the academic life of institutions and better social integration. “Students who are academically and socially integrated are less likely to drop-out,” he argued.

Fifth, Isaksen called for better tailoring of higher education to Norwegian working life. “All higher education is preparing the students for work,” he said.

The minister jokingly referred to the television series Mammon, where a minister of education is working behind the back of his prime minister to buy an elite university abroad using the Norwegian oil fund.

“We do not have to buy Harvard or Oxford,” Isaksen said. “We have university groups in Norway that are at the forefront of research in the world, and we have to take action to keep them there and to stimulate more groups to become excellent researchers and to combine this with first class teaching.”

Comments from academics

Roy Andersson of Lund University, which is regarded as having one of the best models of high-class teaching in Scandinavia, said: “You have to ensure that it is rational for smart people to engage in teaching as one of the priorities in their work, and teaching has to be rewarded and evaluated in ‘peer reviews’ in the same way as research. We have to shift the focus from teaching to learning.”

Curt Rice, rector of Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, said the most important message from the conference was the “significant focus on the importance of ambitions and excellence in education”.

“We are going to have greater integration of research and teaching, include the students in research as a part of their education, and incorporate parts of the quality assurance system of research – like peer review of the teaching – in the teaching of the students,” Rice said.

Professor Petter Aaslestad, head of the Norwegian Association of Researchers, said on Twitter: “One positive effect of the structural changes is that the professional degree education [is] brought together with methodologically strong research groups.”

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