Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Faculty Perspective on Competency Development in Higher Education: An International Study

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Faculty Perspective on Competency Development in Higher Education: An International Study

Article excerpt


Rapid changes in technology, work organization, and life itself are part of an increasingly interdependent and conflicting world, and they present new challenges for everyone. Traditional problem-solving methods are unable to respond to the constant need for innovation and efficiency imposed by intense competition among organizations, now powered by globalization. The old individual work toolbox, equipped with the knowledge acquired in school and some competencies developed during early years, must be extended with new competencies like teamwork, multitasking, communicating, taking initiative, lifelong learning, and adapting to change. These changes in the workplace naturally had an impact on each organization's human resources management, bringing the notion of competence and competency to the fore.

Although much discussed, there is no consensus on a definition of competency (e.g., Fletcher, 1997; Mansfeld 1996; Roe 2002; Spencer & Spencer 1993). The word is part of our daily language, but has different meanings in various academic fields-psychology, economy, education, sociology or linguistics, to name a few. It is almost impossible to find one definition that would suit such different fields of knowledge, and it is even more difficult to find adequate translations of the term into the many languages used in this globalized world. There is also critical analysis of the concept of competence as it is being used in higher education (Lozano, Boni, Peris, & Hueso, 2012).

Perrenoud has pointed out that "competence is the power to act with effectiveness in a situation, mobilizing and combining, in real time and in a pertinent way, intellectual and emotional resources" (2013, p. 45). He saw competence as a product of learning and, at the same time, a foundation of human action. Competence is a personal and unique way of dealing with a situation or solving a problem, in both work and personal life. In this sense, competence is inseparable from action and results and is, according to Ropé and Tanguy, "an attribute that can only be appreciated and assessed in a given situation". (1997, p. 16). As Perrenoud noted, this concept recognizes the complexities of work; it appreciates the ability of an intelligent person to provide solutions in complex situations, make decisions when faced with uncertainty, act quickly, and assume risks (2013).

Boyatzis (2007) defined competency as "a capability or ability. It is a set of related but different sets of behavior organized around an underlying construct" (p. 6). Markus, Cooper-Thomas, and Allpress (1997) pointed out that the literature has approached competency in three different ways: educational, behavioral, and business (p. 117-118). Within the educational context in the United States, "'competencies' were based on functional role analysis and described either role outcomes, or knowledge, skills and attitudes, or both, required for role performance, and assessed by a criterion, usually a behavioural standard" (1997, p. 117).

Chan, Liu, Cao, and Fellow (2013) noted that the terms competence, competency, and competencies are frequently used interchangeably, which might create confusion. According to these authors, these terms tend to be distinguished in research in the following manner:

i) competence refers to aspects of the job that an employee can perform, ii) competency is defined as behaviours an employee needs to display in order to do the job effectively, such as sensitivity; and Hi) competencies refer to the attributes underpinning a behaviour. (Chan et al., 2013, p. 385 [citing Manley and Garbett, 2000; Moore, Cheng, & Dainty, 2002; Westera, 2001; Wood ruffe, 1993])

In the context of this research, authors refer to competency instead of competence, as differentiated in this introduction.

Higher Education and the Development of Competencies

Changes in the workplace are putting pressure on educational systems to change their academic approaches to developing new generations. …

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