1.1 The planning of education

Auditointiryhmän arvio

Educational planning and provision are clearly linked to the strategy of the University of Oulu

At the University of Oulu (UO), the degree programmes and educational provision are well linked to the university’s strategy. The UO has six strategic development programmes, one of which is specifically focused on quality education. The strategic programme for educational development “Noste” aims to ensure and improve the competitiveness of education at the university. Launched in 2022, the Noste programme is focused on seven strategic themes, including digitalisation, well-being, continuous learning, and internationalisation. Based on challenges identified by the university, Noste offers a selection of development actions for faculties and degree programmes to select from and adjust to the faculty’s profile.

Intended learning outcomes are drawn up for all degrees and courses. The Principles for Curriculum Work provide guidance and support for Education Deans, Programme Directors, and teachers. The UO has a clear process for educational planning supported by the Annual Wheel of Education Planning tool, where Programme Directors have a leading role. In the audit interviews it was stressed that even though the responsibilities of the Programme Directors are described in a formal manner, more attention could be given to the details of Programme Directors’ responsibilities and how much time they need to spend for the planning process. The audit team agrees with the self-assessment report’s notion that it is important for the Programme Directors to have enough working hours and support to be successful in their role.

Good examples of curriculum practices emerged during the audit visit, where learning outcomes are systematically defined following accreditation principles (AACSB) or using specific curriculum tools (LOOOP). According to the teacher workshop, these procedures vary between faculties. It was also brought up in the workshop that constructive alignment is not always achieved in all programmes, i.e., intended learning outcomes and received competences are not always connected. Learning outcomes are specified in the course and programme descriptions as required, but the constructive alignment is not always achieved between them. Some degree programmes monitor what students have learned, while others leave it up to the individual teachers. Programme-level curriculum mapping is a current practice within many study programmes. In the workshop during the audit visit some teachers described the curriculum tool LOOOP as difficult and time-consuming to use.

Students’ workload is defined according to the principles of the ECTS (European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System). Clear guidelines are provided in the Principles for Curriculum work. A university-wide effort was made 10-15 years ago to systematically define and ensure that the workload meets the ECTS principles. In 2013, the University of Oulu was awarded the ECTS Label as the first research university in Finland. This effort has since been followed up by providing staff workshops. Students are aware of the workload and ECTS. According to the audit visit, students feel that their workload is relatively balanced throughout their studies.

According to the university’s regular self-assessments that focus on the university’s strategic and national goals, the educational provision is well aligned with both the university’s strategic goals and the competences set by the National Framework for Qualifications. According to the self-assessment report, the university has systematic procedures for approving the plans for degree programmes or other study entities. At the time of the audit visit, an updated strategy for the University of Oulu was underway. According to the interviews, the current strategy contains many objectives and measures related to educational provision, from which the faculties choose the most strategically important ones.

Internationalisation and continuous learning should be better integrated into the planning of education

During the audit visit, internationalisation was discussed from various angles. International opportunities for students are seen as important and considered, but not systematically carried out. This was considered by interviewees as an area for improvement. Students with international experience were quite satisfied with the procedures of their exchange and the educational experience. Students in the workshop complained about lack of information and encouragement to study abroad. Examples of internationalisation at home (I@H) were mentioned during the audit visit, while some students claimed that in practice, there was no chance or mobility window for international exchange in some degree programmes. The internationalisation of degree programme curricula and the student experience were selected by the University of Oulu as evaluation area IV, further described in chapter 4.

Continuous learning is planned in connection with curriculum work in the degree programmes and published on the university of continuous learning platform JOY. Continuous learning students in the student workshop were satisfied with their experience. Open university students were happy to participate in the same courses as other university students. However, the relationship between JOY and other educational programmes was not very visible to the audit team. In the teacher workshops concerns were raised regarding continuous learning students finding it difficult to participate in scheduled group work due to their work commitments. More flexibility in schedules and modes of teaching (online/hybrid) is needed.

Stakeholder and student involvement in the planning of education is clearly visible

At the UO, educational provision is planned in cooperation with the relevant labour market stakeholders. External stakeholders’ collaboration in teaching and curriculum planning is organised within many faculties and through stakeholder meetings. Many degree programmes have strong links to the industry or cultural institutions via student projects, internships, practical courses, and work-placed learning. According to the student workshop, these activities are appreciated by the students.

Several examples of successful interaction with external stakeholders were provided during the audit visit such as advisory boards, faculty councils, specific workshops for external stakeholders, external councils in focus areas, and gathering feedback from the labour market. During the interviews, external stakeholders explained how the needs of enterprises and industry are discussed and listened to by the university and reacted upon. According to the audit visit, external collaboration in educational planning is a well spread procedure within the faculties. Based on these examples of good practices, the audit team recommends the university to ensure that such practices are more systematically implemented across faculties and areas of educational provision.

Student participation in the planning of education takes place in various ways. The Student Union (OYY) is strong and has more than 150 student representatives on various committees, often representing one third of the committee members. The audit team found that the Student Union and student representatives are strongly committed to the development of the university’s activities. Students can also apply to work in different working groups and administrations as student representatives in administration (“halloped”). According to the student workshops, the students’ voice should be listened to more and resources should be directed towards improvements suggested by students.

As a research university, teaching at the UO is based on high quality research, and researchers have a teaching role as well. According to the audit visit, critical thinking and research competences are important to teach to all students. The aim is to teach competences for the future, not just the competences that are needed in the labour market today. Some students work in research groups and write their first research articles during their studies. During the audit visit and in the self-assessment report, the audit team was presented with a good example of how research is integrated into teaching: the Chaperone programme, where young post-docs and PhDs present their research for new students. Different Hackathons, where students can innovate new ideas, are also an example of good practise.

Interdisciplinary opportunities appreciated by students

Students during the audit visit expressed that they appreciated the opportunity to take courses from different disciplinary fields and specialise in topics within the programme. They also gave examples of opportunities to work across disciplinary fields on research projects. These opportunities reflect the exceptionally multidisciplinary research culture of the university. Interdisciplinarity adds value to the student experience and strengthens student relationships between programmes, the university community, and stakeholders. At the UO, students have concrete opportunities to combine studies from different faculties and to work on joint projects with students from different disciplines.

The UO and the Oulu University of Applied Sciences have a shared campus and support services. According to the student workshop, the UO students would like to have more cooperation with students from the University of Applied Sciences. So far, the cooperation has been almost invisible for the students.