2012 Riyadh Statement
The Centrality of Teaching and Learning:
Toward a World-class Teaching University
Teaching and learning are at the heart of all universities. If a university does not provide quality teaching it is failing in one of its key missions. For many higher education institutions teaching is the sole responsibility. Even for research universities, with more complex responsibilities and missions, teaching deserves concentrated attention from the academic community.
Most of the world’s universities and colleges should actually focus primary attention and resources on quality teaching and learning. Other responsibilities, such as research and service society, may be secondary and sometimes absent. These institutions are sometimes referred to as teaching universities.
Universities typically function in differentiated academic systems, with some research-intensive institutions but the majority of postsecondary education institutions are mainly dedicated to teaching and learning. These institutions educate the majority of students and employ most of the academic profession. Yet, teaching universities have been largely undervalued in the contemporary rush toward academic excellence. Too often, excellence is measured only by research productivity, evident in the international rankings that are shaped primarily by research output and impact. Arguably, the main contribution of both research-intensive and primarily teaching institutions to society is ultimately what their graduates have learned. The focus on world-class teaching is therefore of central importance for all countries and all regions of the world.
The Context. Universities that focus mainly on teaching and learning are an important component of all complex academic systems. The roles of teaching universities must be carefully defined in the system so that their mission is appropriately respected and supported. A clear differentiation of mission is of central importance because universities may be tempted to succumb to mission drift and move to the more prestigious focus on research. The importance of teaching and learning must be preserved.
Teaching. Ensuring quality teaching and learning in higher education is a challenging endeavor. With few exceptions, academic staffs are not trained to teach—masters and doctoral degrees focus on research. With recognition that innovative pedagogical techniques aimed at contemporary university students are essential, many academic institutions now have teaching and learning centers to provide appropriate training to new staff. Some make an effort to provide in-service teaching assistance for senior professors and others involved in teaching. The development of teaching skill should also be a compulsory component of all doctoral training. Concern for quality teaching is a career-long obligation.
Learning. The academic world in general understands the necessity as well as the purpose of evaluating teaching. But when it comes to measuring learning, tools and techniques for assessing learning outcomes are new and often controversial. Yet, there is growing consensus on the need to measure what (or even whether) students learn in the classroom and laboratory, and to assess the quality of the overall university experience. The methodologies for such evaluations are in their early stages, and there is much work to be done. The link, however, between teaching and learning is clear, and must be carefully considered by the academic community.
Evaluation. The evaluation of teaching quality is complex. Sadly, very few universities have the capacity or facilities to undertake the task. Since teaching is an art rather than a science, its evaluation is necessarily multifaceted and can vary depending on the subject and discipline, as well as academic
culture and location. Additionally, methodologies for evaluating teaching are evolving. Thus, every academic institution will need to carefully select the appropriate methodologies aligned to its mission. One size does not fit all.
The evaluation of teachers by students provides important feedback on the effectiveness of teaching. Many universities go so far as to make promotion dependent on sufficiently good student evaluations, creating new incentives for academic staff to improve the way in which they engage students in the subjects they teach. Yet effective student evaluations are difficult to design and data must be interpreted with care.
Relevance. Curricula, teaching, and learning should be periodically held against the light of the usefulness to the graduate. This is particularly important in these times where society, particularly the labor market, is changing so quickly. Higher education should contribute to the development of individual talents in consideration of the future needs and possibilities of the labor market.
The labor market for graduates of universities in most countries has changed far more dramatically than the curriculum that most students follow in higher education. Appropriately qualified individuals remain scarce in many developed and developing economies despite substantial increases in the numbers of new graduates. In the past high quality graduates have been the main engines of new economic activity as a result of their understanding of the modern world, their entrepreneurial inclinations and their capacity to innovate. Quality education must reflect the recognition that the labor market requires problem-solving ability, the capacity for effective teamwork, and creativity as well as professional knowledge. To excel, universities will maintain ongoing communication with their graduates and use their feedback to revamp curricula and teaching methods.
S U M M A R Y
All universities are, of course, teaching institutions. The concern here is mainly with that large and important sector of higher education whose purpose is primarily about teaching and learning. The mission of teaching universities must be clearly articulated, and they must be fully committed to their teaching mission. Indeed, they should for the most part be discouraged from overemphasizing research at the expense of teaching. The academic community at teaching institutions must be evaluated on the success of teaching and learning; this includes the teaching staff, students, and administrators as well. And these institutions must be rewarded for their success in this key mission.
Contemporary higher education systems must be effective communities of academic institutions with different but equally important missions. In this respect, teaching and service to society are just as central to the success of an education system as high-powered research. Unfortunately, the rankings are disinclined as well as unable to accurately measure teaching excellence and thus research remains the key determinant of placement in them. The fact remains that teaching universities are central to the success of all countries, and the best among them must be considered world-class for their teaching achievements in the same way that their research-intensive counterparts are rewarded for their contributions to knowledge generation.