Asia is adopting Europe's 'tuning method' to reform its higher education processes.
Universities in Central Asia are embarking on a project to harmonise their teaching and learning processes. The aim is to create a counterpart to the European higher education area, making qualifications more transparent and refocusing courses on the competences students gain rather than just the facts they learn.
The project uses the '
tuning' method developed in Europe under the Bologna process of higher education reforms. In each discipline, educators agree competences their students should acquire and draw up guidelines for how these can be taught and assessed. The resulting consensus and convergence in teaching practice makes degrees easier to compare and bolsters student and graduate mobility.
The Central Asian Higher Education Area Tuning project (TuCAHEA) brings together universities, education ministries and other interested bodies from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It is funded by the European Union's Tempus programme, which supports higher education projects in countries with links to the European Union.
Although the process was developed in Europe, the aim is not to make Central Asian education more European. "What we are trying to do here is to be aligned with the European higher education area but give adequate space to the specifics of this region," says Katherine Isaacs of the University of Pisa, who is co-ordinating the project and is one of a number of European mentors involved.
This regional character came to the fore as soon as universities started to draw up competence lists, at the beginning of 2013. Attributes such as resilience, flexibility, and being able to survive were put forward, all echoing the region's recent history.
Similarly, the desire for students to acquire a sense of social solidarity, national identity and even patriotism emerged. "These are all things that don't have a big gold star on our agendas, to put it mildly, because they create a lot of trouble," says Isaacs, reflecting the European view. "But, in their context, you can see that this is something they feel is part of what they are and what they ought to be."
The tuning process can accommodate such differences, but there has to be balance or the goal of building wider international links will be compromised. Patriotism is fine if tolerance and respect for others are also on the curriculum.
Over the summer a draft list of 30 generic competences and eight subject lists (from economics and engineering to history and law) were put out to consultation with academics, students, recent graduates and employers. More than 20,000 responses were received, and these are now being analysed and the lists finalised before participants move on to the next phase.
"The main thing will be for them to see what approaches to learning, teaching and assessment might be effective in forming the competences, reflect on this and produce materials to assist them and their colleagues in doing this," says Isaacs.
Later the project will support short periods of student mobility between the five countries. This is a good test of the process, since it requires clear communication of course content, and recognition of the competences gained abroad. It also tests the mutual trust between universities, which the project is also intended to build.
Central Asia is not alone in adopting the tuning method. Projects have taken place, or are under way in Latin America, the US, Georgia, the Russian Federation, China and Africa. This puts Central Asia in line with many other higher education areas.
"In this way, Central Asia is part of a larger world on its own terms. Otherwise countries are just working on their own," Isaacs says. Spreading the tuning method is also good for Europe. "It's not a competitive thing. It's an advantage to everybody if everyone has compatible, comparable and effective higher education systems."
Ian Mundell is a freelance journalist based in Brussels.
Source: EUROPEAN VOICE