Evaluation of three vocational degree programmes in Norway. Summary

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1 Evaluation of three vocational degree programmes in Norway. Summary Astrid Børsheim, 2011 Programme evaluation background and processes In the years , NOKUT, the Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education was tasked by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research with evaluating three entire higher education programmes: primary and lower secondary school teacher training, engineering degree programmes and preschool teacher training i. The evaluations were conducted under NOKUT's brief to carry out evaluations that may help assess the quality of higher education 1. NOKUT's other remits include regular audits of Norwegian educational institutions' quality assurance systems, accreditation of study programmes/institutions and revisions of previous accreditations (reaccreditation). While the accreditation procedure is prescribed by the standards in NOKUT's regulations, programme evaluations are based on specific criteria in each case. For these three evaluations criteria were developed from commissioning letters from the Ministry. The objective for the programme evaluations was in all instances "to obtain the best possible basis of knowledge for enhancing the quality of the study programme". The evaluations were to be based on data on recruitment, intake quality, student inputs and study outcomes, graduate and ECTS credits production, educational quality, R&D and faculty competencies, academic quality, governance and management and the relevance of the study programmes. This means that all key inputs influencing the quality of the programmes had to be documented and assessed. All the programmes lead to vocational qualifications which are regulated by national curriculum guidelines, and the relationship between guidelines and programme curricula was therefore necessarily a key element of all the assessments. A traditional evaluation model was employed in all the evaluations with self-evaluation performed by the institutions, followed by supplementary data collection during institution visits where relevant actors were interviewed in groups. In order to shed light on certain issues from multiple perspectives, all the evaluations also comprise surveys of various types. For example, in the evaluation of the engineering degree programme, studies were made to map the nature and scope of the programmes' coordination with the labour market and of employers' views of graduate competencies. In the preschool teacher training evaluation a number of studies were carried out which shed light on the interaction between the institutions and professional practice from a number of perspectives. In the evaluation of teacher training, a reassessment of undergraduate exam papers was performed which, among other things, yielded information about the institutions' use of the new grading scale introduced a couple of years previously. NOKUT's evaluations are carried out by external expert committees. The committees are responsible for the conclusions and recommendations presented in the reports.

2 NOKUT's programme evaluations - findings All of the evaluations drew the conclusion that there was a need for stronger state control and increased implementation of key instruments to remedy deficiencies in the programmes. Weak R&D and relatively weak academic competencies among faculty benchmarked against NOKUT criteria for accreditation of bachelor degree programmes was a recurrent problem. In extension of this, questions were raised concerning the capacity for providing research-based teaching on many of the programmes. The recruitment of students and to some extent also the recruitment of teaching staff also emerged as a problem for these vocational study programmes, in spite of the fact that the high demand on the labour market for primary and lower secondary school teachers, engineers and preschool teachers ensures students of employment after graduation. The dropout rate was high for all the programmes. The completion rate within the stipulated duration of study was relatively low for the engineering and primary and lower secondary school teacher training programmes, but high for the preschool teacher training programmes, which however had the lowest intake quality. It emerged that relatively comprehensive national curriculum guidelines were not sufficient to ensure that the programmes were up to date and relevant. A good deal of advice was therefore given on how to achieve improved interaction with the given field of practice, among other things in order to ensure that the programme providers stay abreast of trends in society as a basis for the advancement of the disciplines and relevant R&D. In this chapter, we summarise some of the findings from each of the three programme evaluations under the captions of supervision and management; students and study outcomes; content and relevance; and competencies. Supervision and management All the evaluations concluded that there is a need for stronger state supervision and implementation of instruments, but for different reasons and by different means. Nationally and regionally, the dimensioning of the degree programme must be reassessed, for example, in the form of improved work sharing and programme promotion among the institutions. Management at institutional level needs to assume responsibility for securing resources for R&D and academic excellence. The complexity and societal significance of teacher training requires that supervision and management at institutional level and programme level be clarified and effective. There is a need for better administrative and study-administrative surveys and followup systems. Agreements with and concerning the field of professional practice should result in better information for all stakeholders. Data on the students' study outcomes are inadequate as a basis for measures and improvements. It should be possible to generate supervision data of this nature through the quality assurance systems and national statistics. In order to strengthen the many small-scale and fragmented teaching and research communities, activities on some engineering programmes should be coordinated at the national level. Such coordination might apply to research, master's degree programmes, teaching and administrative resources, equipment, benchmarking and programme development.

3 The institutions need to develop targets and earmark resources for internationalisation. Arrangements must be made to facilitate staff and student exchanges. The standing of the degree programme needs to be raised, both nationally and within the individual institution, not least in order to secure sufficient resources for running and enhancing the programmes. This requires, for example, that the heads of institutions assume a more prominent role and take responsibility for the degree. Alignment with professional practice must be guaranteed on the programmes through management and administrative structures, independently of the internal organisation of the individual programme. A majority of the experts propose that pilots be launched of a five-year preschool teacher training programme, a minority hold that the degree should be redesigned from scratch and immediately turned into a five-year programme. Students and study outcomes Any qualified applicant may obtain admission to these three vocational degree programmes. Only in the larger cities and for the more coveted programme variants are there any competition for places. The situation for the engineering and preschool teacher training programmes in particular is that they tend in various ways to adjust their programmes and establish new ones in order to attract new applicant categories. There is a shortage of both engineers and preschool teachers, which makes it difficult to conclude that the programmes suffer from overcapacity. Nonetheless, for both the engineering and preschool teacher training programmes, the small size of certain teaching communities was mentioned as a possible quality problem. The introduction of grade requirements for admission has raised the quality of student intake and has not reduced the application rate. The dropout rate at an early stage on the programmes is high and retention is low despite good applicant/satisfactory intake quality. There is a need to increase the students academic effort on the programme, for example, by raising the level of required work effort by the students. Given the objective of achieving increased recruitment of students to engineering programmes, measures should be implemented at national level to stimulate greater interest in science and technology in lower and upper secondary schools. The commitment to admitting categories of students with non-standard qualifications (vocational college + work experience) should be allowed to continue, but must be quality assured. Pilots should be launched with grade requirements in mathematics for admissions. Recruitment activities should be intensified, among other things with the aim of achieving higher intake quality but also in the interests of recruiting more male students to the programmes. Retention rates are good for this degree, although students devote little time to their studies. The degree could be made more efficient by, for example, imposing stricter demands concerning the students work effort. Although intake quality and study effort are low, completion rates are far higher than among students taking comparable vocational degrees.

4 The problem of procuring enough qualified preschool teachers to some extent overshadows other pertinent issues. Consequently, the report does not discuss at any length the problem that this vocational education recruits the weakest students but awards degrees to graduates within the stipulated study duration. The question is whether this will be perceived as an indication that the academic standard of the preschool teacher training programmes may in fact be sub-standard. A failure to point at this feature may have serious consequences: low academic demands do not serve to raise the status of the education or the profession. Content and relevance The Ministry was recommended to draw up new curriculum guidelines for all three types of programmes. However, the advice of the experts suggests that the existing guidelines have not represented any form of guarantee that the programmes would be kept up to date. All the study programmes were found to have relevance problems. Both of the teacher training degrees received comments concerning the cohesion and consistency of the educational programmes. For these programmes, the fact that their professional alignment can be called into question is a serious matter. The curriculum guidelines must ensure that the societal orientation of the programmes, including a focus on the multicultural dimension, is better accommodated. The didactical component needs to be strengthened in the programmes and the function and position of pedagogics needs to be clarified. Academic fragmentation and a lack of correspondence and connections between practice, studies and teaching theory pose a threat to the professional alignment of the education. The curriculum guidelines definition of key competency areas should form the core of the professional alignment and feature more prominently in the programmes. Providing a solid qualification for teaching children from grade 1 to 10 poses a challenge. The flexibility for allowing for specialisation within the current guidelines, for example in relation to teaching specific age groups, has scarcely been made use of. Alliances with research should familiarise students with research methods and develop their ability for critical reflection. The engineering degrees should be updated in step with technological advances. Such updates should be governed by national trends rather than needs in local business and industry. Although the engineering programmes' contacts with business and industry are consistently extensive and satisfactory, more should be done to facilitate contact between the students and relevant industrial employers (project assignments, summer jobs and so forth). Internationalisation should contribute to quality improvements and to making the degree programmes relevant for further studies and employment. A newly qualified engineer with average grades may be academically proficient, but lacking in familiarity with communication and interdisciplinarity. Efforts to describe learning outcomes should be intensified. The degree programmes must go further in incorporating changes in society and today's preschools, among other things, by intensifying their focus on an increasing proportion of young children and greater numbers of children with differing cultural

5 backgrounds in preschools. Some of the programmes evaluated need to carry out a review of their methods in order to achieve better connections between the academic and practice arenas. There should be a requirement for a bachelor's assignment for preschool teacher training also. New curriculum guidelines must ensure that preschool teacher training meets the competency requirements of today's preschools. Graduates of different types of part-time training must be assured to obtain the same competencies as graduates of full-time programmes. Competencies Evaluations of the engineering degree programmes and preschool teacher training indicated that the competencies among faculty were sub-standard at many institutions. Although a high percentage of faculty were associate professors or higher, there was no guarantee that they were actually assigned to teaching tasks. The experts held that the institutions and government authorities share the responsibility for procuring sufficient resources for raising the competency level of teaching staff and researchers. In all three evaluations, questions were raised concerning the majority of the programmes' interpretation of the term research-based teaching, which is required by the law governing higher education, and the extent to which the teaching in the programmes could be called 'research-based'. The research affiliation of the programmes must be strengthened and the research must be linked more closely with the experience areas of lower secondary school education. At least 50% of R&D funding should be allocated to subjects linked to the occupational field. There is a need for academic fora for discussions concerning the vocational concept, including pedagogics and didactics. Higher competency among faculty and more research are key preconditions for remedying deficiencies in research-based teaching on the programmes. Government authorities and the institutions themselves should make an effort to strengthen the research affiliation of the programmes. All faculty should be required to complete a course of 30 ECTS credits in teaching theory (engineering didactics) for the engineering degree. A course of this type should be devised at national level. At many institutions, efforts must be made to bring faculty competencies up to an acceptable level. Staff at associate professor level should be used more extensively for teaching. R&D activity generally and specifically in areas of significance for the programme must be stepped up, not least as a basis for assuring research-based teaching. Faculty expertise in today's preschools must be increased. Preschool staff, acting as practice instructors, must be given formal supervision competencies. Reports are available from each programme evaluation. All the reports are published in Norwegian on the NOKUT website (

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