OECD launches first global assessment of higher education learning outcomes

Editor’s note: the slideshow below about the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) initiative, and the associated press release, were kindly provided to GlobalHigherEd by Richard Yelland, Head of the Education Management and Infrastructure Division (Directorate for Education), OECD. Coverage of the AHELO launch yesterday, at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s 2010 Annual Conference (January 25-28, Washington, D.C.), was evident in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education (‘OECD Project Seeks International Measures for Assessing Educational Quality‘), Inside Higher Ed (‘Measuring Student Learning, Globally‘) and Lloyd Armstrong’s weblog Changing Higher Education.

Today’s guest entry (via slideshow) in GlobalHigherEd is designed to shed light on the nature of AHELO, an initiative that reflects the OECD’s ‘collective learning machinery’ role; a role that numerous stakeholders (e.g., state and provincial governments; non-profit foundations, ministries) link into in a myriad of ways. AHELO is emerging at an historical moment when the clamoring for a better understanding of learning outcomes, and associated processes of quality assurance, is evident around the world. In this context it is important to understand what AHELO is, as perceived by the OECD itself, but also why select agencies and institutions (e.g., the US-based ones noted in the press release) value the OECD’s work.

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OECD launches first global assessment of higher education learning outcomes

1/27/2010

The OECD today announced the launch of the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) initiative. The AHELO generic assessment component will look at skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. A US$1.2 million contract has been awarded to the Council for Aid to Education based in New York City to develop an international version of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA).

Speaking at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation conference in Washington, DC, Richard Yelland, who is leading the OECD’s AHELO initiative said: “AHELO is a pioneering international attempt to assess the quality of higher education by focussing on what students have learned during their studies and what skills they have acquired. Success will provide higher education systems and institutions with diagnostic tools for improvement that go far beyond anything currently available”.

This ground-breaking project aims to demonstrate that reliable and useful comparisons of learning outcomes can be made on a global scale and will point the way for future improvements.

Welcoming this announcement, US Under-Secretary for Education, Martha Kanter, said: “We appreciate OECD’s leadership to assess student performance on an international scale. The AHELO initiative provides the US with an exciting opportunity to collaborate with other countries to assess higher education learning outcomes in our global society.”

Council for Aid to Education  (CAE)  President Roger Benjamin commented: “Because of its success in important international assessments, the OECD is the right venue for creating AHELO and its generic strand which will focus on the skills thought to be critical for human capital development and citizenship in the 21st century. We are pleased that the CLA has been chosen for this purpose.

Funding for this work comes from participating countries and from the Lumina Foundation for Education which has made a USD750 000 grant to the OECD.

“With Lumina’s investments focused heavily on increasing the number and quality of postsecondary degrees and  credentials, the work of AHELO is essential and will help to ensure that these credentials are learning outcome-based and relevant in the United States as well as internationally,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of Lumina Foundation.

Other components of AHELO will measure student knowledge in two discipline areas – economics and engineering. Contextual analysis will factor in student background and national differences. In time a value-added strand will look at learning gains over time.

Higher education is an increasingly strategic investment for countries and for individuals. It is estimated that some 135 million students study worldwide in more than 17 000 universities and other institutions of post-secondary education.

At least thirteen culturally diverse countries across the globe are joining the US as participants in this groundbreaking project, including Finland, Italy, Mexico, Japan, and Kuwait. AHELO will test a sample of students in a cross-section of institutions in each country. Institutions in four states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Pennsylvania) will be working together, and with the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) association to participate on behalf of the United States.

SHEEO President Paul Lingenfelter said: “This is a real opportunity for institutions in the four states to engage in improving knowledge and practice with respect to college learning outcomes. U.S participation is essential, and we will all benefit from their efforts.”

For information, journalists are invited to contact: Susan Fridy(202) 822-3869 at the OECD Washington Center, or Angela Howard at OECD in Paris +33 1 45 24 80 99. For more information on the AHELO, go to: www.oecd.org/edu/ahelo.