The introduction of a two or three cycle system makes it necessary to revise all existing study programmes which are not based on the concept of cycles. In practice these programmes have to be redesigned because in a cycle system each cycle should be seen as an entity in itself. The first two cycles should not only give access to the following cycle but also to the labour market. This shows the relevance of using the concept of competences as a basis for learning outcomes.
Tuning makes the distinction between learning outcomes and competences to distinguish the different roles of the most relevant players: academic staff and students/learners. Desired learning outcomes of a process of learning are formulated by the academic staff, preferably involving student representatives in the process, on the basis of input of internal and external stakeholders. Competences are obtained or developed during the process of learning by the student/learner. In other words:
- Learning outcomes are statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of learning. They can refer to a single course unit or module or else to a period of studies, for example, a first or a second cycle programme. Learning outcomes specify the requirements for award of credit.
- Competences represent a dynamic combination of knowledge, understanding, skills and abilities. Fostering competences is the object of educational programmes. Competences will be formed in various course units and assessed at different stages.
Competences can be distinguished in subject specific and generic ones. Although Tuning acknowledges to the full the importance of building-up and developing subject specific knowledge and skills as the basis for university degree programmes, it has highlighted the fact that time and attention should also be devoted to the development of generic competences or transferable skills. This last component is becoming more and more relevant for preparing students well for their future role in society in terms of employability and citizenship.
Tuning distinguishes three types of generic competences:
- Instrumental competences: cognitive abilities, methodological abilities, technological abilities and linguistic abilities;
- Interpersonal competences: individual abilities like social skills (social interaction and co-operation);
- Systemic competences: abilities and skills concerning whole systems (combination of understanding, sensibility and knowledge; prior acquisition of instrumental and interpersonal competences required).
As part of Tuning I, a large scale consultation was organized among graduates, employers and academics to identify the most important generic competences for each of the academic fields involved. Although the set of most relevant generic competences differed slightly between the different subject areas, for most competences there was a striking similarity between the fields. In all fields typical academic competences were identified as being the most important ones, like the capacity for analysis and synthesis, the capacity to learn and problem solving. In particular the graduates and employers, who proved to be remarkably in agreement, showed that other generic competences as well were seen as being very important for employability, like the capacity for applying knowledge in practice, the capacity to adopt to new situations, concern for quality, information management skills, ability to work autonomously, team work, capacity for organizing and planning, oral and written communication in your native language as well as interpersonal skills. It was also concluded by graduates and employers that some of the competences mentioned above were of more use and developed to a higher level than others. They drew attention to the fact that more attention should be given to a specific number of generic competences to prepare students better for their future workplace. The outcome of this extended consultation process can be found in the publication which resulted from the Tuning I project as well as on the Tuning website.
Subject specific competences have been identified already for nine subject areas e.g. Business Administration, Chemistry, Education Sciences, European Studies, History, Geology (Earth Sciences), Mathematics, Nursing and Physics. These sets of competences are reflected in documents prepared by each of the nine subject area groups of the project(1). As already stated in the introduction to this book the approaches of the nine groups differed, because of differences in the structure of the disciplines; nonetheless, all groups followed a similar procedure to obtain their results. Through discussion, creation of reciprocal knowledge and mapping the ways the subject area is learned and taught in the various countries, insight was gained and consensus built on what constitutes the vital core of each subject area. The documents which resulted should be understood to be working documents, subject to further elaboration and change.
In Tuning competences are described as reference points for curriculum design and evaluation, not as straightjackets. They allow flexibility and autonomy in the construction of curricula. At the same time, they provide a common language for describing what curricula are aiming at.
The use of learning outcomes allows for much more flexibility than is the case in more traditionally designed study programmes, because they show that different pathways can lead to comparable outcomes; outcomes which can be much more easily recognized as part of another programme or as the basis for entrance to a next cycle programme. Their use fully respects the autonomy of other institutions as well as other educational cultures. Therefore this approach allows for diversity, not only in a global, European, national or institutional framework, but also in the context of a single programme. This concept is summarized in the following scheme: