Quality Management in German Higher Education: Approaches and Challenges in University Continuing Education

Quality Management in German Higher Education: Approaches and Challenges in University Continuing Education

Anita Mörth (FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1238-8.ch001
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This chapter provides an insight into quality management in university continuing education at German higher education institutions. First, it sets the context by explaining the position and characteristics of university continuing education within the German higher education system as well as current provisions, existing recommendations, and concepts for quality management (QM) within this area. Based on the analysis of selected university continuing education programs, the chapter then (1) outlines crucial aspects that need to be tackled in regard to QM, (2) presents a variety of concrete quality management activities that have been put into practice, and (3) describes empirically based quality dimensions specific to university continuing education. The chapter includes possible areas for future research and development.
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Demographic and societal changes towards an increasingly information- and knowledge-based society make lifelong learning (LLL) an ongoing necessity. In the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), various stakeholders, initiatives (such as the European Association for Quality in HE [ENQA]), and higher education institutions (HEIs) (for example, Open University UK) have been addressing the topics of lifelong learning and quality management. This chapter will focus on the specific sector within German higher education that addresses LLL: university continuing education.

In Germany, it is traditionally non-university institutions that have answered the need for LLL and that offer general or professional continuing education. However, almost twenty years ago, HEIs in Germany were tasked with providing LLL. Also because of various state incentives, quite a few higher education institutions have started to develop programs that specifically address lifelong learners. Yet, compared to what LLL comprises, these so-called university continuing education programs usually have a rather narrow focus on so-called new target groups, that is, students with a first academic degree coming back to university after some years of work experience, and also people without a first university degree but with comprehensive work experience. The programs for those learners seek to be professionally relevant, competency-based, student-centered, and flexible in regard to time and content. In spite of such developments, what Hanft & Knust (2009) stated about ten years ago is still valid today, namely that lifelong learning still has a long way to go before it becomes a central task of higher education institutions in Germany, as university continuing education is still a fringe issue for most HEIs.

This chapter examines LLL and quality management policies and framework conditions within the German higher education area and its links to the European level. In addition, the chapter presents various approaches to and models for quality assurance and management within university continuing education. Then, the author presents empirical results on quality assurance in university continuing education: crucial aspects of QM based on an action research process, and quality activities mapped along a process model of program development and quality dimensions, both based on a document analysis. The findings give insight into an area that has not been systematically researched yet. After drawing a conclusion, the author outlines possibilities for future research.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quality Management: Systematically associated measures for continuous quality enhancement based on the institution’s strategy and aligned with the institution’s mission statement following a continuing improvement process or Plan-Do-Check-Act-cycle.

University Continuing Education: The central type of LLL at HEIs in Germany that addresses students with a first academic degree or comprehensive work experience that come (back) to HEIs for professionally relevant, competency-based, and flexible degree or shorter non-degree programs.

Lifelong learners in HEI: At the moment, this is used to describe more or less non-traditional students, individuals with an undergraduate degree, professional or other qualification with professional experience coming (back) to university to deepen and/or amend their knowledge.

Regular Master’s Programs: Master’s programs following Bachelor’s programs, usually full-time.

Quality Assurance: Isolated or linked measures for assuring and enhancing quality in HEI, mostly within teaching and learning in the context of this chapter.

Lifelong Learning at HEIs: A broad range of formats aiming to facilitate lifelong learning. It comprises workshops and open formats, but for the most part it is realized as university continuing education.

Continuing Education Master’s Programs: Master’s programs on the same academic level as “regular” Master’s programs but considering the needs of lifelong learners in respect of content, didactics and organization, as well as support structures.

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