January 2012

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The importance of public information on recognised programmes offered at Catalan universities

Gemma Espigares and Rosa del Hoyo - AQU Catalunya Student Commission

The fact that compulsory secondary education and even upper secondary education (batxillerat) are multidisciplinary and rigid can lead to uncertainty in students regarding the subject area they want to specialise in: the presence of an extensive and inelastic curriculum in secondary education leads to prospective students being unaware of what it means to study something they enjoy (or rather something they think they enjoy: the level at which an individual studies a particular subject can vastly change a student's perception of this, and some university disciplines are also not studied at all at the secondary education level). For this reason it is very important for universities to provide public information on the contents of their degree programmes.

Royal Decree 1393/2007 established that quality assurance agencies must undertake the "monitoring of registered degrees, on the basis of the available public information". Following our experience in the monitoring programme, we are of the opinion that the analysis of degree programmes using this programme's guidebook is a good instrument for detecting shortcomings and implementing relevant enhancement proposals and to contribute to the quality of university studies.

There is a great difference in the teaching strategy between secondary school and university, which may give rise to erroneous expectations on the part of students regarding what is expected of them at university. For this reason it is important for universities to ensure that access to public information on their degree courses is available on their websites to all stakeholders. Consequently, mechanisms need to be set in place so that information on access, matriculation, curriculum, programme content (methodology, type of assessment, self study, etc.), teaching staff, work experience placements and mobility is accessible, as this will aid prospective students to choose their academic and professional destination.1

By way of example, two different cases can be analysed: on the one hand, a student who is interested in healthcare who, if she had access to complete information on degree courses associated with this field (which is not included in either the secondary education curriculum or that of upper secondary education), could make an informed decision about her academic future and, on the other, a student who has decided to take Biotechnology (certain simplified aspects of which he has studied during his secondary studies) and can browse the websites of different Catalan universities to find the university that best fits his requirements.

During our evaluation of the public information available on the websites, we were able to establish that, while each university in Catalonia has its own particular model, they all aim at quality enhancement, which they do by presenting the relevant information in a complete, visible, aggregate and up-to-date way.2 Among the aspects where influence may be asserted, and where further work is required, particular mention is made of the student's guide, especially in relation to the teaching guides (compulsory and elective courses).

Information has to be provided, not only on life at university, but also on what the student can expect on completing his/her Bachelor or Master's studies (professional prospects, work practice, grants, a doctorate degree, etc.). The vision of the future of a secondary education student who intends to go on to study at university is often limited to what his or her aim is regarding these studies (anything else is often an idealisation of adult life that is still too far off for a young person to really comprehend), but someone who is already at university does want to know what lies beyond. Good information on career prospects can help the prospective university student to decide which path to choose in order to achieve his/her professional goal. The failure to provide this information (and thereby, possibly unintentionally, lead to young people considering that higher education is an objective in itself or that it automatically leads to an imagined future) is detrimental, as students cannot organise their academic life at university if they don't really know why they are there.

We thus believe that promoting the setting up of a framework for discussion so that the Catalan universities continue working towards providing good public information, for which the monitoring program is an excellent tool, will contribute significantly to improving the quality of the higher education system.

1 Framework for the ex-ante assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation of recognised degree programmes. AQU Catalunya. 2010.
2 Guide to the monitoring of recognised Bachelor and Master's degree programmes. AQU Catalunya. 2011.


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