Growing significance of studying while in employment
In the future, both universities and universities of applied sciences will increasingly be required to respond to the growing need to combine study with employment. This is the conclusion reached by the closing expert round table of the CHE forum on “Design concepts for studying while in employment“ in Berlin. The event, which was full to capacity with 100 participants, demonstrated the fact that this development not only concerns academic continuing education, the sector in which most executive programmes are offered, but also conventional study programmes at Bachelor and Master’s level.
At the start of the forum, Sigrun Nickel, Head of Higher Education Research at CHE, analysed the needs of those who study while in employment, based on scientific findings. First of all, it was found that higher education decisions require a precise as possible description of the study option. The ambiguous terms often encountered in practice, such as “dual part-time executive study”, merely create confusion. Prospective students want to know exactly what they are letting themselves in for. Moreover, higher education institutions (HEIs) often place particular emphasis on providing advisory and support measures at the induction stage. And yet students also attach great importance to the provision of advice and support throughout university life, particular when combining study with employment, which is often a difficult juggling act. With this in mind, it is considered urgently necessary to expand the time scale of advisory and support programmes.
In addition, those who study while in employment appreciate the benefits of highly flexible study programmes, helped considerably by the use of digital media. Markus Lermen, Managing Director of TU Kaiserslautern’s “Distance and Independent Studies Center” (DISC), highlighted the fact that individuals who study while in employment mainly learn using written material, such as online scripts or correspondence units, which suits most students. At the same time, however, there is a desire for slightly more e-teaching, along with an expansion of classroom teaching. In addition, channels of information such as YouTube are growing in importance as informal sources of knowledge. If HEIs do indeed decide to expand the digitisation of teaching and learning, this will have a knock-on effect in other areas such as Management and Administration. “It represents a comprehensive change process,” declared Lermen.
The experience of Thomas Doyé, Vice President of Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt, is similarly encouraging. In his presentation, he described five success factors for academic continuing education, the sector in which most executive programmes are offered in Germany. A central element in his opinion is not only the appropriate “prerequisites, people, promotion and products“ but also, above all, the “process“. By this he means, for instance, quality management, how study programmes are organised, and how they are incorporated into the institution. In the case of Thomas Doyé’s HEI, namely TH Ingolstadt, such programmes are accommodated at an in-house institute, where not only executive degree programmes, certificate-based courses and company-specific seminars are offered, but where related research in education is also conducted.
In Germany, studying while in employment is often only offered in the fee-based area of continuing education and, moreover, is restricted to the Master’s level in several of the country’s federal states. Switzerland, on the other hand, offers much greater freedom in this area, as highlighted by Martin Meyer, a professor at FHNW University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland. Based along the lines of “one study principle for all students and all levels”, his area of engineering has flexibilised its Bachelor programmes to such an extent that students can opt to study full-time, part-time or while in employment. This is made possible by a flexible curriculum, consistent skills orientation and special assessment procedures. In Germany, however, the options for action are not infrequently limited by legal restrictions, explained Axel Gehrmann, Professor at TU Dresden. For his programme to qualify lateral entrants for the teaching profession, he sought a private organisation that gave him ample flexibility in the recruitment of teaching staff and the use of space.
In the light of this situation, Frank Ziegele, CHE Executive Director, urged the majority of Germany’s federal states to improve their legal framework conditions: “Executive study should not be restricted to Master’s programmes only, but should also be offered at the Bachelor level. Nor does it make sense that state funding is not usually provided for executive continuing education programmes. Academic continuing education is one of the core tasks of universities and universities of applied sciences.”
The expert round table at the CHE forum in Berlin (from right to left): Professor Dr. Axel Gehrmann (TU Dresden), Professor Dr. Thomas Doyé (TH Ingolstadt), Dr. Sigrun Nickel (CHE), Dr. Markus Lermen (TU Kaiserslautern), Professor Dr. Martin Meyer (FHNW University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland) and Professor Dr. Frank Ziegele (CHE)