2.1 Quality of courses offered
The Catalan university system continues to be a benchmark for quality on a national and world scale. The Agency for the Quality of the University System in Catalonia, which is responsible for the evaluation, accreditation and certification of quality in the field of universities and higher education centres in Catalonia, is the main instrument for promoting and assessing quality in the Catalan university system.
The good work and dedication of our universities, together with the approval of the new Framework for the verification, monitoring, modification and accreditation of university degrees, have meant that most of the undergraduate and master’s degree programmes in the Catalan public university system have successfully passed the AQU Catalonia accreditation processes, which certify that the degrees offered by Catalan universities satisfactorily meet European quality standards, as also does teaching quality, which is evaluated in accordance with internationally standardised guidelines.
The current quality system is based on evidence published in accordance with criteria that measure transparency towards society: data on university results, public assessment reports, results of accreditations, etc.
The future of the model depends on having self-accredited universities, for which purpose Catalan universities are preparing to certify the implantation of internal guarantee systems at their centres, which will increase the quality, flexibility and autonomy of universities in terms of the quality of courses on offer.
2.2 Mobility and internationalisation
Catalan public universities are attractive destinations, as evidenced by the increase in international student mobility on degree, master’s and PhD programmes. The number of students who spend time in Catalonia on exchange programmes has clearly increased over the years.
Additionally, students from Catalan public universities are increasingly participating in mobility programmes. In the 2012–17 period, almost 20% of degree graduates studied or trained abroad, which is in line with European targets.
Student mobility plays a key role in the internationalisation of universities, whereby the wide range of countries of origin of the students completing their studies in the Catalan public university system, whether master’s degrees or PhDs, is a reflection of how the system is opening up to the world. The broad cultural diversity that this implies enriches the learning process in university education.
The new undergraduate and master’s degrees adapted to the European Higher Education Area have not only put university education in Catalonia and elsewhere Spain on a par with European standards, but have also brought about major changes in teaching and learning methodologies. This innovation in teaching methods and the new central role of the student in the education process has led to good academic results, as reflected by a 14% increase in performance rates. This rate, which measures the results of student efforts to pass degree subjects, rose from 72% to 82% in the period from 2008/09 to 2016/17. For master’s degrees, the performance rate is especially high, at around 92%.
The implantation of the new structure of undergraduate and master’s degrees has reorganised the map of university degrees. In this context, there has been an especially notable increase of 17% in the overall number of graduates from the whole university system of Catalonia in the period analysed, excluding doctorates. This increase has occurred in all branches (Arts and Humanities, Sciences, Health, Social and Legal Sciences, and Engineering and Architecture), but it has been truly outstanding in the field of Health where the number of graduates has doubled with respect to 2008/09. The next largest growth area has been Engineering and Architecture, where the number of graduates has risen by 26%.
Meanwhile, the number of master’s graduates has significantly gained in momentum, increasing by 176% with respect to the value at the beginning of the period. All branches have had undergone significant increases, and Social and Legal Sciences in particular, with an almost fourfold increase in the number of graduates. The next largest increase has been in Engineering and Architecture, with a 173% rise in the number of graduates.
The Catalan university system has contributed to an increase in the population’s level of education, whereby 43% of people aged between 30 and 34 have now studied at university. This figure is above the average for Spain and the European Union.
Only 8% of students drop out of degrees in the Catalan university system. There is considerable mobility of students between degree courses, and another 8% switch degree within the system itself. This showcases the Catalan university system’s capacity to retain degree students.
In the case of master’s degrees, the dropout rate has fallen considerably since 2011-12, going from 12% to 7.8%, reaching the same level of undergraduate degrees. There is very little mobility of students between master’s degrees, probably due to the high quality options and specialisation on offer.
2.4 Professional work placements
Along with the introduction of degrees, the idea was to emphasise the interrelationships between universities the labour world through professional placements, which students carry out as part of their education. The time spent at companies and institutions, where the student can put theoretical knowledge into practice, has increased in recent years.
This increase in student involvement with the professional world throughout their time at university has favoured contacts with regard to professional employment. External placements represent 12% of the sources of graduates’ first jobs.
2.5 Teaching innovation
In recent decades, innovation at universities has made a major contribution to the improvement of educational quality through new learning methods. Universities have developed this strategy through their own calls both for innovation projects and for teaching innovation groups, which have generated and disseminated initiatives in the form of specific projects in line with the teaching methods defined by the different universities.
From the outset, a significant number of teaching staff has been involved in all areas, and their work has resulted in improved teaching methods applied to such diverse aspects as problem solving (PBL methodology, cases and simulations), collaborative learning and peer evaluation; a whole set of good practices that are leading to better quality teaching.
In this regard, the Government of the Generalitat set up the Margalida Comas i Camps Programme for the improvement of teaching and learning at university to modernise and adapt teaching and learning methods, once consolidated, to the European Higher Education Area. The programme will promote shared actions throughout the Catalan university system in the field of improvements to teaching and learning, as well as skills evaluation.