Measuring universities’ contributions to human development and capabilities

Walker, Melanie; Loots, Sonja; Boni, Alejandra; Hueso, Andres; Chiappero, Enrica; Ilieva-Trichkova, Petya; Landorf, Hilary (2014). 'Measuring universities' contributions to human development and capabilities' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

The first Panel paper by Alejandra Boni and Andres Hueso, (Universitat Politècnica de València) and Enrica Chiappero, (University of Pavia)  considers 'What students value: a study on the relevance of human development in a Master Programmes'. The researchers developed an on-line questionnaire based on human development (HD) principles for the former students of three Master's Programs (MAs) in cooperation and development taught in Spain, Italy and Palestine. The research questions asked what is, from a student's perspective, the instrumental (professional) and intrinsic (personal) value of HD in a Master programme in development and, to what extent HD could be a valuable framework for quantitatively analyzing an MA programme. Finally the study considered whether survey methodology is appropriate for operationalizing and dealing with the multifaceted character of HD. The researchers first discuss the rationale based on their concern to explore the potentiality of HD in higher education and highlight the caveats of the study. The second part gives an overview of the three MA programmes and their contexts. The third section focuses on the methodology and the questionnaire they developed. The fourth section is a description of the overall results as well as of the particular results in each MA. Finally, the presenters discuss questions related to the research methodology, the internal structure of the questionnaire and the interpretation and dissemination of the results. Finally, they discuss two general questions: to what extent are HD and the methodology potentially helpful for assessing higher education programs? And, could the HD and the methodology replace or complement more conventional, human capital theory-based systems of evaluation?


The paper by Petya Ilieva-Trichkova (Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge, BAS & Adam Mickiewicz University Poznan) asks: 'Do tertiary graduates live a better life? Studying people's well-being using quantitative data'.  The presentation considers how human development and nations' well-being have become widely discussed issues, influencing studies on the impact of higher education (HE) on national and individual well-being. There has been a clear tendency to take into account both the objective and subjective aspects of people's well-being and to pay special attention to the measurement of inequalities in relation to people's opportunities to function in and through higher education. Given this, and within the understanding of HE as a public good, inequalities in access to HE and in graduate employability could be defined as important indicators of the well-being of individuals and of nations. The paper discusses some of the advantages of using quantitative data in studying the influence of HE on people's well-being. Specifically, it focuses on the possibility of making cross-national comparisons and examining these dynamics. To operationalize this, the paper applies the capability approach to an analysis of well-being using data from the European Social Survey and uses descriptive statistics and regression analyses. The data show how we could compare different distributions of capabilities in judging the advantages that different persons with HE have over time and across countries and explains some of the determinants of these advantages.The paper further argues, however, that it is important to contextualize the findings from quantitative data.


In their paper Sonja Loots and Melanie Walker (University of the Free State, South Africa) seeks to consider what lies beneath higher education indicators which measure gender equality in South Africa through numerical parity alone without examining, for example why more women study humanities/social sciences than the natural sciences, or why woman do not become student council presidents.  The paper argues that the measurement of gender equality in higher education should include individuals' opportunities to function, as well as factors obstructing women's well-being and agency in forming people who ought to be able to contribute to educational and social changes in the direction of more gender justice.  The paper presents findings from a quantitative study in which questions have been developed out of earlier rounds of qualitative interviews with diverse women and men on the gendered experiences of students at a South African university. It also builds on the method and findings of a general survey conducted in 2013 with 1500 students at the UFS to measure what higher education capabilities they valued. Guided by the capabilities approach, the gender survey captures which valuable opportunities to function are available to students in higher education and for their future lives. Descriptive analysis provides contextual information on personal, social, and environmental conversion factors influencing agency and empowerment, while inferential statistics illustrate gender differences as well as the relationships between variables. The use of human development indicators is then a supplement to current participation indicators to portray a richer depiction of gender equality, as well as shedding light on what is needed to work for gender justice.


The final paper is by Hilary Landorf (Florida International University, USA) and explores a  'Mixed Methods Approach to Assessing a University-Wide Global Learning Initiative'. In the paper she considers  the 'so what' question in relation to global learning in universities, arguing that  the purpose of global learning assessment is to determine the answer to this 'so what?' question.  She asks: What is the impact of these activities on the quality of learn­ing? She takes as her case study, Florida International University's (FIU) institution-wide global learning initiative, Global Learning for Global Citizenship. At the heart of this initiative are three learning outcomes that expand upon Martha Nussbaum's capabilities for democratic citizenship—global citizenship, critical thinking, and narrative imagination— and place emphasis on students' agency as global citizens. In the paper, Landorf, as the leader of Global Learning for Global Citizenship, delineates the mixed methods approach to assessment that has successfully guided the university in developing students' capabilities to become collaborative problem solvers in their local and global communities. Using a pre-test/post-test model to quantitatively assess FIU's global learning outcomes directly and indirectly, combined with qualitative assessments of course level global learning activities, the university has gleaned the kind of rich and robust data to be able to successfully answer the 'so what' question, showing how the programme has contributed to students' well-being and agency.



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