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D. Servera, I. Llibrer, R. Currás

Universidad Católica de Valencia (SPAIN)
In the last decade, the literature has shown increased interest in excellence in higher education (Bain, 2006, Finkel, 2008). However, in Spain and in many European countries, university teachers have focused on research rather than on teaching practice, which can be proved with the fact that most indicators and incentives for their professional career assess research criteria (such as indexed articles, headed projects, lectures at congresses and so on); all of which overshadows the fact that there is a turning point where the balance between teaching and research is sought after (García-Ramírez, 2012); and this, in turn should lead to reconsider the concept of excellence in higher education (Hinojosa et al., 2010).

Excellence implies a high level of competencies (Healey, 2000). The best teachers strive to ensure that their teaching practice will provide a positive, substantial and long-lasting experience for their students (Escámez, 2013:17). Research on higher education excellence shows some kind of pattern in excellent teachers, who are successful in making their students get the expected results, thus contributing to make their universities excellent as well.

Pursuing excellence in higher education led to rethinking this research topic, with the aim to analyze how an excellent teacher is perceived by the main actors during the teaching and learning process, that is to say, by both teachers and students. This general objective led to the following specific objectives: first, to know the students’ perception regarding what an excellent teacher is; secondly, to know the same concept by higher education teachers; and finally to compare both results.

The methodology used for this end was to create two focus groups. This approach has proven to be the most appropriate to meet the objectives; since it is very useful when interpreting and understanding the relationships between processes and variables because it generates objective information. Thus, the data and information by the people involved can be linked with that of the information itself (Taylor y Bogdan, 1987).

The aim of this dynamics was to understand the opinion by the stakeholders through the selection of eleven teachers from a higher education institution, -representing different knowledge areas in the Economy and Business Administration environment- and eight students, the class delegates, since they were considered to best represent the interests of their fellow students.

The analysis of the data allowed us to identify the points or specific areas where some improvements regarding excellence in higher education could be made.

Thus, it was possible to provide a battery of items describing excellence in higher education teachers. We can highlight that excellent teachers teach practical things, bearing in mind the final outcome; they also focus on the competencies to be developed by the student, bringing him/her closer to the labour market and real life. Furthermore, they keep the minimum level of requirement when assessing, they are self-confident, and they are able to motivate their students to arise their interest in the course. Finally, one of the most striking conclusions taken from this dynamics is the difficulty to numerically quantify excellence in higher education institutions.