The Business School has been working with a number of international partners to support their efforts to upgrade the curricula and enhance the teaching and learning experience of their students for many years now. We have had partners in most Central and South East European countries as well as the Middle East. The Teaching and Learning Conference on 20 June provides an opportunity to invite some of our current partners to join us for a day of activities to consolidate the work we have been doing over the year.
Teaching and Learning has always been the focus of attention of our partners mainly because of the contrast between the traditional ‘talk and chalk’ approach, which had been common in almost all our partner universities, and the modern student centred learning or other alternative approaches. The idea of having students sit on different tables in one classroom, doing different activities baffled some of our visiting colleagues (I am sure it still baffles some colleagues in this country). Assessment in any form other than oral exams was dismissed as not sufficiently rigorous and not appropriate at university level. Group work, presentation, poster making and other methods of assessing students’ work was treated as not serious.
However, over the years, as the relationship with Western universities developed and EU funded programmes aimed at reforming, restructuring and upgrading the higher education systems and studies were implemented, the university environment and attitudes changed too. The change agents were the younger, Western educated lecturers who gradually entered the higher education sector and began to use methods which they had been exposed to during their time at Western universities. In the meantime, the student numbers had soared too. Students had become very choosy and, being technologically more savvy than their teachers, they could access advanced knowledge and information easier than their professors. Professors, therefore, had to change their attitudes and raise their games to meet the challenges of a larger number of demanding students and modern technology.
Staffordshire University played an important part in the transformation of the teaching and learning approaches in many partner universities, especially in Albania, Croatia, Kosovo and Macedonia. While working with universities in these countries to upgrade their study programmes and enhance the capabilities of their teaching staff, we also trained a large number of their younger staff on our MBA and MSc/PhD in Economics. Almost all of these young graduates have returned to their universities and are contributing to the training of the next generation of economics and business students. Over the years, around 150 young scholars completed Masters and PhDs at SU, constituting a critical mass of knowledge and skill in the region and in some universities. They have been instrumental in bringing new teaching and learning methods to their universities, something that has been particularly appreciated by students.
Currently we have two EU-funded projects working with 11 universities in Kosovo and Albania. Both projects involve supporting their teaching and learning practices and improving their curricula with the aim of embedding employability skills in the syllabi of different courses. We have hosted a range of staff (from Rectors and Deans to senior professors and new lecturers) and introduced them to the Staffordshire Graduate programme and how it is evolving in different schools – and they are very interested in this programme particularly because they face high levels of graduate unemployment in their countries. Some of our colleagues have also participated in either teaching or running seminars for staff on curriculum development activities. Dr Jana Fiserova from the School of Business, Leadership and Economics, Dr Mohammad Hasan from the School of Computing and Digital Technologies, and myself, for example, were recently engaged in these activities in Kosovo.
In the week beginning 19 June, we will be hosting young lecturers from three universities in Kosovo (University of Prishtina, Riinvest College, University of Business and Technology) and two universities in Albania (University of Tirana and Agricultural University of Tirana). Among other activities, they will be participating in the Teaching and Learning Conference on 20 June. They will be interested to learn about our efforts to improve students’ learning experience by using innovative methods, new technology and a variety of assessment methods that encourage student engagement with the subject and with the graduate attributes. They will also share with us their experience of a different group of students and different teaching environment. In some of these universities, staff have to deal with hundreds of students on their modules and, therefore, are eager to find out how we deal with large classes and how they can adopt some of these methods in their settings. At the same time, their experience of working in universities (and countries) with greater resource constraints would also be of interest to our colleagues.
We look forward to the exchange of ideas on 20 June.
Professor Iraj Hashi
School of Business, Leadership and Economics
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