EUA launches ‘Council for Doctoral Education’ to strengthen Europe’s global competitiveness

This week Georg Winckler, President of the the European Universities Association (EUA), launched what is billed as the first organization of its kind across Europe – the Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) committed to the development of Europe’s doctoral degrees.

According to Winckler, the purpose of the EUA-CDE is to develop greater levels of cooperation and exchange of good practice between the various univereua-2007-doctoral-programs.jpgsities of Europe in delivering doctoral degrees. A doctoral degree, it seems, is the sine qua non qualification for participating in, and delivering on, a more competitive European knowledge-based economy.

In 2007 the EUA tabled its report Doctoral Programmes in Europe’s Universities: Achievements and Challenges directed at the European Ministers and universities. In it the EUA showed that across Europe there had been a rapid expansion in the numbers of doctoral graduates along with a mushrooming of different kinds of doctoral programmes.

Similarly, the EUA Trends V Report (2007) reported that 30% of European higher education institutions surveyed said that they had some kind of doctoral, graduate or research school. This difference, however, as the table below illustrates, is of concern to the EUA who believe that such variation is symptomatic of chaos rather than ‘requisite variety’.

Reviewing and restructuring Europe’s doctoral programmes then– the 3rd cycle of the Bologna Process– is seen as crucial in the construction of the European Research Area. The mandate for the EUA-CDE is to bring doctoral programmes into line with each other by introducing more structured doctoral programmes, developing transferable skills, and ensuring quality.

While the Bologna Reform of the 1st and 2nd cycle of degrees (Bachelors and Masters respectively) has been a remarkable success, it remains to be seen whether the various Member States of Europe will cede some of their autonomy in order to bring the 3rd cycle – doctoral programmes – into line. It is also not clear whether structural conformity will generate the much sought after excellence and innovation for the economy rather than simply uniformity and possible mediocrity amongst doctoral programmes per se. After all, having a competitive edge means offering something new and different.

The problem for higher education institutions is that they are tied to the economy in two ways: on the one hand as engines for the new economy, and on the other as academic capitalists looking for new opportunities to generate funds to augment institutional finances.

Institutions need to be both different and similar at the same time – a paradox if ever there was one in the global higher education market.

Susan Robertson

Fostering creativity in European higher education

Fostering creativity and innovation through education, it would appear, is the sine qua non for the development of knowledge-based economies and societies. National governments, firms, international agencies and regional organizations, like the European University Association (EUA), have all generated a swag of policies and programs intended to contribute to knowledge creation at the high end of the value chain.

The EUA have recently released their report, Creativity in Higher Education, on the EUA Creativity Project that ran over 2006-2007. The report offers an implicit critique of approaches to learning in higher education establishments, arguing that “the complex questions of the future are not going to be solved ‘by the book’, but by creative, forward looking individuals and groups who are not afraid to question established ideas and are able to cope with the insecurity and uncertainty this entails”. The Report also adds that creativity is linked to creative individuals, but it also results from interaction among individuals.

The Report goes on to offer a number of key challenges and recommendations to higher education institutions. These include more interdisciplinary learning opportunities; greater exposure of those within the academy to the outside world and to risk taking; to engage in more forward looking activities rather than being preoccupied with the past; to promote the idea of the university as a learning organization; and to promote creativity through local, regional, national and European policies.

This is a very particular formulation that not only eschews the value of knowing from and about our past, but it is caught in the paradox of how to promote both sharing and competitiveness. Higher education institutions, along with the faculty and students who study in them, are governed to be highly competitive and increasingly individualized through assessment and benchmarks. So, if creativity and innovation is linked to the development of sharing and other cooperative learning practices, then there are major pedagogical as well as governance challenges ahead facing higher education institutions.

Susan Robertson