CEU Honors Professor Matthew Braham with Teaching Award

September 17, 2013

This year's winner of the European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities is Professor Matthew Braham of the University of Bayreuth (Germany). CEU President and Rector John Shattuck presented the award to Braham as part of CEU's 2013-2014 academic year opening ceremony on September 13. In order to promote excellence in teaching across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and upon the milestone of its 20th year (2011), Central European University (CEU) established the award, which is the first and only pan-European award for excellence in teaching.

The committee was greatly impressed by your overall achievements, your philosophy of education and creative problem-based approaches to teaching, effective integration of research and teaching, and your leadership in interdisciplinary teaching,” wrote CEU Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Director Sally Schwager in Braham's selection letter.

In the personal statement Braham wrote upon being informed that he was a finalist

Professor Matthew Braham of the University of Bayreuth gives his acceptance speech after receiving the 2012 European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Image credit: CEU/Peter Rakossy

for the award, he emphasized the three most important things in his teaching: a conducive learning environment, relevant course materials, and applicable goals to students' future pursuits. “With regard to teaching methods, I have to say that I am somewhat traditional. I make only sparing use of modern presentation and instead focus on “chalk and talk,” wrote Braham. “Lecturing and leading seminars is, for me, an act of thinking and intellectual engagement with my students and audience. I have no special techniques on offer except commitment to the educative process. My classes are, as far as possible, a Socratic exercise.”

Braham's nominator was a guest professor at Bayreuth and he commended Braham for his innovation in the classroom and his commitment to student success. “I taught three courses in practical philosophy between October 2012 and February 2013. In two of these courses, all students had completed teaching-intensive lectures and seminars with Matthew Braham; in the third course, no student had yet had him as a teacher,” the nominator wrote. “In terms of the intellectual capacities and aptitude for critical thinking, the difference between the students was remarkable. Those who had taken a class with Braham were able to discuss and challenge the presented course material with astonishing clarity. Those who had not yet benefitted from his teaching lacked some of these qualities.”

In his acceptance speech, Braham emphasized the importance of teaching in today's complex world. “How do we sustainably change the world? Not with guns, not with business, but with good teaching,” he said. “I take this award as evidence that I have recognized some key values and have tried to put them into practice. We can create a better world with this very fundamental piece of human technology: teaching.”

Professor Matthew Braham, the winner of the 2012 European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities participates in a round-table discussion with CEU professors. Image credit: CEU/Peter Rakossy

The quality of higher education in Europe came into sharp focus with the creation of the European Commission's EU High Level Group on Modernisation of Higher Education in 2012. Chaired by former Irish President Mary McAleese, the Group is addressing this issue as part of a comprehensive three-year review of the sector across the European Union. During 2012, the committee focused on how best to achieve quality and excellence in teaching and learning; this year it will discuss how to adapt learning in the digital age. The Group will identify best practices and creative solutions, as well as make recommendations to national and European policymakers, universities, and colleges.

In this year's report, published in June, the Group gave 16 recommendations, including one that advised recognizing and rewarding teachers who make a significant contribution to improving the quality of teaching and learning, whether through their practice, or through their research into teaching and learning. With the presentation of the first European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities in 2012, CEU was ahead of the curve in recognizing distinctive and effective instruction. CEU's Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Liviu Matei initiated the award as a way of calling attention to the importance of excellent teaching as well as research within European higher education.

The European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities is bestowed annually, aligning with CEU's commitment to distinguished and innovative teaching. The award and its accompanying €5,000 prize were made possible by funding from an anonymous donor “In Memory of Ilona Diener.”