Roadmap for world-class teaching universities launched

A strategy for setting up world-class teaching universities, with an outline for evaluating teaching and learning quality, was formulated at an international conference on higher education held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, last month.

The conference from 17-18 April was on the theme of “World-class teaching universities”.

Salim Al Malik, the conference supervisor and general director for international affairs at the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education, presented the strategic plan.

Although teaching and service to society are just as central to the success of an education system as high-powered research, teaching universities have been largely under-evaluated in the contemporary rush toward academic excellence too often measured only by research productivity, the “Riyadh Statement” indicated.

In terms of the new strategy, the mission of teaching universities, which educate the majority of students and employ most of the academic profession, must be clearly articulated, the statement said. They must be fully committed to the teaching mission and, for the most part, must be discouraged from emphasising research at the expense of teaching.

Quality teaching and learning within universities should be encouraged, as most academics are not trained to teach during their masters and doctoral studies, which focus on research.

The strategy suggests that academic institutions set up teaching and learning centres, to provide appropriate training to new staff. In-service teaching assistance for senior professors and others involved in teaching should be provided. Also, the development of teaching skills should be a compulsory component of all doctoral training.

To assess the quality of the overall university experience, new non-controversial tools and techniques for measuring, assessing and evaluating what students learn in classrooms and laboratories should be developed.

Every academic institution should establish a system for evaluating teaching quality using appropriate methodologies aligned to its mission. This is because evaluation is multifaceted and can vary depending on the subject and discipline as well as the academic culture and location.

“I wonder whether a teaching university's quality is not more determined by the quality of its faculty and its students than by monitoring and evaluation systems,” John Daly, a science and technology consultant and former director of the office of research at USAID, told University World News.

“Similarly, I think a major concern should be the role of the teaching university in preparing students for their roles in adult life – as workers, citizens, family members etc. I think therefore that university-community relations are very important."

Since higher education is expected to contribute to the development of individual talent in consideration of the future needs and possibilities of the labour market, the curriculum and teaching and learning should periodically be held up against the light of usefulness to the graduate.

Quality education must reflect recognition that the labour market requires problem-solving ability, the capacity for effective teamwork, and creativity as well as professional knowledge. Universities should maintain ongoing communication with their graduates and use their feedback to revamp curricula and teaching methods.

Teaching universities are central to the success of all countries, and the best among them must be considered world-class for their teaching achievements in the same way that their research-intensive counterparts are rewarded for contributions to knowledge generation.

“The roadmap, with its focus on teaching and learning, contributes in important ways to two of the critical features of an innovation system,” Richard Gold, an expert on innovation and development and a professor in the law faculty at McGill University in Canada, told University World News.

These include the presence of expertise in both the sciences and the social sciences and humanities, as well as social capital in the form of local networks through which to share and build knowledge, Gold explained.

"Most obviously, the roadmap builds a local base of talent.

"Through effective teaching, countries can foster an active learning environment in which students develop the critical analytical skills necessary to not only understand scientific and social developments but to improve upon them. Second, the emphasis on teamwork and communication contributes to the capacity to build social capital," Gold argued.

Speaking to University World News Hilmi Salem, an international higher education consultant and director general of applied sciences and engineering research centres at Palestine Technical University, said " There is no ready-made recipe for developing a world-class teaching university. This roadmap is only providing guidelines and general points."

This was indicated by the statement saying that one size does not fit all.

"Based on strengths and resources, local environment, institutional model and national developmental needs as well as future vision, each country must establish excellent teaching universities to meet the wide range of education and training needs and develop the human resources required, bearing in mind the best practices around the world,” Salem concluded.