Measuring competencies in higher education has largely been neglected in international empirical education research, despite the increasing importance of tertiary education to society. An examination of the effectiveness of higher education programs could serve as a basis for evidence-based statements on the output or outcome of this heterogeneous sector. These statements could then be used for sustainable development and reforms on a structural, organizational, or individual level. The experience of current changes (like the switch to BA-MA models in Europe) shows that developing and realizing successful concepts in higher education calls for a theoretical and empirical footing.
It is a challenge to assess the development of academic professionalism in higher education. To model and to measure academic competencies as well as their preconditions, genesis, and effects in a valid and reliable way sets a high threshold for research methodology. The existing research deficit is thus partially caused by the high complexity that defines academic competencies of graduate and PhD students owing to the inter- and intra-national diversity of study models, education structures, and teaching performances in the tertiary sector. Another challenge is the question of a suitable or appropriate criterion (i.e. future job requirements) that assists in the evaluation of competence acquisition. Potential job areas and requirements of academics change constantly. An analysis of the international state of research however shows that approaches to a structural stabilization of empirical higher education research do exist (i.e. OECD’s feasibility study “Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes” (AHELO) or the studies in the context of the “Teacher Education and Development Study: Learning to Teach Mathematics (TEDS-M)), and that these challenges can be met, even if, by comparison, much time and effort have to be invested.
In order to close the national research gap even further, experts from different disciplines will network nationally as well as internationally and work together on the joint multi- and inter-disciplinary research program that is part of the new BMBF funding initiative “Modeling and measuring competencies in higher education (KoKoHs)” while integrating different methods. KoKoHs will thus provide vital incentives to basic competence research in higher education. In this context we will initialize research projects that not only focus on modeling and measuring generic competencies acquired at an academic level, but also on domain-specific competencies and knowledge. With regard to the program’s scheduled research projects the following classification can already be made: Competencies gained at an academic level are regarded as generic competencies (general research competencies and self-regulating competencies) and domain-specific competencies in different subjects (education sciences, engineering, teacher training in STEM fields, and economics and social sciences).
In order to meet the challenges successfully, a coordination office was installed in Berlin (under the direction of Prof Dr Sigrid Blömeke, Humboldt-University, Berlin) and Mainz (under the direction of Prof Dr Olga Zlatkin-Troitschanskaia, JGU Mainz) on May 1st, 2011, in order to coordinate the projects and the research program. The main tasks of the coordination office are promoting exchange and networking among the funded projects in order to use synergies as well as a systematical and sustainable advancement of young researchers. A further major interest is to keep up the existing international cooperation and to further benefit from them in the national funding initiative through communicative exchange.