Released last month, the EUA ‘Trends 2015’ report presents universities’ perceptions of the developments in European higher education over the past five years. The report is the seventh of its kind and takes as its point of departure ‘Trends VI’, published in 2010. It is based on a survey of 451 higher education institutions from 46 countries, representing over 10 million students in total.
‘Trends 2015’ starts with a broad overview of the socio-economic climate in Europe. In light of the economic crisis and the sharp increase in youth unemployment of the past years, governments and the Commission have been pushing for a stronger focus on graduate employability, and universities have responded. Trends 2015 shows that institutions across the spectrum are focusing on better preparing their students for the job market, with a particular emphasis on the development of entrepreneurial and transferable skills. This task is made difficult, however, by the shrinking budgets allocated to higher education in most countries. Universities are struggling to do “more with less” and finding ways to diversify their funding.
Together with student employability, quality assurance is identified as another driver during this period. Institutions have come a long way in not only accepting, but welcoming the need for external assessment and cross-border quality assurance. The latter still poses many challenges, and legal frameworks are lagging behind, but the will is there.
In terms of student population, institutions report increased levels of participation and an increased diversification of the student body. Partly as a result of institutional strategies, there are more international students, mature students, students with disabilities or from disadvantaged groups, ethnic minorities, and students without standard entry requirements, than ever before.
Teaching and learning across the institutions has been characterised by the pre-eminence of internationalisation, as seen through increased student and staff mobility; an increased exploration of ICT tools; and a stronger focus on learning outcomes. Quality of teaching (and teacher performance in particular) has been a strong focus points for institutions. However, the report warns against an over-reliance on student evaluations as the sole method for assessing teacher performance.
Last but not least, ‘Trends 2015’ provides a glimpse into the future complete with recommendations, both touching upon several elements: Teaching and learning; organisational structures and human resources; marketization of higher education; and the journey forth into a common European agenda.