Teaching and Learning as a Policy Issue

Teaching and Learning Elements as Structural Descriptors

In the early days of the Bologna Process, the preoccupation with teaching and learning was hardly visible. The common degree structure and the tools for degree transparency and comparability (ECTS, diploma supplement, etc.) were the dominant political concern, rendered obvious by the absence of the terms 'teaching and learning' from the first two ministerial communiqués of 2001 and 2003. In both documents, although the term 'learning' appears, it is in relation to lifelong learning. Once in the latter document 'learning outcomes' are mentioned, but unrelated to pedagogy. That the emphasis lay initially on degree structure and its descriptors is especially evident in the textual contexts where 'learning outcomes'

Table 1 Source documents for the analysis of learning and teaching as a policy issue

Bologna Process

Bologna Declaration (1999)

Prague Communiqué (2001)

Berlin Communiqué (2003)

Bergen Communiqué (2005)

London Communiqué (2007)

Leuven Communiqué (2009)

Bucharest Communiqué (2012)

European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (2005)

Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. Proposal for the revised version (2014)

European Commission

The role of the universities in the Europe of knowledge (2003)

Mobilising the brainpower of Europe: enabling universities to make their full contribution to the Lisbon Strategy (2005)

Delivering on the modernisation agenda for universities: Education, Research and Innovation (2006)

Supporting growth and jobs—an agenda for the modernisation of Europe's higher education systems (2011)

Report to the European Commission on improving the quality of teaching and learning in Europe's higher education institutions (2013)


Fostering Quality Teaching in Higher Education: Policies and Practices (2012)

Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes. Feasibility Study Report (2013)

European Science Foundation

The Professionalisation of Academics as Teachers in Higher Education (2012)

appear. Although since 2007 these have also been presented as the embodiment of a new pedagogic approach, in the early days the scarce mentions to learning outcomes came in association with the development of the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area (Bergen Communiqué 2005; Berlin Communiqué 2003). For example, the Berlin Communiqué (2003: 4) referred to 'a framework of comparable and compatible qualifications for their higher education systems, which should seek to describe qualifications in terms of workload, level, learning outcomes, competences…'. In brief, at the beginning of the Bologna Process learning outcomes were only addressed as structural descriptors and elements of a common degree framework. A likely interpretation is that, with the realization that ECTS was not a good currency for measuring educational effort, it became necessary to encounter another tool, i.e. learning outcomes, to better define what each teaching module provided.

A brief passing reference to teaching and learning, this time related to pedagogic innovation, first appeared in the 2005 communiqué. Higher education ministers recognized that 'time is needed to optimize the impact of structural change on curricula and thus to ensure the introduction of innovative teaching and learning processes' (Bergen Communiqué 2005). The development of the European

Standards and Guidelines in Quality Assurance, adopted in 2005, addressed specifically teaching and learning. Beyond the document's self-explanatory purpose— ensuring and safeguarding the quality of educational programmes through a common European reference framework to build mutual trust, there is hardly any indication that a shift of pedagogic model was already envisaged at the time of its publication. Student-centred learning—as the new pedagogic model came to be conceptualized—is not mentioned at all throughout the document, while learning outcomes appear in three instances in relation to their inclusion in programme design, student assessment and public information of degree programmes. However, the absence of any reference to their pedagogic benefits supports the proposition that early on learning outcomes were merely a descriptor or structural element meant to improve the transparency of educational programmes. Although learning outcomes continued to be portrayed as qualification descriptors, the shifting attention from the structure to the substance of higher education (pedagogy and curriculum) became increasingly evident after 2005.

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