by Gohar Hovhannisyan, European University Association (EUA), Belgium.
Attention for learning and teaching (L&T) has increased, both among higher education institutions (HEIs) and at national and European policy levels (Bologna Process and EU). The 2018 Paris Communiqué of the Bologna Process stated the commitment to ‘‘developing new and inclusive approaches for continuous enhancement of learning and teaching across the EHEA’’ and added ‘‘cooperation in innovative learning and teaching practices’’ as another hallmark of the EHEA. Inspired by this growing attention, the European University Association (EUA), together with a consortium of six partners, led the EU-funded Leadership and Organisation for Teaching and Learning at European Universities (LOTUS) project. LOTUS aimed to contribute to capacity building and strategic change management for L&T at HEIs, and to demonstrate the potential of various actors (ministries, university associations, student and staff unions, national L&T organisations) to support transformation and innovation in L&T.
Originally planned before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic as an exchange-based project, including many in-person peer-learning activities and policy dialogue events, the methodology and activities of LOTUS were adapted to take full advantage of online formats and a mix of synchronous and asynchronous approaches. Carried out between September 2020 and November 2022, LOTUS offered online peer-learning activities fostering HEIs’ capacity to develop and implement structured and systematic approaches to enhance learning and teaching, as well as to explore how learning and teaching can be best supported by national and European policies through online and in-person policy dialogue events.
LOTUS offered two strands of activities. Firstly, a Leadership Development Programme where a total of 54 HEIs of different profiles, organised under two cohorts (28 HEIs in 2021 and 26 HEI in 2021-2022), worked in small groups of 5-6 institutions through a peer-learning and problem-solving approach. And secondly, a Policy Dialogue consisting ofresearch and policy dialogue events, which explored how different stakeholder groups in L&T can support institutional developments, facilitate interinstitutional exchange and collaboration, and contribute to national and European policy development. The project notably established a dialogue with the Bologna Follow-Up Group (BFUG) Working Group in Learning and Teaching by inviting the co-chairs to join some of the policy dialogue activities. These activities were complemented by a thorough study published in February 2022 on National Developments in Learning and Teaching based on interviews with national experts in 30 countries of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), as well as by a dissemination conference in September 2022, a webinar about the key findings, and a final report.
The discussions under the Leadership Development Programme and the Policy Dialogue created a platform for exchange and peer-learning where different aspects of learning and teaching at HEIs were addressed, focusing on what HEIs find challenging and would like to improve. When examining this, the LOTUS project explored the concept of leadership in teaching. It defined this as both the agency of individuals to develop strategic oversight, coordination and implementation of learning and teaching, as well as the institutional collective capacity to address organisational development towards enhancement. The project activities showed that while leadership in teaching has not (yet) clearly emerged as a topic for discussion and further action in most countries, HEI representatives may already identify it as one possible way to catalyse strategic reflection for enhancing learning and teaching.
The LOTUS project confirmed the extent to which fora for open exchanges on learning and teaching are needed. To transform learning and teaching, leadership in teaching requires putting a premium on cooperation across HEIs. Enabling conversation and collaboration more systematically at national and European levels would make teachers and students feel part of a community that values education beyond its immediate disciplinary and institutional contexts.
Gohar Hovhannisyan, Project and Policy Officer | Higher Education Policy, at European University Association (EUA), Belgium