JDAZ Joint Programme Development
- 1 Joint programme development
- 1.1 Key messages for practitioners
- 1.2 Reasons for developing joint programmes.
- 1.3 Institutional strategies and guidelines
- 1.4 Partnership, legality of the programme, students
- 1.5 Joint curriculum development
- 1.5.1 Academic and labour market relevance of the joint educational offer
- 1.5.2 Learning outcomes and the European Qualifications Framework
- 1.5.3 Tuning
- 1.5.4 Designing an academically relevant mobility track
- 1.5.5 Academic calendar
- 1.5.6 Financial planning
- 1.5.7 Quality assurance in programme development
- 1.5.8 Recognition of the future degree
- 1.6 Cooperation agreements: content and templates
- 1.7 Sources
Joint programme development
This chapter deals with important issues that have to be taken into account at an early stage of the development phase. First, it presents the reasons for entering into joint programmes, the importance of institutional strategic support and tools for authorising the programmes. Second, it addresses partnership, joint curriculum development, defining common learning outcomes and designing a relevant mobility track. Third, it mentions issues to include in a cooperation agreement.
Key messages for practitioners
- Institutions must clearly define their reasons for entering into joint programme cooperation, the academic added value and wider relevance of the intended learning outcomes. Start with an idea, find a niche and be innovative.
- To be successful, a joint programme must be anchored in your institution's strategy and internationalisation policy.
- Be aware of the screening and authorisation process of joint programmes at the higher education institutions involved.
- Institutional support (strategic and practical) and flexibility at all levels within your institution are crucial. This support must be secured at the start of the development phase.
- Know the national and institutional regulations of your institution and your partner institutions.
- Select partners based on their academic expertise, mutual trust (through open communication and a shared understanding), and institutional strategic commitment. Know your partner institutions’ academic and administrative strengths and weaknesses.
- Develop a full-cost budgeting from the beginning, including running costs.
- Jointly define the need for the programme, the learning outcomes and length of the programme. Jointly develop the joint curricula, consider recognition and access to further studies. Define the level of integration and anticipate degree awarding.
- Develop a robust, clear and flexible cooperation agreement that delineates responsibilities, expected outcomes, and other relevant parameters.
- A clear definition of your target students will contribute to the overall quality of the programme, not only academically but also with regard to visa, marketing and admission procedures.
- When developing new joint programmes, early contact with non-academic partners is important (i) to formulate learning outcomes in relation to employability, (ii) to include labour-market elements into the curricula, and (iii) to explore potential financial cooperation to ensure programme sustainability.
Reasons for developing joint programmes.
Reasons for institutions
Institutions considering developing joint programmes must ask themselves why they wish to develop joint programmes, what the added value will be, and to which extent joint programmes help to realise the institutional strategy. It is also useful to consider the added value of joint degree programmes compared to double or other multiple degree programmes. Joint degree programmes may take more effort to develop, but are, therefore, also seen as a deeper form of internationalisation.
The main reasons for higher education institutions to develop joint programmes are the following:
At the institutional level, to:
- raise the international visibility and reputation of the institution;
- increase global student recruitment and the level of internationalisation;
- raise institutional revenue by increasing foreign student enrolments;
- deepen and institutionalise cooperation with consortium partners and establish more sustainable strategic relationships;
- build networks of excellence to strengthen (strategic) international research collaboration.
At the programme level, to:
- broaden or deepen education offering;
- develop a more internationalised curriculum, in the realisation that a truly international/European course cannot be delivered by one institution or institutions from one country;
- strengthen strategic partnerships with other regions in the world;
- improve the quality of the curriculum (and of research elements in the case of joint doctoral programmes);
- offer a specialist, innovative curriculum by combining the education and research strengths of individual institutions (so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts);
- increase cross-cultural competencies of students and staff, not only through mobility, but also by enhancing internationalisation at home;
- improve graduate employability through curricula that respond to labour-market demand (preparation for an increasingly global labour market, e.g. through cross-cultural competencies);
- raise the international visibility and prestige of the course programme;
- provide an important label of quality that strengthens an interdisciplinary case for funding from other sources;
- attract new groups/nationalities of target students;
- gain access to the expertise of a partner institution and its research networks, thus providing critical mass and a basis for strengthening research collaboration.
Benefits for academics
Reasons for academic staff to become involved in joint programmes are that these programmes – either through staff mobility or incoming student mobility – offer them:
- opportunities to learn about other contexts and teaching and learning methods;
- student diversity in the classroom;
- networks for future teaching collaboration;
- research contacts;
- professional development opportunities;
- intercultural competences.
Benefits for students
The main benefit for students is to take advantage of an international jointly developed curriculum, combining academic expertise available in different countries through a study programme guaranteeing automatic recognition of the period spent abroad.
Some students believe that a joint programme is of higher quality than a common single degree programme, given that the expertise of more than one institution has shaped the academic programme.
Others are interested in gaining 'two degrees for the price of one'. Moreover, an advantage of a joint programme over a regular study abroad experience is that there is no time loss or risk that credits are not accepted. There seems to be a sense of elitism attached to having academic degrees from universities in different countries. For doctoral (and some master) candidates, joint programmes offer good opportunities to cooperate with high-quality researchers with complementary knowledge and skills, to enter into new academic networks, and to work in a part of the world that matches their interests.
The reasons for developing joint programmes can vary between regions, countries and institutions. To give a few examples:
The institutional reasons for developing joint programmes are generally the same for both European and US institutions. However, institutions in the United States are more likely to join a consortium for revenue purposes, compared to their European counterparts.
At the European level, joint programmes are encouraged to enhance internal European higher education cooperation, to increase the attractiveness of the European region and to promote cooperation with other regions in the world. This is encouraged, for instance, through funding programmes such as the previous Erasmus Mundus programme, the current Joint Master Degrees under Erasmus+, and the joint programme initiatives with industrialised countries. For higher education institutions in Europe, improving graduate employability through joint programmes is an important rationale that is less prevalent in other regions.
For Latin American universities, the main reasons for developing joint programmes are internationalisation of the curriculum, increasing student mobility, raising student employability and enlarging educational offer.
Despite the recent introduction of joint programmes in China, they have witnessed significant growth thanks to government support and public demand. The Chinese government in particular, has tried to attract high-quality educational programmes (including joint programme partners) to China in areas where there is a gap in domestic public higher education courses.
Joint programmes contribute to capacity building of institutions in developing countries, help improve the quality of teaching and research, and establish networks between the North and the South.
Institutional strategies and guidelines
Clear institutional strategies and guidelines on joint degree development can be useful. Although a top-down approach is not the only way to a fruitful cooperation, a central approach does generally strengthen staff and funding commitment, making it easier to successfully and efficiently develop joint programmes within an organisation.
In 2013, the INTERUV project has conducted a survey in 14 European countries, to trace the visibility of joint programmes in institutional strategies. The survey results are available through their website.
The JOIMAN network has also done research into the state of affairs of institutional strategies in relation to the development of joint programmes. In its guidelines, the network indicates that only half of the 36 higher education institutions surveyed have a strategic policy to develop joint programmes.
According to the 2014 study by the American Council on Education, nearly half of survey respondents reported that international collaborative degrees are mentioned in strategic planning documents or are currently being incorporated into such documents. However, only 15 percent indicated that their institutions have a specific policy in place that encourages the development of international joint degrees, and 18 percent reported a policy to encourage dual degrees.
Importance of institutional commitment
Institutional commitment is one of the cornerstones of the sustainability of a joint programme throughout the development and implementation phase. The personal commitment of individual academic staff may sometimes be the starting point for a joint programme, but without institutional support at all levels most such initiatives will be short lived. The University of Bergen (Norway), for instance, has anchored joint degrees in university legislation. In Bergen, the development of joint programmes is mainly a departmental responsibility, with the central offices assisting by providing funding. Graz University (Austria) made joint programmes one of the cornerstones of its internationalisation policy. By providing funding and clear regulations, and specifically allocating staff members to joint programmes, these programmes are firmly anchored within the university.
In its Guidelines for Quality Enhancement in European Joint Master Programmes, EUA (2006) underlines the importance of institutional commitment. This starts at the beginning of the development process of a new programme, and is sealed in a formal contract between the partners. It is important to pave the path to a sound quality culture by creating an atmosphere of joint commitment of all partners at all levels.
The Erasmus Mundus quality assurance tool presents good practices and examples of developing a realistic institutional strategy.
At some point, most institutions will come across staff proposals to develop a joint programme. Being prepared to properly assess their merits is important and will support successful implementation and sustainability. A good example is the US-based Rice University, which has developed a special screening and authorisation process to help the university describe and evaluate a programme. The description of this process, the lessons learnt, and the list of questions addressed are all examples for other institutions. Rice University’s list of questions in the screening process focuses on 14 elements that need to be considered:
- 1. the rationale behind the joint programme;
- 2. the curriculum;
- 3. the partner institution(s);
- 4. students and academic standards;
- 5. learning;
- 6. faculty and courses;
- 7. resources;
- 8. financial support;
- 9. administration and programme governance;
- 10. degree requirements for the general announcements;
- 11. the launch of the programme;
- 12. academic support;
- 13. potential liabilities and other risks;
- 14. measures of progress and success.
Rice University’s screening process is geared towards meeting multiple objectives:
- ensuring that all important factors have been considered;
- increasing the strategic alignment of individual initiatives with central university priorities;
- maintaining shared governance;
- reducing unnecessary work in the proposal-writing stage;
- increasing buy-in across the campus;
- reducing the set-up time of the programme.
EMQA checklist for creating a comprehensive course vision
The Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA) project describes the need for a comprehensive vision of both joint master and doctoral programmes. A comprehensive, seven-point overview is available in the guide. The seven main points are:
- identify the unique selling proposition of running a joint programme, including the type of consortium and the academic content;
- further develop the description of the rationale and the mobility paths;
- work on a sustainability strategy;
- develop a common vision on shared cultures, both academic and administrative;
- work on a thorough employability strategy for candidates;
- agree upon the examination process, taking into consideration transparency;
- agree upon the degree awarded and maximise its recognition.
Partnership, legality of the programme, students
Partners in a joint programme should first and foremost be chosen on the basis of a complementary, specific academic expertise that enriches the joint educational offer. Other important aspects to consider are: mutual trust, commitment, open communication, administrative support and possible access to new student markets. Remember that you can also include associated partners who only participate in parts of the programme, e.g. through external lecturing, offering internships or financing scholarships. The more partners in a consortium, the harder it can be to coordinate collaboration and the higher the need is for formal organisational structures.
Large consortia offering joint programmes often started off with a small number of partners. There seems to be a trend among most existing joint degree programmes to involve not more than two institutions. The EUA report gives a brief overview of a couple of common features of joint master (degree) programmes that are developed by either larger (> 10 institutions) or smaller networks (up to 7 institutions).
It is also helpful to determine the nature of the partners in the consortium by naming key factors they should meet, such as: familiarity with the partners, resources, reliability and administrative capacity.
The JOI.CON guide stresses the importance of knowing beforehand both the partners and the regulations of the countries involved. The JOI.CON Annex includes Comparison Table examples that may help institutions explore potential obstacles to joint programmes beforehand.
The EUA Joint Masters report describes partner selection as crucial for new joint masters programmes. Elements to take into consideration are: communication and mutual trust, the development of learning objectives, and recognition issues. The number and type of partners and their level of commitment are also important factors.
A study by Matthias Kuder and Daniel Obst has found that institutions normally select their joint programme partners through existing exchange partnerships or academic contacts. Sometimes, however, institutions choose partners as part of a larger strategic decision to focus on a particular area in the world or field of study.
Ensuring the legality of the joint programme offered
When developing the joint curricula and programme, it is important to be fully aware of national legal frameworks and institutional requirements on all aspects of running and implementing a study programme.
That process should cover at least the following aspects:
- ensuring the legal status of all partner institutions involved;
- ensuring the legal status of the degrees proposed as part of the joint programme;
- checking national and institutional regulations related to jointly awarding degrees;
- checking national and institutional regulations on the content of the programme, such as minimum length of the dissertation/thesis, requirements of labour-market related elements, and dissertation/thesis defence;
- ensuring that appropriate national admission requirements are being adhered to;
- in terms of students rights, checking that national tuition fee requirements are being met.
For more detailed information and references, go to Chapter 4 on the legal framework.
Identifying target students
Defining the target group of a joint programme generally seems to result in the distinction between EU and non-EU students. Sometimes, target students are identified based on social-economic aspects. Selecting a target group for a joint programme is a delicate and strategic exercise as it is closely connected to finances. Attracting students from all over the world requires well-defined marketing plans, investments and fundraising activities in order to sustain the programme.
Institutions often see joint programmes with non-European universities as a way to enhance their attractiveness and increase the number of non-EU students. This concept is more and more becoming part of the institutional strategy.
The EUA report on developing joint masters in Europe addresses the impact of socio-economic conditions on the admission of students to joint programmes: mechanisms are needed to facilitate more equal opportunities. Participation should depend on students’ potential to gain benefit from the opportunities joint programmes offer, not on their socio-economic background. Joint programmes in Europe tend to be dominated by middle-class students as they require significant financial contributions from the students themselves. There are, however, a number of countries where students are not required to pay tuition fees, such as (at the time of writing) Germany and Sweden.
Joint curriculum development
The Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA) tool provides a checklist of actions and good practice in relation to integrated learning outcomes, programme pedagogy, balancing learning and teaching, and assessment mechanisms.
Academic and labour market relevance of the joint educational offer
Even though the rationale and academic and labour market relevance of a joint programme should be the guiding principle, academic and labour market relevance seems to be a topic that is not often explicitly addressed in references to the development of joint programmes.
Academic and labour market relevance is, however, an important theme within the EU funding schemes. In the current Erasmus+ Joint Master’s Degree selection (2014-2020), the relevance criteria are separately assessed during the first selection phase. Partnerships applying for funding are asked to justify the proposed cooperation in terms of academic relevance, employability, inter- or multidisciplinary emerging fields and added value compared to existing programmes.
In many countries, the national accreditation decision also strongly focuses on the relevance and added value of proposed new joint programmes.
It is, hence, advisable to look for, involve and consult non-academic stakeholders within your subject field during the development phase, to ensure that the joint programme you are planning is relevant to the labour market, society or research. JOIMAN stresses the importance of engaging private sector contacts from the beginning of the development trajectory, in order to secure financial reserves or other means to sustain the programme.
An excellent and very practical website is that of the European Commission's Cluster on Employability, which contains practical guidelines with relevant examples of good practice on activities supporting the employability of Erasmus Mundus students and alumni.
The Erasmus Mundus graduate survey mentions that Erasmus Mundus students based their success in finding employment on academic rather than practical experience gained during the programme, and might profit from a more balanced approach of practical as well as academic modules.
In the 2009 EUA survey, when asked about employer involvement during the curriculum design stage, more than half of the surveyed institutions indicated that this had not been the case – although one of the major incentives to develop the courses was relevance to the labour market. Only about ten percent had requested feedback from employers. Employers themselves are sometimes unaware of what higher education institutions have to offer. Only if enterprises are convinced that their participation in curriculum development is of great interest to them, can dialogues with institutions flourish.
Learning outcomes and the European Qualifications Framework
The European approach to curriculum development is soundly based on student-centred learning and identifying learning outcomes, instead of only listing teaching content and methodology. The learning outcomes are introduced both through two qualification frameworks and the thematic approach through the Tuning project.
The Qualification Framework for the European Higher Education Area (QF EHEA) is an overarching framework that has been adopted in 2005. The member countries have developed national qualifications frameworks that are compatible with the QF EHEA.
The QF EHEA comprises three cycles, including generic descriptors for each cycle, based on learning outcomes and competences, and credit ranges in the first and second cycles. The EHEA framework is based on the Dublin Descriptors (2004).
The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) has been adopted by the European Union in 2008. The EQF is a meta qualifications framework consisting of 8 levels comprising all education levels. National qualification frameworks (NQFs) can be referenced to the EQF to provide transparency and offer comparability of NQFs on a general level. The EQF, like the QF EHEA, developed descriptors for all levels. In principle, the EQF levels 6, 7, 8 are similar to the QF-EHEA cycles 1, 2 and 3.
In their Guide to formulating degree programme profiles, Lokhoff et al. (2010) describe the concept of ‘degree profile’, within the context of the Bologna Process, as an essential tool for communication about, and transparency and recognition of a degree. Degree profiles consist of Programme Competences and Learning Outcomes, where a competence “is a quality, ability, capacity or skill developed by and belonging to the student”. A learning outcome is “a measurable result of a learning experience, which allows us to ascertain to which extent / level / standard a competence has been formed or enhanced”. The guide offers templates and manuals on how to formulate learning outcomes, interlaced with examples.
The manual of the EAR-project contains a separate chapter on the recognition of future degrees of joint programmes. It describes how credential evaluators should evaluate the learning outcomes in the degree recognition process.
As a requirement of European funding, such as the Erasmus Mundus programme or the current Erasmus+ programmes, a joint partnership has to define joint learning outcomes for the entire joint programme, to be fulfilled regardless of where the students start their courses. The JOIMAN survey showed that over 80% of responding institutions define the learning outcomes of joint programmes as a whole at the consortium level.
The Tuning methodology has a thematic, learning outcomes-based approach and is a platform to develop reference points at the subject area level. Tuning worked with 9 subject areas (Business, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Education, European Studies, History, Mathematics, Nursing and Physics) and the guidelines on identifying competences and setting learning outcomes can be very useful in joint programmes.
The Tuning approach is characterised as follows:
- 1. Description of the programme objectives and the learning outcomes in terms of knowledge, understanding, skills and abilities;
- 2. Identification of the generic and subject-specific competences that should be obtained in the programme;
- 3. Translation into the curriculum: content (topics to be covered) and structure (modules and credits);
- 4. Translation into educational units and activities to achieve the defined learning outcomes;
- 5. Deciding on the approaches to teaching and learning (types of methods, techniques, formats and, when required, the development of teaching materials), as well as the assessment methods;
- 6. Development of an evaluation system intended to continuously enhance its quality.
The Tuning project is embraced by Maierhofer and Kriebernegg’s ‘Graz Model’ (2009) as useful in curriculum modularisation. A 2009 report of the German-Dutch EUREGIO project (by Nickel et al.) also recommends using the Tuning methodology as one of the tools to develop a joint programme. In addition, in his paper about double and joint business degrees, Schüle mentions learning outcomes as the tool to smoothen the cooperation in a double degree programme when recognising credits from another institution, and gives examples.
Designing an academically relevant mobility track
It is important to have an academically relevant mobility track in place for both students and lecturers. Both the student and staff mobility tracks are depending first and foremost on the learning outcomes of the programme, the academic relevance and added value of a particular path, on which HEIs are degree-awarding, and on their institutional guidelines. The Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA) tool provides a checklist of actions and good practice in relation to how the student mobility pathways can be developed to match the intended learning outcomes.
Good practice is to define different mobility models and jointly discuss their positive and negative aspects. The mobility models can be based on student choice or be defined by the partner HEIs.
There are several models of international student mobility in joint programmes:
- 1. Students can travel together as a group, starting in one location and transferring to another;
- 2. Students can start their studies at different locations and then merge with the others at one or more participating institutions;
- 3. Students are individually mobile, collecting credits as they like at different universities that do not have exactly the same curriculum.
JOIMAN elaborates on this, and considers four models of student mobility:
- 1.Programmes with common courses offered by some or all universities, where students can start the programme, plus one mobility period for specialising one-semester courses, with students returning to their home institutions for the research period;
- 2. 'Trip programmes', with fixed mobility and with all students starting at the same institution. Students are together from the beginning to the end of the programme;
- 3. 'Bilateral mobility programmes', where students spend one year at the starting institution and one year in the second institution, including dissertation/thesis research. The mobility options are either fixed (depending on the starting institutions) or free;
- 4. Programmes with joint intensive modules: in this model, students can have mobility periods on the basis of the above models, and an intensive residential module, usually organised outside the lecture periods, in which all students are together.
The 2013 EACEA synthesis report on experiences of the Erasmus Mundus courses, states that most programmes organised programme-level events, such as rotating Summer or Winter Schools or workshops so that each partner could benefit from networking through the mobility of teaching staff, visiting scholars and students. Those Erasmus Mundus courses that combine jointly developed academic provision with several mobility tracks and professional internships, as well as activities bringing all students together, appear to achieve the highest European added value and successfully build on effective horizontal cooperation.
A different setup of academic years can present problems for student mobility. On the other hand, different academic calendars provide more opportunities for faculty exchange. Differences in academic calendars can be a real barrier for student mobility and solving mobility issues requires detailed collaboration between partners. JOIMAN’s survey shows that about twenty percent of the responding institutions find the period of enrolment an issue due to different academic calendars.
Flexible solutions are required when dealing with different academic calendars: sometimes Summer Schools are organised, or distance learning is offered as an option. Others adjust the course duration, e.g. by lengthening or shortening the semester. A lot depends on staff willingness to leave their normal calendar behind them and start, for instance, early, before the official start of the academic year.
As for financial planning, it is important to:
- prepare a reliable budget plan already at the development stage;
- look for different financial resources;
- prepare the plan and agree on the distribution of funds among the consortium members.
The EMQA project presents valuable information on setting up realistic financial strategies, with good practice and examples, covering both master and doctoral levels.
Having continued funding is a crucial element to sustain the running of a joint programme in the long term. Without additional funding for a joint programme coordinator or assistant, some institutions find it difficult to meet the additional workload that joint programmes normally generate. The JOIMAN report indicates that half of the 89 surveyed institutions had not reserved any revenues to ensure the sustainability of their joint programme. Most institutions surveyed indicated that they planned to re-apply to their funding source.
The JOI.CON training project gives an example of a full-cost calculation of a joint master (degree) programme, but note that this is a specific example that is not applicable to all contexts.
For more detailed information on resources, please turn to section 6.3 on financial management.
Quality assurance in programme development
A tool that can be used during the development phase is the newly created Joint Programme Checklist, which is inspired by quality assurance and based on good practice found in several accreditation reports of the European Consortium for Accreditation (ECA).
JOIMAN mentions several suggestions for how to set up a quality assurance system. They range from adopting the ENQA standards and setting up a joint evaluation structure with a joint board, students and a quality assurance committee, to, for instance, the need to assure the flexibility of the curriculum. A more exhaustive list of tools can be found in Chapter 7.
Recognition of the future degree
When setting up a joint programme, the consortium needs to identify various career options available for future graduates of the newly developed study programme. Consider at an early stage the future recognition of your degree. Check, for instance, the regulations on access to further studies or professions in all the partner countries.
Quality assurance of the joint master programme will add to broad recognition of the degree awarded. The EAR Manual contains a chapter on the recognition of joint qualifications with information for credential evaluators on how to assess a joint qualification.
The Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA) tool provides a checklist of actions and good practice in relation to degrees and degree recognition.
For further information and tools on recognition issues, please consult Chapter 8.
Cooperation agreements: content and templates
Draw up a cooperation agreement as early as possible and make it flexible as it will require frequent updating. A possible solution is a general and simple agreement with references to more detailed annexes. It is useful to include the following issues in the cooperation agreement:
- 1. Purpose and scope of the agreement;
- 2. Legal framework and national qualifications – documentation in annex;
- 3. Structure and organisation of the cooperation;
- 4. Programme structure (learning outcomes, course units, methodology, mobility);
- 5. Degree and diploma – template in annex;
- 6. Student admission, selection, registration and examination;
- 7. Financial management (including tuition fees, annex);
- 8. Quality assurance (annex);
- 9. Intellectual property rights;
- 10. Renewal, termination and amendment and resolution of disputes;
- 11. Application of law and dispute resolution.
The JOIMAN project has developed a template of cooperation agreements for joint programmes at master and doctoral level.
The Erasmus Mundus Quality Assurance (EMQA) tool provides a checklist of actions and good practice in relation to drafting consortium agreements.
The EACEA website for Erasmus Mundus Action 1 beneficiaries also provides templates for consortium agreements.
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