Joint programme terminology
- This article is reproduced from the Guidelines for Good Practice for Awarding Joint Degrees published by the European Consortium for Accreditation in the framework of their JOQAR project.
There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding joint programmes and their degrees. Most of the confusion is caused by an indistinct use of terminology. From current literature, university websites and higher education conferences, we find a whole list of terms that in some way relate to joint programmes and their degrees. In addition to joint programmes, joint degrees and multiple degrees, a whole list of confusing terms are being used. To name just a few: collaborative programmes, dual degrees, integrated programmes, double degrees and common degrees. None of these terms have an agreed meaning and therefore mean different things in different contexts. To begin clarifying the concepts used and to come to a more or less common ground for terminology, we need to first distinguish between a programme and a degree.
The Lisbon Recognition Convention has a clear and relevant definition of a programme:
- “A programme refers to a higher education curriculum leading to a degree. It has co-ordinated elements (courses). The completion of a programme provides the student with a higher education qualification.” 
Interesting to note here is the distinction between the degree and the qualification. As included below, the degree is deemed tangible ("a piece of paper") while the qualification is intangible ("the title awarded"). A detailed definition has been proposed by UNESCO’s International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED):
- “A coherent set or sequence of educational activities designed and organized to achieve pre-determined learning objectives or accomplish a specific set of educational tasks over a sustained period. Within an educational programme, educational activities may also be grouped into sub-components variously described in national contexts as ‘courses’, ‘modules’, ‘units’, and/or ‘subjects’. A programme may have major components not normally characterized as courses, units, or modules – for example, play-based activities, periods of work experience, research projects and the preparation of dissertations.” 
From both definitions it will be clear that a programme refers to teaching and learning activities.
Degree & Qualification
A comprehensive definition of a degree is put forward by UNESCO’s ISCED:
- “Educational qualification awarded upon successful completion of specific educational programmes in tertiary education (traditionally by universities and equivalent institutions).” 
In both definitions degrees and qualifications are interchangeable: a degree is a qualification at higher education level. The Lisbon Recognition Convention's definition of a qualification struggles with the same problem:
- “Any degree, diploma or other certificate issued by a competent authority attesting the successful completion of a higher education programme.” 
All of the above definitions are not very helpful since they do not explain the difference between a degree and a qualification. To make this distinction a bit more concrete, a degree is deemed tangible ("a piece of paper") while the qualification is intangible ("the title awarded").
The term joint programme is widely used but not clearly defined. The European University Association’s Guidelines for quality enhancement in European joint master programmes refers to joint programmes as:
- “Programmes which are developed and implemented jointly by several institutions in different countries.”
This definition focuses on development and implementation. It does not focus on the programme as included in the definitions above. If we look at the definition of a programme included in the Lisbon Recognition Convention, there seem to be three essential elements that make up a programme: (1) a higher education curriculum with (2) co-ordinated elements (courses) which (3) leads to a degree. A joint programme is a programme of which the curriculum is coordinated and offered jointly by two or more institutions and which leads to a degree. That puts the focus on the joint offering or delivery and not necessarily on the development and implementation. In its Principles for Accreditation Procedures regarding Joint Programmes the European Consortium for Accreditation in higher education puts forward the following definition:
- “A joint programme is a programme offered jointly by different higher education institutions irrespective of the degree awarded.”
This definition is quite uncomplicated and seems to suit the reality of the European Higher Education Area. But it is perhaps too straightforward to capture the complex reality. A better definition for a joint programme can therefore be formulated. A joint programme is defined as follows:
- “An integrated curriculum coordinated and offered jointly by different higher education institutions and leading to a (double/multiple or joint) degree.”
The Recommendation on the Recognition of Joint Degrees gives the following definition of the term joint degree:
- “A joint degree should, for the purposes of this Recommendation, be understood as referring to a higher education qualification issued jointly by at least two or more higher education institutions or jointly by one or more higher education institutions and other awarding bodies, on the basis of a study programme developed and/or provided jointly by the higher education institutions, possibly also in cooperation with other institutions.
- A joint degree may be issued as
- a) a joint diploma in addition to one or more national diplomas;
- b) a joint diploma issued by the institutions offering the study programme in question without being accompanied by any national diploma;
- c) one or more national diplomas issued officially as the only attestation of the joint qualification in question.”
It is generally understood that this definition has tried to capture all the types of documents awarded upon successful completion of joint programmes. Part a) of the definition seems to indicate that institutions involved award two degrees: a national degree and a joint degree. It is unlikely that both these degrees would be acknowledged as the nationally recognised higher education qualification. This type of joint award is now referred to as a cover certificate. The institutions award their own national degrees and in addition they award a cover certificate jointly. The cover certificate is however not a recognised award, the underlying national degrees are. Part b) of the definition is now commonly understood to refer to a joint degree. Part c) of the definition is nowadays regarded as the award of a single or a multiple degree. The Methodological Report11 of ENQA’s TEEP II project also assessed the validity of the Recommendation’s definition and reported that the definitions do not take into account the legality of the diploma or the document(s) issued. The report concluded that : “the definitions in the Recommendation are therefore not as widely accepted as they could have been”. The Methodological Report of the TEEP II project therefore proposed its own definition of a joint degree:
- “A joint diploma issued by the institutions offering a joint programme in place of all the national diplomas, attesting the successful completion of this joint programme.”
This definition brings us closer to the current realities of joint qualifications or joint degrees across Europe. We can see the following characteristics:
- A joint degree is awarded after successful completion of a joint programme;
- The joint degree is awarded jointly by higher education institutions that offer the programme (but not necessarily by all);
- The institutions involved in the joint degree do not award any other (national) degree indicating that the awarded joint degree is nationally acknowledged as the recognised award of the joint programme;
- The joint degree is the recognised and only attestation of the qualification.
We can therefore conclude that a joint degree is defined as follows:
- '“A single document awarded by higher education institutions offering the joint programme and nationally acknowledged as the recognised award of the joint programme.”'
In the case of a multiple degree, it is agreed that separate documents are awarded after successful completion of a joint programme. The higher education institutions involved in the joint programme therefore do not award a degree jointly but award their own degree individually. One of these degrees can however be a joint degree. In such a case a multiple degree is a combination of a joint degree and (a) national degree(s). Each degree is nationally and separately acknowledged as the recognised award of the joint programme. A multiple degree is defined as follows:
- “Separate degrees awarded by higher education institutions offering the joint programme attesting the successful completion of this programme.”
Double degrees are understood to be two degrees awarded after successful completion of a joint programme. It is however recommended to refer to these two documents as a multiple degree. This avoids the confusion brought about by the concept dual degrees. A double degree is defined as follows:
- “Two degrees awarded by higher education institutions offering the joint programme attesting the successful completion of this programme.”
Although the concept dual degree is in regular use at American higher education institutions, there does not seem to be an agreed definition. The following definition is put forward by Georgia State University:
- “Dual degree programs include separate, but affiliated degree programs that are linked through shared curricular offerings and collaborative administrative processes. Dual degrees may be awarded concurrently or one degree may be awarded prior to the second. A dual degree program should be differentiated from a joint degree.”
The following characteristics are however prevalent in all definitions: two programmes form the basis for awarding the dual degree, the curricula of these programmes are not integrated and a graduate receives two separate degrees. It is important to note here that dual degrees can also be offered by the same institution. The definition above might not make that immediately clear. The definition used by the University of Queensland actually limits dual degree programmes to its own institution:
- “A combination of two UQ degree programs undertaken at the same time which have a single set of program rules.”
The most recent definition for a dual degree was published by Kris Olds on Inside Higher Ed, the online website for higher education news:
- “Students complete the requirements for two degrees from two institutions, with efficiencies in course taking. Each institution is primarily responsible for its own degree.”
From these definitions we can conclude that dual degrees are actually not awarded for joint programmes. Dual degrees are therefore awarded for two programmes separately and these two programmes have some coordination and coordinated elements but have not integrated their curriculum. A dual degree is defined as follows:
- “Two degrees awarded individually, attesting the successful completion of two separate curricula, with potential overlap and efficiencies in course-taking, and, if more than one institution is involved, each institution is primarily responsible for its own degree.”
A misleading concept: The Joint Degree Programme
The concept joint degree programme is misleading. Is a joint degree programme a degree programme offered jointly or a (joint) programme which awards a joint degree? What is nowadays commonly referred to as a programme used to be more regularly referred to as either a degree programme or a degree course. Both these terms are actually still in use. North-American authorities and UNESCO’s ISCED on the one hand still refer to degree programmes. In the case of ISCED, this is probably a leftover of the original versions since the glossary no longer includes a definition for degree programme and now refers to (educational) programme. The term degree course on the other hand is still regularly used by institutions and authorities in the UK. In all its official publications, the Bologna Process now consistently refers to joint programmes and not to joint degree programmes.
- Aerden, A., Reczulska, H., 2013. Guidelines for Good Practice for Awarding Joint Degrees. ECA Occasional Paper. The Hague. >Read on the ECApedia
- Aerden, A., Reczulska, H., 2013. Guidelines for Good Practice for Awarding Joint Degrees. ECA Occasional Paper. The Hague.
- Council of Europe. 1997. Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, p. 4
- UNESCO. 2011. International Standard Classification of Education, p. 79. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/international-standard-classification-of-education.aspx
- UNESCO. 2011. Ibid. p. 83.
- Council of Europe. 1997. Ibid., p. 4
- European University Association. 2006. EMNEM - Guidelines for quality enhancement in European joint master programmes
- European Consortium for Accreditation in higher education. 2007. Principles for accreditation procedures regarding joint programmes, p. 1.
- Committee of the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications. 2004. Recommendation on the Recognition of Joint Degrees.
- ENQA. 2006. Methodological report of the Transnational European Evaluation Project II, p. 10
- Georgia State University, Glossary, http://www.gsu.edu/apguide/glossary.html
- Temple University, Academic Program Definitions, http://www.temple.edu/provost/aaa/academic-proposals/aaa-academicprogramdefintions.htm
- The University of Queensland, Dictionary of UQ terminology, http://www.uq.edu.au/study/index.html?page=116591#D
- Olds, Kris. 2011. What are international dual and joint degrees, Inside Higher Ed, http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/globalhighered/what_are_international_dual_joint_degrees. Retrieved: 1 November 2012.
- Example: Indiana College Network. 2007. Glossary. http://www.icn.org/about/glossary.html
- Higher Education Funding Council for England. Glossary. http://www.hefce.ac.uk/glossary/#letterD