Over the past decade, tertiary education has been gaining importance in society; however, it has not received comparable attention in national and international research in education.
Developments such as the continuously growing number of students in higher education and increasing student mobility have raised questions of efficiency and effectiveness of the tertiary sector, calling for valid assessment of competencies in higher education. Assessments of the output or outcomes of higher education can yield important evidence of the effectiveness of this heterogeneous educational sector and thus provide a basis for improvement measures at the institutional, , and individual levels. Experience with current reform processes (such as the transition to the bachelor–master model in Germany) has shown that successful development and implementation of new concepts in higher education require a sound theoretical and empirical basis.
Assessing the development of students’ competencies in diverse institutional settings of higher education is a challenging task. Reliable and valid modeling and measurement of academically taught competencies as well as their preconditions, development, and effects require a multidimensional approach that meets high methodological standards and can account for the national and international diversity of study models, institutional structures, and teaching practices in higher education. A key challenge is to select an appropriate criterion for evaluating students' competency level and competency acquisition (e.g., based on future job requirements). Areas of employment and job requirements for academics and higher education graduates are subject to constant change. Nonetheless, a review of the state of international research shows that there are some approaches to structural stabilization of empirical research in higher education (e.g., the OECD’s Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes feasibility study (AHELO) and the Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics (TEDS-M), illustrating that high methodological standards can be met, albeit with great effort.
To close the research gap in Germany, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) funded the Modeling and Measuring Competencies in Higher Education (KoKoHs) research program from 2011 to 2015, which focused on internationally compatible fundamental research in higher education. Building on best practices from the first KoKoHs initiative, the new KoKoHs program Modeling and Measuring Competencies in Higher Education (KoKoHs) – Validation and Methodological Innovations will run from 2015 to 2019 and systematically bring together experts in various fields and with different methodological backgrounds in cross-university project alliances within a joint interdisciplinary and internationally-oriented research network. The first program provided empirically tested models and instruments for reliable and valid assessment of competencies acquired in various study domains of higher education. Based on the findings and outcomes, the new initiative aims to increase the explanatory power and broaden the scope of use of existing instruments through in-depth validation and to drive methodological innovations in competency assessment. Focus is on computer-based adaptive testing, tailored psychometric-statistical methods, and randomized, field experimental, longitudinal study designs with multilevel analyses of individual, teaching-related, and institutional determinants of competency acquisition over several years.
On 19 January 2015, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research published the funding announcement for the new KoKoHs research program. An opening conference will be held in Berlin on April 4 and 5, 2016 to give impetus to the new KoKoHs funding program.