January 2016


We came to university to learn

Lluís Forcadell Díez - Coordinator, CEUCAT (the Union of Students at Catalan Universities/Consell de l'Estudiantat de les Universitats Catalanes) and member on the Governing Board, AQU Catalunya

OpinióThe Faculty of Geography and History, University of Barcelona (UB), Monday, 8.30 a.m. I'm having a coffee before heading into the library. January is a nasty month for exams because you still have a mince pie in one hand and a glass of cava in the other. January is not the best month for anybody.

I huffed, drank the remains of my coffee and was getting ready to enter the library when I saw a Faculty Assembly banner that said, in big red capital letters: "Graduating doesn't mean learning." This made me smile. How many times have my classmates and I said, "I don't know why I study so much if, one week after the exam, I've forgotten everything"? And how often have I heard graduates say, "this won't be any use at all to you when you start working"? Whatever Bachelor's or Master's degree you are taking, it's all the same, the feeling that is common among students is that "you don't come to university to learn", although it is true there are subjects where this is more extensive.

Fortunately, the fact that students can participate in quality assurance procedures offers us a great opportunity to leave the university system a bit better off than it was when we first came. As long as one is committed, and by making one small change after another, QA processes enable us to contribute to courses being different and better. The student's perspective is essential for there to be excellence in the universities and for them to be modern and truly committed to society. Student participation enables the necessary steps to be made towards courses and programmes that are more appropriate to their field of interest, closer to their needs and more participatory, where all of their concerns are taken into account.

Accreditation procedures are a good example: the difference and value of the process is very different according to whether the student body is involved or not. It's the faculties and schools that most believe in involving those who best know about the courses that can make the best enhancements to their courses and study programmes. Their learning models will be student-based while their teaching models will be grounded in the knowledge students have of the university's social dimension, i.e. models that are varied, meaningful, critical and discerning.

And if the fact that, by participating in the analysis of university courses and programmes, students help to improve and enhance their quality, there is no doubt that their involvement in the governing board of AQU Catalunya will lead to enhancements there, too. For this reason, we are convinced that recent legislation concerning the Agency (AQU Catalunya Act), which sees students forming part of its governing bodies, will lead to important steps forward and improvements for AQU Catalunya. The fact that the time we actually spend on the governing bodies is short means that students will always provide a breath of fresh air, plus new ideas and original proposals, but with one common denominator: involvement in AQU Catalunya means wanting to see improvements take place in the university system in Catalonia. This might seem obvious, but it's not. From the students' point of view, a university system of quality should ensure, for example, that no student is excluded from university for economic or social reasons; for this reason we ensure that the Agency uses indicators that also evaluate the social aspects of universities. This is a point of view that is different and it needs to be taken into account in order for advancement and enhancement to occur.

We are also aware that it is sometimes complicated for students to make the shift from protesting to proposing. Finding problems and shortcomings is much easier than coming up with improvements and solutions. This is where the Agency's commitment to students comes in. It is up to AQU Catalunya to give students the opportunity to receive a good training in quality assurance and to use all available means to achieve this objective. An introductory course to quality assurance is very good for getting an idea of the general and underlying concepts about quality and QA processes, but much more is needed. Students need to be trained so they can get involved in internal QA procedures and they need sufficient training so they can make enhancement proposals based on the outcomes of the Agency's report. It is therefore essential that steps forward be made in the process of granting students more power, as they need experience of other methods and systems in order to become true experts.

We like to say that the work done by AQU Catalunya has an added value. The fact that an external and impartial party comes in and identifies shortcomings is very important for making improvements. When it comes down to it, the reason that we are all at university is not to pass, but to learn. And what is learning if it isn't the correction of one's errors and the polishing of one's virtues? Can it be anything other than a process that leads to quality?


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