Harmonising Approaches to Professional Higher Education in Europe

Learning Environment

Learning Environment refers to the surroundings and conditions in which learning takes place. The core criterion for it in PHE, is that the learning environment includes experience within institutions as well as outside, in the world of work. Significant practice phases and/or job experiences serve to reflect theory in a practical context.

The following are best practice examples of implementation of this criterion:

Work placements in Flanders – From observation to innovation projects

In Flanders, Belgium, all professional programmes include work placements in different forms and durations. Most higher education institutions/programmes offer their students a diversity of placements at different types of companies and foreseen tasks – and consequently also varying levels of autonomy needed. The required skills are gradually built up. Placements typically start with an observation period, advance to contributing to all general activities and eventually have the learner work on a professional assignment. The latter specifically concerns an innovation in the workplace and learners should take the lead in the respective project. Thus, the work placement period does not only have the purpose to develop the competences of the student in and for the world of work, but also aims to contribute to the improvement of the work environment.

For better learning experience the practice phases are sometimes complemented by ‘reflection’ days at the home institution or even in dedicated internet fora in which practice is related to theory and the theoretical development of the innovation projects is discussed. Often the innovation projects become the subject of the learners’ Bachelor thesis which should be grounded both in theory and practice.

At IUT of Le Havre the duration of in-company learning varies according to sector needs

Author: Stéphane Lauwick, Vice-President (International Relations), Association of IUT Directors

Dual higher education in France is often organized on 2-week units for alternation: 2 weeks academic learning and 2 weeks with a company.  The format was inherited from its predecessor: dual vocational education (at Levels 5 and 4). The IUT of Le Havre (University of Le Havre) realized that most companies involved in the delivery of its dual education programmes found it difficult to adapt to a pre-set sequence of in-company training and university periods. Arranging the curriculum with a fixed alternation also has proven a difficult task.

At IUT Le Havre the sequences have now become subject of consultation in the curriculum design process with stakeholders of the dual organisation. In the case of highly specialised professional Bachelors with a limited number of partners, all companies interested in a programme get their say. If the scope of the programme is wider, local regional employers’ representatives (branches professionelles) are asked to reflect on the duration of the two phases.

For instance, Civil Engineering firms (specialist programmes at Levels 5 and 6) strongly expressed that It has therefore been decided to extend periods of in-company training to several months. Partner companies as well as the institution had to put extra effort in supporting the programme operators’ decision for more flexible alternation periods outside of the convention for dual education in France. Some OPCAs, the financing bodies for Lifelong Learning in France[1], have internal rules that forbid to fund study programmes if the period of academic training is longer than a specific number of weeks.

The table shows some examples of the revised sequences for dual education at IUT Le Havre.

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[1] There are about 80 different funds that cover each sector of the economy, each of them being administered by one OPCA. Each company contributes to a fund.

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