Characteristics of excellent education in research-intensive universities

Maarten van de Ven

On February 2nd 2017 members of the League of European Research Universities (LERU) presented their new LERU position paper, called ‘Excellent education in research-rich universities’. The paper analyses the characteristics of excellent education in research-intensive universities. Considering the different ways in which education and research are connected in these universities, the paper illustrates some of the diverse ways in which LERU universities are changing their approach towards education, for the benefit of both students and wider society.

In research-rich universities across Europe, opportunities for both undergraduate and postgraduate students to benefit actively from research undertaken at their university are growing. Students’ engagement with research contributes to the development of skills much needed by society today, including critical thinking, problem-solving, analysis of evidence and ethical awareness. However, research also benefits from researchers’ involvement in teaching and from students’ inputs to investigations and analysis. This is especially the case in courses where students are actively engaged in research and inquiry throughout their studies - they bring fresh approaches and insights to the field.

There are barriers affecting the teaching-research relationship and excellence in student education more generally, however. The LERU position paper shows that these barriers are both within universities and outside. The limited and often decreasing funding available for teaching is a particular challenge. Research activities are typically much better funded, and universities have traditionally valued and rewarded research more highly as a result. There are, however, barriers that universities can take down themselves. These include funding educational innovations that enable both students and wider communities to benefit from the exciting research taking place. Many universities are beginning to do this, as illustrated in the vignettes of practice drawn from across Europe, but the paper finds that is not yet the case everywhere.

Analysing the current situation in research-rich universities, the paper also makes recommendations to universities and policy makers, at both national and EU levels, about how it can be further enhanced.

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Excellent education in research-rich universities