The UHasselt of 2030 will once again lead the way in educational innovation. We will excel to such an extent that we will set the standard. We have been doing so for years, but we have lost the leading position. People no longer turn to us first, and it’s time for us to change that.
That is why our third priority is excellent, innovative education strongly based on our research. We will create a ‘UHasselt effect’ and make it our trademark. By analogy with the California effect (according to which California often sets the standard for the American federal government (D. Vogel, 1995)) and the Brussels effect (according to which the EU often sets the standard for the world (A. Bradford, 2012)), we will set the standard for education at universities.
We want an unambiguous, strong education policy for our future graduates. The quality of education at UHasselt must be of paramount importance with a view to the future, and we must adequately develop and monitor this quality.
But we must not become complacent. We must continue to invest and innovate in our education, and that includes digitisation, infrastructure, quality assurance, and more.
Of course, when it comes to educational policy, we must always involve the students (via StuRa, representatives, etc.). Ultimately, they are our ‘customers’.
Various objectives and measures have already been discussed in this plan, but we are also considering the following objectives and measures.
1. We will commit to excellent, innovative education in a modern environment
We are going to reclaim our number one position in excellent, innovative education. We have lost this position in recent years. In order to further stimulate this, we are going to focus even more on Innovative Education Projects (Innovatieve Onderwijsprojecten / IOPs). Many great projects have already grown out of this, but the channel remains underfunded. We will also include such projects in ZAP evaluations, so that we can make their importance clear.
We will strengthen our educational expertise through research, training courses, exchanges with other universities, internal contacts, and more. We will also specialise further in our own innovations (such as in assignment and problem-based education within Law). We will then ensure that this expertise permeates effectively throughout the organisation. A strongly hands-on approach providing personalised help to lecturers/assistants/tutors. Everyone needs to feel a real sense of progress when they receive help.
However, UHasselt can only focus on excellent education if our infrastructure meets the requirements of a well-equipped campus. On the Diepenbeek campus, the renovation of building D began a number of years ago, but this only went as far as the renovated agora, the restaurant and the library. The building is in urgent need of thorough, sustainable and total renovation. Lecture rooms, workspaces, classrooms, sanitary facilities, etc. are worn out and in urgent need of refurbishment.
In addition, our ICT capabilities must be optimised and modernised before their implementation will allow education to soar to new heights. Since the beginning of the corona crisis, we have once again been forced to face the fact that the digitisation and distance learning already taking place are going to play an even greater role in the educational landscape in future. We see this as one of the priorities to which we will strongly commit. Renewing the ICT infrastructure in building D campus Diepenbeek will be our first objective. At the same time, we are going to make use of modern live streaming options so that distance learning is available to every student (including Hasselt campus). This live streaming technology could also be used for study days and the like. We are also looking at the possibility of offering something like ‘Bednet’ (as found in secondary education) at UHasselt.
In order for every lecturer to be able to best use and apply various ICT options when coming into physical or virtual contact with students (whether during a lecture, a work session, an exam or a feedback interview, etc.), we will strengthen the educational professionalisation of lecturers by offering specific, targeted programmes in the use of ICT. This will also make it possible to further focus on the possibilities of competence-based education at both the Hasselt and Diepenbeek campuses, with a clear vision of the future of education.
Not only will the student of tomorrow need to be more independent, they must also be more responsible. A progressively organised system of education at UHasselt is of crucial importance here. Students should not just have fun with each other, they must have greater opportunity to connect with each other so that they might learn from each other. To this end, we want to set up a pool of older students per programme so that students from the second year of their bachelor’s degree can be called in as experience experts during shared free periods in order to help first-year students work through course units (opleidingsonderdelen / OPOs). We are calling this idea ‘8 becomes 12’. We are convinced these interactions will allow first-year students to see UHasselt as an accessible university that understands the needs of first-year students, allowing them to process the subject matter in an adequate fashion. Such systems already exist in secondary education, and the Thomas More College of Higher Education in Geel, for example, provides free periods for first-year students specifically with older students in mind.
We are fully committed to our students having every possible chance to develop a career after their master’s studies or, for those programmes where we only offer a bachelor’s degree, smoothly move on to other universities to complete their studies there. We also want to offer our PhD students every possible opportunity by creating an integrated international framework within the doctoral schools.
As a civic university, our educational policy does not stop at the awarding of diplomas, rather we are also pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals, where we are focusing upon lifelong learning, quality and inclusivity, universally accessible education, gender equality, and more. We will also remain attentive to intercultural communication throughout our educational policy.
Once again: measuring is knowing. We will map out our educational innovations, consistently highlighting them so that we might turn the UHasselt effect into a brand.
2. We will strengthen contact with education stakeholders
We want to enter into a renewed partnership with secondary and higher education stakeholders in order to get to know each other better and strive for a shared vision of the future of education, taking into account the specific needs of each partner. We can learn a lot from each other.
The challenges of education are extremely great in a society experiencing change at an incredible pace, which in turn requires education to be able to respond in an appropriate, flexible way. That is why we not only want to involve the world of education, but rather also engage with local consultation platforms in order to respond to the ever-increasing diversity of daily life which is then reflected in education.
In order to better connect with secondary schools and higher education institutions, we are going to focus on young teachers, starting at UHasselt with a pool of Educational Master’s students, allowing future teachers and educational institutions (as employers) to find each other. We also want to better streamline training offers for teachers as well as the various classroom and individual student activities at UHasselt by arranging a wide assortment of activities into a clear organisational chart. Further expansion of these training offers to include secondary schools is required, which in turn means that the team of educational staff needs to be expanded at all faculties. They will develop and share didactic tools with both teachers and pupils/students in secondary/higher education.
As a civic university, UHasselt must present itself as an accessible learning and training centre where everyone can experience the latest educational innovations.
3. We will organise better consultation with and between faculties - ‘How does each faculty tackle education?’
How a faculty deals with the development of OPOs within a discipline or academic year usually remains within the educational management teams. By developing the working method of setting out horizontal and vertical study tracks within and between courses of study, programmes and faculties, students will be able to plan out their learning path when switching to another faculty. To this end, we want to bring the faculties closer together and have them consult each other in order to get to know each other’s curricula, didactic insights and teaching methods. This not only removes the student’s uncertainty when making the switch, it also makes the switch more transparent when deciding whether or not to grant exemptions. The student will be able to see the consequences of a switch from the outset.
We will also promote the design of honours programmes. In order to do so, we will exchange our experiences with other universities and discuss the various possibilities/structures/offers.
4. We will develop a carefully considered language policy
Firstly, it is clear that knowledge of Dutch is a hot issue for our incoming students. As a university, we cannot be blind to this, nor can we simply delegate responsibility to nursery, primary and secondary education. As a social actor, we must also accept our own responsibility. In order to assess, test, and perhaps remedy the (academic) Dutch of first-year students, we will first need to consult with lecturers and consolidate their findings. On the basis of this information, and in consultation with the education sector, we will work out a plan to overcome the linguistic shortcomings of first-year students, both in spoken and written language. This is one of the ways in which we will focus on proper guidance throughout the study process, leading to increased educational success.
Secondly, we will also develop a policy on other languages. This policy would fit within European Union guidelines, which aim for knowledge of at least two languages in addition to one’s mother tongue. In a growing number of secondary schools, CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) or LEF (Learning in English and French) lessons are already being given in order to increase young people’s linguistic proficiency in addition to Dutch. In order to stimulate linguistic diversity amongst students at UHasselt, the integration of CLIL and LEF as part of UHasselt programmes is one possibility, taking into account decretal language regulations in Flanders. We already have many courses in English, but what about classes in other languages (French/German/Spanish/etc.)? That would also mean gradually integrating study material from other languages into programmes. This is not a straightforward process, but we certainly don’t want to ignore the opportunities to focus on multilingualism amongst students. Student multilingualism will make international exchanges more accessible and promote contact with foreign universities. (Inter)nationally, we will look for teachers who will teach in a language other than Dutch. Distance learning will also be used to teach lessons from the other side of the world in real time to students who can be on or off one of the UHasselt campuses. Such an initiative fits perfectly within an honours programme, which we are working on. We are also considering offering CLIL/LEF lessons at UHasselt for secondary school students both as part of classes and on an individual basis.
5. We will ensure a positive institutional review
In 2022, an application file must be submitted for an institutional review by the NVAO in 2023. The preparation of this application is already well underway. As a new team, we are going to have to monitor this very closely, review it with a critical eye and a fresh perspective, adjust it where necessary and develop it further.
At the previous review in 2017 we were only rated as ‘positive under certain conditions’. We absolutely have to avoid a repeat performance. At the time, the criticism was that we do not systematically monitor strategic objectives at institutional level. We will therefore certainly have to be vigilant about the monitoring of educational policy. We will also ensure that there is an active improvement policy at educational level and that the PDCA cycle (plan, do, check, act) is a closed loop. In addition, we have many good practices in the faculties, and we are going to make active efforts to share these much more with each other.
If not already in place, we will set up a sounding board group (including colleagues in the Education Council) for the preparation of the institutional review.
6. We will continue to focus on the growth of UHasselt and on the democratisation of higher education
The continued growth of UHasselt, and therefore the continued democratisation of higher education in the region, is an absolute must. More than any other Flemish university, we are well aware of how important this is. UHasselt must remain a driving force in the region and must therefore respond to its needs, and those needs are certainly there. The eight sectors of the future put forward in SALK are an important starting point: life sciences and care innovation, construction innovation, the leisure economy, logistics and mobility, clean technology and energy, manufacturing, agriculture and horticulture, and the creative sector. In the meantime, SALKturbo has been started up in order to further structurally renew the Limburg economy. This has our full support. We are very pleased that colleague Piet Pauwels will be part of managing this and that several other colleagues will also be closely involved.
Partly on the basis of SALK’s findings, the Growth Plan for UHasselt included an urgent request for 12 essential new programmes. Given the provision of only 4 of the 12 requested new programmes, the Growth Plan was not as successful as had been hoped. We are now going to concentrate on these four new programmes (Master’s in Materiomics, Master’s in Nursing and Midwifery, Master’s in Healthcare Engineering, Bachelor’s in Social Sciences), in order to develop them successfully over the next few years, but we certainly won’t stop there. The 12 programmes requested were not chosen randomly, but rather represented the essential needs of the region. We will continue to bring proposals on this subject to the negotiating table with the requisite patience and discussion. UHasselt must be able to meet the demand for sound education in certain carefully chosen disciplines, tailored to the needs of each student. Currently, vulnerable young people who find themselves in a difficult socio-economic situation (with or without a migration background), and newcomers to the system are still underrepresented in university education. However, it is these young people who make up a demographic group very specific to Limburg, a group that will be jointly responsible for the future of the region. We want to commit ourselves to offering these young people the opportunities and support necessary to choose higher education, and we will cooperate with local and regional organisations at both municipal and provincial level in order to do so.
In addition to striving for regular, accredited programmes, we are also considering whether we might give more focus to self-financing master’s programmes or other avenues such as postgraduate programmes. This leads us to consider international Master’s programmes taught in English. As far as we are aware, we provide these kinds of self-financing English-language Master’s programmes only rarely, if at all. Incidentally, these programmes could also be taught in Dutch. We think that this offers serious margin for growth, and we want to build up expertise in this area accordingly. Programmes being taught in English would also help to increase our international student population.
7. We will also increase our international focus in education
We still see many opportunities and a need for internationalisation within the education we offer.
According to the Times Higher Education Ranking 2020, 13% of our students are international. That percentage needs to increase; within Belgium, only UGent has a lower percentage. We have just mentioned that new, self-financing, specialised courses taught in English could contribute to this. It bears repeating that the fact we have such a low number of international students means that for our doctoral positions, 45% of which are filled by foreign PhD students, we often have to recruit externally. That is not entirely risk-free.
In addition, we also have to ensure that our national students dare to look outwards to the rest of the world. We will therefore continue to encourage student mobility programmes such as Erasmus+ (and the relevant follow-up), Erasmus Belgica and the like, and where possible we will step up our efforts. This is often the first real experience of internationalisation that students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.