Long live learning! The academies as pioneers in lifelong learning

(08-07-2022) Ghent University is dedicating significant energy to lifelong learning.

The launch of Nova Academy, together with the University of Antwerp and VUB, was an important step. Even so, several faculties at Ghent University have been busy with lifelong learning for quite some time now.

Nova Academy strengthens lifelong learning offer in Flanders

Nova Academy saw the light in the course of last year. The collaboration agreement between Ghent University, the University of Antwerp and VUB can be considered as an overarching information platform. It provides a structured summary of the continuing education offered by the three universities. The aim is to strengthen the offer of lifelong learning in Flanders.

It is necessary too, as Flanders has been dragging behind for years when it comes to lifelong learning. Yet, there is such a great need for it on the employment market. That’s why, in 2020, the Flemish government decided to focus more effort on the learning culture in Flanders. Last year, at the end of December, it presented the action plan ‘towards a learning Flanders’.

Nova Academy is therefore centralising the offer from the three universities, however, Ghent University has also made the conscious decision to keep the academies in the hands of the faculties. The responsibility for organising and implementing the offer remains with the different faculty and interfaculty academies. In this way, the programmes are established at the source: precisely where the research is done and new knowledge emerges.

For some faculties, the acceleration in lifelong learning means continuing what they were already doing. For others, it is an entirely new step.

Dunant Academy (Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences)

"Increasing the focus on micro-credentials"

The faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences founded the Dunant Academy in the middle of last year. “The lifelong learning offer was already very extensive”, says director Bart Vancoppenolle. “In fact, five out of the nine departments had already been organising permanent programmes for many years. These are often very intensive, such as the four-year therapy programmes. We are now investigating how we can extend, optimise and professionalise that offer. The Dunant Academy primarily serves as the engine of our faculty offerings.  

With our programmes, we focus primarily on alumni. A very diverse audience, which ranges from psychologists to remedial pedagogues and social workers. Each has their own specific needs. We are currently charting this very diversity: two new employees joined the Dunant Academy in the spring, and are helping to design a methodology to achieve this.

One challenge lies in how to fund the programmes, which are unsubsidised, and offer them for an attractive fee while still covering the costs. Our alumni often work in the social profit sector, where the budget for further education is limited. That is one of the reasons why we are now actively looking for partnerships. Furthermore, in the context of recognising the profession of clinical psychologist and clinical remedial pedagogue, we are keen to contribute to professionalisation with post-academic programmes.

Bart Vancoppenolle: "In addition, we want to dedicate more efforts to shorter programmes in the future: so-called micro-credentials. These are mini programmes, such as a combination of a few courses from an existing programme, which also lead to an evaluation moment and certificate. Discussions are currently underway for five such micro-programmes in different departments. For example, combining the subject of education didactics with motivational psychology can be interesting for secondary school teachers.”

Academy for Veterinary Medicine (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine)

"Aiming for an innovative offer"

The Academy for Veterinary Medicine is building further on its long tradition. “Although, of course, much has changed in terms of the technical opportunities”, says Bart De Poortere. He provides technical support in the auditoria and livestreaming.

“I am rather proud to say that the Academy for Veterinary Medicine is a pioneer when it comes to digital classes. We have been offering online courses for around thirteen years now. Having invested in digital lessons for so long we realised some time ago that it was time to renew our website entirely. We launched our new platform two and a half years ago. Just before the pandemic put the world into lockdown.

The platform is handy for all users: both teachers and students can easily find information there. Today, a number of other academies are using the same platform. That's very interesting, as we learn a lot from each other. Meanwhile, we also have a work group involving all academies, making it easy to share our experiences.

Our faculty has a wonderful tradition in permanent education. I think we've already been offering education for graduates for around a quarter of a century. Veterinarians are our main target audience, for example, for our rather intensive programme ‘specialist vet’. Then, in the physiotherapy programmes you tend to find physiotherapists. On top of that, we have lots of courses for other interested parties, such as beekeepers or farriers.

Bart De Poortere: "We continue to strive for an innovative offer that, thanks to Nova Academy, can attract a wider audience. We notice that corona has boosted the digital courses in particular, and want to make sure that the physical lessons also find their way back to the public. For example, the chance to network or catch up with fellow veterinarians during the break can be very valuable.”

FEB Academy (Faculty of Economic and Business Administration)

"Greater need for new competencies"

The FEB Academy did a soft launch in June last year. The director is research associate Christophe Vanhee. “We are the point of contact for everything related to lifelong learning”, he says. “Colleagues come to us with ideas, which we then help to facilitate. Sometimes we contact tutors to design a programme together – for example, if we receive a specific request from the work domain. We aim to be the link between colleagues and the professional field.

Some colleagues here and there were already involved in the systematic organisation of education programmes, but for many others this is completely new. That’s something that we wish to change with the academy. After all, this is in line with the strategic policy plan at Ghent University on lifelong learning.

At the same time, we felt the need from society. People no longer remain with the same employer throughout their career. They are more likely to move to other positions - which demand other competencies. We make use of our close partnerships with companies to sense how things are evolving and then aim to respond to this as much as possible.

Christophe Vanhee: "Our greatest strength is the close connection between education and scientific research. This is the case in regular education, but certainly also in lifelong learning. That explains our strategic decision not to organise courses with external tutors. We naturally do invite guest speakers, but only if the subject really matches the research in our departments. All programmes are co-organised with an internal ZAP.”