Effective strategies for quality teaching and learning in higher education and research: a pressing priority for the social partners


How can social partners contribute to ensuring quality, innovative and inclusive approaches to teaching and learning in higher education and research institutions? What are the main gaps and needs for the social partners to address in order to build their capacity for an effective collegial governance and social dialogue at all levels? Could an effective social dialogue enhance the rights and conditions of academic staff as well as, the quality of higher education across Europe? How far precarious, short-term, performance-based employment contracts and casualization of teachers and researchers in higher education affect educational opportunities for learners? How to ensure that short-termism and marketisation of University outcomes do not hinder the future of knowledge and academic freedom in Europe?

On 25 February 2019, in Brussels, the Higher Education and Research Working Group of the European Sectoral Social Dialogue in Education confronted with these and many other questions in an attempt to develop effective strategies to improve the overall quality of higher education and research across Europe. This  is learner-centered and based – inter alia - on sufficient and sustainable public funding, decent working conditions and rewards for all those working in the sector.

Trade union representatives of academic and research personnel, and higher education employer organisations from all over Europe shared good examples from branch, regional and national collective bargaining processes, whose outcomes opened new opportunities for access to professional development for staff engaged in teaching and made important contributions to quality assurance systems in higher education and research.

However, many obstacles remain as both higher education and research personnel and employer organisations are confronted with increasing diversity in the student population, digitalisation challenges, lack of continuity and precarity in career paths. Across Europe, these are also adding up to a decline in the culture of collegiality, changes in the legislative underpinning of collective bargaining, and to the impact of financial crisis both on the public education funding and on social partners’ resources to organise and exercise leadership.

Stable and sustainable industrial relations of good quality are the pre-requisite for vibrant, healthy and high quality higher education systems which can serve the public interest through fostering and enhancing critical thinking in democratic societies. Despite a wide-spread agreement that social dialogue and collegial governance flourish when mutual trust and cooperation between the representative social partners take their fair stand in the process, appropriate legislative frameworks and institutional settings are needed for the sustainability of the dialogue system. To this end, the European and national social partners in this sector are committed to engage in the process of improving their social dialogue at all levels by addressing together the policy issues which are high on their agenda across all European countries, and by continuing to build their structural and institutional capacity to effectively participate in social dialogue and policy making at national, regional and local/institutional level.