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PhD Defence Steven Nijhuis | Improving Project Management Teaching in Higher Education - Towards a validated competence profile for the design of a profession specific learning line

Improving Project Management Teaching in Higher Education - Towards a validated competence profile for the design of a profession specific learning line

The PhD defence of Steven Nijhuis will take place (partly) online and can be followed by a live stream.
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Steven Nijhuis is a PhD student in the department Educational Science. Supervisor is prof.dr. M.D. Endedijk from the faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences and co-supervisors are dr.ir. R. Vrijhoef from the Hogeschool Utrecht and prof.dr. J.W.M. Kessels from the Open University.

This thesis studies the subject of teaching project management (PM) in higher education. Several higher education studies show a desire to teach PM, a highly requested business skill. However, the practice of teaching PM in higher education receives criticism from scholars and graduates.

Chapter 2 explored the PM offerings in higher education institutes. Delivery and assessment modes were mainly aimed at student insights, while the level of learning aspired to was PM experience or even ability. The subject focus was narrow and not aligned with practitioners’ preferences. The curriculum space for PM ranges between 2-4% of the whole curriculum.

Chapter 3 looked in-depth at competence research in PM, focusing on the attribute competences: knowledge and skills. This chapter compared important and critical PM attribute competences. The results showed that criticality provides a better definition of the profession. However, the study did not result in a list of competences to be included in a curriculum. There was uncertainty regarding junior project manager representation, and there were no high-scoring competences.

Chapter 4 described how the project type and the manager’s experience are related to critical PM competences. It studied whether the application area or amount of experience as a project manager affected the required competence profile. Results indicated that a curriculum should focus on process competences, which exhibited only a weak relation with project type and a possible relation with experience.

The final core chapter explored project managers’ priority processes, called process competences. The identified priority processes showed a weak relation with the project type, especially for junior project managers, and PM experience showed a weak relation with identified priority processes. It appeared that context affects experienced and senior project managers’ priority processes more than those of junior project managers, albeit only slightly more.

The educational profile of PM processes needing attention totalled 13 cells. These processes cover over 73% of the priorities in all the specific profiles for junior project managers, resulting in a profile appropriate to all studied situations.

The synthesises suggested the following competences to be incorporated in a curriculum preparing students for PM: first, a broad introduction to PM, followed by insights into the 13 processes in the educational profile. When possible, students should prepare for a – capstone – course in PM using group-work assignments designed and executed according to contemporary PM methods. The PM course should allow reflection on the methods and lessons learned.

Higher education will adequately prepare students for a job as a project manager by providing a broad introduction to PM and insights into these processes. However, this is primarily cognitive preparation; higher education has limited options for preparing students with real PM experience.

The explorations produced an overview of the practice of teaching PM in higher education, reviewed existing research on important competences, explored the concept of criticality, and showed an overview of process priority profiles for various types of projects. All were first-time contributions. Moreover, a taxonomy for PM attribute competences was developed, providing future research in PM with a near-comprehensive list of attribute competences to consider.