University education is directed by distinct objectives. Students in science, for example, should acquire:
- knowledge and skills based on the forefront of science in the subject areas of their studies
- capability to identify, formulate and handle scientifically complex problems, as well as to critically evaluate information and to formulate possible solutions
- skills to communicate knowledge at theoretical as well as at applied scientific levels, and
- ability to co-operate and to develop management/professional skills.
Fulfilling these objectives in university education is a great challenge; it imposes specific demands, not only on scientific content but also on teachers and teaching methods. Teaching must stimulate students to learn, to seek information and to critically synthesize information and knowledge, and also offer possibilities for applying their acquired skills. This means that a variety of teaching methods needs to be applied.
Defining objectives for the whole educational programme and for each individual course is essential and the objectives given should be used actively by teachers, as well as by students. The objectives should not only focus on subject knowledge, but also on the skills to be acquired. Students must become aware of what they need to learn to succeed, and teachers should reflect upon what and how to teach to best stimulate the learning process, and how to evaluate it. It is essential to evaluate how well the objectives have been fulfilled.
When discussing objectives in university education, it is necessary to keep in mind the rapid growth of new knowledge (Figure 2). A student completing a university degree within a subject area will have acquired a certain amount of knowledge, but this will only be a fraction of the total knowledge available at that time. Quite soon the former student will start forgetting parts of what he/she learnt, and at the same time new knowledge will become available. A knowledge gap arises, a gap that will increase rapidly if not counteracted.
The knowledge mass in science and technology is doubled every 10 years! All individuals with a degree from higher education will need to keep their knowledge up-to-date. This will, to a large extent, be through self-learning. University curricula, therefore, must be designed to provide students with tools for life-long learning, i.e. learn how to learn and to gather knowledge. Training in using information and communication technologies is essential. Moreover, higher education institutions need to offer opportunities for continuing education. Such education will often need to be given as distance education, where new technology-based tools will play an important role.