Manja Klemenčič

Training and Education in Social Sciences and Humanities

Manja Klemenčič, Department of Sociology, FAS, Harvard University

A reinforced support is needed in Europe to promote and initiate innovation in teaching and learning. This is true for all the sciences, as it is true for Arts and Humanities, which define and shape our culture and civilization, and Social Sciences, which help us understand who we are, how we interact with one another and the societies we live in. These disciplines require special attention given that they continue to attract the largest share of student enrolments in undergraduate education across the EU. According to Eurostat, in 2010 over one third of students in EU-27 (34.0%) were studying social sciences, business or law. Adding 12.2% of students enrolled in arts and humanities, students in these disciplines make almost half of the entire student population (46.2%) in the EU.

There is emerging understanding across Europe that quality of teaching and learning needs to be at the core of higher education reforms and that policy and financial support needs to be yielded to this task. Massification of student enrolments has dramatically changed and made teaching and learning more difficult as these were initially designed to cater for smaller number of students. The technological advancement too poses new demands on graduates’ skills and competences, and at the same time opens opportunities for new venues and methods of teaching and learning. The fast paced developments in research across disciplines – due to international collaboration and competition and availability of research funding – demand to keep teaching and learning abreast with new research methods and findings. Finally, the masses of students who pass through our lecture halls are not only our future engineers, teachers, nurses, politicians, but also citizens of our societies. Higher education is the last chance to collectively address them, pass on knowledge and help them develop competences for life in democratic societies.

I have two recommendations regarding training and education in Social Sciences and Humanities in regard to Horizon 2020. First, teaching and learning dimension needs to be integrated into Horizon2020. The research projects funded through Horizon2020 should clearly demonstrate their link to teaching and learning in a similar way as they are requested to show the modes of dissemination of results. Inserting this requirement into Horizon 2020 calls for proposals is a simple step which does not require additional expenditure, but can potentially have significant impact on teaching and learning in Europe. Such requirement would boost the efforts of the ERASMUS+ Programme and further initiatives that may arise from the recommendations of the EU high-level group on the modernisation of higher education, in the Report to the European Commission on Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Europe’s Higher Education Institutions,[1] and from the position paper of the European Science Foundation’s Standing Committee for the Social Sciences on The Professionalisation of Academics as Teachers in Higher Education.[2]

One of the most straightforward ways to establish a link between research projects and teaching and learning is through involving students – including undergraduate students – in research. Ample studies on students’ study success show that students learn best when learning is active: when they work on real-world issues, solving real-world problems, when they are directly involved in processes of inquiry, discovery, investigation, and interpretation. Another possible link between research projects and teaching are through course development or joint study programme as a spin-off from the research project.  Interdisciplinary research projects may open up opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching.

Second, interdisciplinary curricula (or at least some parts of curricula that are interdisciplinary) at undergraduate level and continuing onto postgraduate level provide optimal training for researchers and also those that leave academia. In addition, universities need to find ways to capitalise on the cross-disciplinary interactions between members of the academic community as well as outsiders which happen automatically within a vibrant intellectual life at any university. They need to create appropriate “spaces” to cultivate such interactions and ways to incentivise students and researcher to explore possible collaborative work.

Finally, civic education, which is nurtured in Social Sciences and Humanities, but needs to be diffused across the entire university. Civic education is complex: it can contain everything from developing understanding of issues of public concern, and of our own rights and responsibilities as citizens in our local communities, our regions, our countries, and as global citizens. Civic education is more than just the capacity to analyse public problems and have knowledge of civic affairs. It creates space for students to reflect on their own values and beliefs and those of others. It challenges them to deliberate on the ethical consequences of their own and others’ words and actions, and those that come with economic and technological development, with entrepreneurship and invention. Civic education can help students develop the competence to take action on matters of public concern. And it may raise their willingness to act. In other words, civic education fosters the reflexive capacity in students that is vital for their life as active and engaged citizens in democratic societies.

Simply adding civic education courses into curricula across disciplines is not the way to do it. Such courses are often resented and/or ridiculed by students. Possible scenarios point to interdisciplinary collaboration in teaching and to professionalisation of academics as teachers. The compartmentalisation of research interests of the professoriate needs to be overcome. Academics’ need support to develop their courses and innovate with purposefully integrating civic education, interdisciplinary teaching and/or making direct links to their research. They also need resources and time to develop and innovate in new methods of teaching and learning, including exploring the added value of information and communication technologies. And, of course, basic and applied research addressing the questions of modernising teaching and learning should be among topics supported within the policy aim “Societal Challenges” within Horizon 2020.

Manja Klemenčič

Education: PhD in International Studies, University of Cambridge

Prior Work: Prior research positions at Harvard Graduate School of Education; Centre of Educational Policy Studies, Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana; WZB Berlin; Center for International Higher Education at Boston College; Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University

Current Employment: Researcher, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

Areas of Research Interest: comparative politics, higher education studies, European studies