It has been a while since we last heard from AHELO. The Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes, an attempt by the OECD to assess what tertiary students around the world are actually learning at university, has been on the making for eight years now. Last we heard was in 2012, when a complex AHELO feasibility study was finalised. After that, there was silence—until now. On 31 May, OECD countries will vote on whether or not they want to go ahead with a full-fledged AHELO. For it to be given the green light, a critical mass of 8 to 10 supporting OECD countries would be needed.
AHELO, seen by some as the equivalent of the PISA for higher education, is presented as a “low-stakes, voluntary international assessment” designed to give higher education institutions a better sense of what their students “know and can do” upon graduation. In a market crowded with ranking systems that value research spending and previous student qualifications, AHELO seeks to assess educational quality in a more direct fashion: By measuring actual student learning across national borders. The feasibility study, which was envisaged as a research project (rather than an actual pilot study), involved 17 countries, 249 higher education institutions and some 28 000 respondents, students and faculty. It tested students on of one two disciplines (economics or engineering), as well as on “generic skills,” such as critical thinking and problem-solving.
The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the AHELO feasibility study produced a cautiously positive assessment. Pointing out a number of methodological as well as administrative flaws in this preliminary study, they concluded that a full AHELO could be successfully carried out—only with much better funding. It is worth noting that the feasibility study alone cost EUR 9 billion.