Practical Guidelines for Joint Programmes on Sustainability

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This article brings together the practical guidelines, suggestions and recommendations from several publications. The main goal of this article is to raise awareness about sustainability. All practical guidelines are to be considered as general guidance for joint programmes.

Erasmus Mundus

Source: European Commission. (2012) Erasmus Mundus Practical Guidelines on Sustainability, Clustering Masters Courses and Attractiveness Projects: Lot 2 – Thematic Cluster on Employability, MKW Wirtschaftsforschungs GmbH.


The survey and the workshop revealed that there are diverse pathways to sustainability for joint programmes. In order to achieve financial sustainability, continue as a world-class programme and involve all stakeholders, 11 recommendations can be made.

Achieving sustainability through alternative financing

1. Develop a robust sustainability strategy
From the start of planning to run an EMJP, focus on not becoming over-dependent on Commission funding, regarding it instead as a ‘launch-pad’ on which to build future success;

2. Consortium sustainability through institutional embedding
Work with your partner institutions in the consortium to secure commitment for ‘in kind’ resources that underpin the consortium beyond core funding and which enable it to continue developing a international network;

3. Build funding capacity through a ‘portfolio’ approach to sources of finance
Actively research all potential funding opportunities that can replace (totally or partially) the student scholarships that come with a funded EMJP and make it as easy as possible for potential students to apply for funding;

4. Convince excellent students that your programme is worth paying fees or seeking finance
To encourage students to fully or partially self-fund, make it clear to them what the benefits of participating in the programme are. Convince them that you will support them in minimising the associated costs and overheads incurred through visas and mobility.

Achieving sustainability as world-class programmes through targeted dissemination

5. Maintain focus on core/niche markets through innovative pedagogical content.
Constantly review the programme and adapt it to the needs of the market.

6. Maximise the involvement of end-users
Research employability needs and ensure that students will be provided with relevant soft skills to enhance their employability.

7. Develop strategic alliances
Include employers but also other stakeholders such as public institutions and students/alumni to improve employability; provide platforms to explore stakeholder and employer needs and feed them back into curriculum innovation.

8. Market your programme strategically
Communicate why it is ‘world class’ and identify the main beneficiaries (students) and end-users (employers); develop convincing messages for all of them;

  • Develop an integrated communication strategy tailored to the different audiences of the programme.
  • Involve networks to publicise the programme to different target groups and use marketing agents, EU Delegations and alumni where possible.
  • Produce world-class publicity material that is clearly designed with the ‘market’ in mind. Ensure that programme websites are designed with the end-user in mind, not the administrators. Ensure that your alumni are promoting and praising your programme.
  • Carry out ‘mystery shopping’ activities – use external agents to ‘test’ what a potential student or employer would experience when searching for your programme.

Achieving sustainability through strong relationships with all Erasmus Mundus Stakeholders

9. Continue building the global reputation of Erasmus Mundus
Work with the Commission, for example through EM-A, coordinated action by programmes, and the common activities with Action 2 and 3 projects.

10. Build sustainable institutional cooperation and academic networks
Develop Action 2 opportunities through mobility exchanges, thus putting in place a robust consortium for joint programme development.

11. Ensure that your programme is strategically positioned in the global HE marketplace
Develop or engage with Action 3 projects to work together with the wider community of actors in areas such as recognition, global and regional HEI innovation and reform


The study undertook numerical analysis of the quantitative data, looking for key trends and differences between the target groups, and geographical patterns and possible variations across disciplines. It then analysed the information provided in the open text boxes by tabulating the comments, categorising them into themes and sub-themes, sorting and reviewing the material, reviewing the themes and sub-themes, and using the structured responses to identify trends, good practice examples and key challenges.

The online survey consisted of open and closed questions and was accompanied by follow-up qualitative interviews which aimed to cover detailed information about challenges that could not be covered by the quantitative interviews.

The main conclusions highlighted by the survey were:

  • In terms of achieving financial sustainability of Erasmus Mundus Joint Programmes, the survey results show that a central challenge for financial sustainability is to ascertain whether there are sufficient other coherent financial sources that can realistically sustain all, or the majority, of EMJPs. Financial sustainability in many cases necessitates a focus on direct charges such as student fees (but that is not possible in all EU Member States), exploration of sponsorship (but that may threaten to dilute the key characteristics of EM such as third-country involvement and student mobility), but it may also encourage innovation beyond Erasmus Mundus such as the development of targeted short-courses that run at a profit and cross-subsidise. However, these are options that are mostly partial substitution activities, and not full replacements for Commission funding.
  • With respect to a strategic reform and simplification of the European higher education area, the survey revealed that the discussions on the recognition of degrees is an institutional imperative to adopt a student-led focus on all of the Erasmus Mundus challenges, and it is not acceptable that the process moves at the speed of the slowest institution.
  • In order to develop integrated and coherent sustainability strategies, the coordinators and partners were asked to examine the possible sources for future sustainability. The overall message from the respondents was that the programmes in general must focus on excellence, internationalization, and Europe’s competitive position globally.


Source: JOIMAN Network. (2010) How to Manage Joint Study Programmes - Guidelines and Good Practices from the JOIMAN Network.

The overall recommendation from the JOIMAN Network is to start thinking of a sustainability plan at the start, rather than the end of any funding period. (p. 154) Sustainability is linked to funding and fees and to accreditation and quality assurance.

Source: JOI.CON. (2012) Practical approaches to the management of joint programmes: Results from the JOI.CON Training Project. Leipzig University.

Clearly, the debate is nuanced and complicated by national policies, customs and interpretations of what constitutes the requirements for a qualification. The critical point emanating from the doubts and different interpretations of the legitimacy of double/multiple degrees is that rigorous analysis is required. Stakeholders, including students, higher education institutions, employers, accreditation and quality assurance agencies, policy makers, academic leaders and credential recognition bodies, need to address this issue individually and collectively. Similarities and differences among countries and stakeholders need to be acknowledged and respected, but there needs to be some common understanding about what two or more qualifications at the same level emanating from a double or multiple degree collaborative program actually represent and signify.

The challenge facing the higher education sector is to work out a common understanding of what joint, double and consecutive programs actually mean and involve, and to iron out the academic alignment issues inherent to working in different national regulatory frameworks, cultures and practices. Most importantly, a robust debate on the vexing questions of accreditation, recognition and legitimacy of qualifications needs to take place to ensure that international collaborative programs and their awards are respected and welcomed by students, higher education institutions and employers around the world, and do not lead to undesirable unintended consequences.


See also