31 May 2017

Joint Programmes: surveying the impacts on graduates

Joint Programmes in higher educationDual/Joint Programmes (JP) have been developed by higher education institutions (HEI) since the early 1990s. Today they are one of the main tools for the internationalisation of higher education in Europe. Most of the HEIs have a set of JPs in place, new ones are constantly created and funding at both the EU and the national level is becoming more common. Nevertheless, very little is known about the impact of these programmes on the future of the graduates both from the professional and from the personal point of view. This blog takes a look at an ongoing Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership project (REDEEM) designed to assess the impact of these programmes on graduates.

Seven universities from six different EU countries have carried out an extensive survey among their graduates from the past ten years and organised interviews and focus groups with graduates, current students, employers and JP designers and managers. The result of these activities provided a clear picture of the concrete outcomes of JPs.

A look at the demographics

Most JPs are at a Master’s level (91%) while interest in developing Joint Doctoral Programmes is growing. A negligible number are at the Bachelor’s level. Interest in JPs is higher among students from Southern European Universities (56% of respondents) compared to those from Central and Northern Europe. Due to the current economic situation, the picture is very different when it comes to the countries where these graduates currently reside and work: 40% in Western Europe, 21% in Southern Europe, 15% in Northern Europe and 5% in North America. It was clear both from these figures and from the outcomes from the focus groups that the motivation to enrol in JPs is very different for students from Southern European countries in economic turmoil (earning a degree from another country to look for a job) and those from Central and Northern Europe (learning another language, stepping out of their comfort zone, getting to know another culture, etc).

A particularly remarkable fact is that 51% of the graduates from JPs live and work abroad while only 28.1% of their peers with a short credit mobility period abroad do. Additionally, 89% of the JP graduates work within the scope of their graduation, which shows that the content and learning outcomes of the existing JPs are consistent and relevant to the labour market. When it comes to the salary level, according to the answers of respondents, JP graduates earn, on average, 15% more than the graduates from the same universities holding a single national degree. This gain is much more noticeable among older graduates (six to 10 years after graduation) than recent ones (one to two years) for whom the initial salary level is basically identical. The real impact of JPs in this sense is thus a long-term one. This fact is interesting considering that ‘the prospective of having a better salary’ was the least mentioned among the options listed as motivations to enrol in a JP and also the least mentioned among the perception of the graduates on the impact of the JP on their lives.

Why do students enrol in joint programmes?

The main motivations to enrol in a JP were ‘living in another country’ (4.6 on a scale of 5.0), ‘interacting with a new culture’ (4.4), ‘getting access to better employment opportunities’, ‘having better chances of getting a job abroad’ and ‘experiencing a different education system and environment’ (4.2).

When responding to questions on their perception about the skills gained through the JP, the graduates mentioned mainly aspects related to the experience itself and their personal development rather than aspects related to their professional skills or material gains. More than 90% of the respondents considered ‘ability to work in an international context’, ‘personality development’ and ‘better understanding of a culture other than mine’ as the main impacts. Fewer than half of the respondents mentioned aspects related to theoretical knowledge gains in the area of study and only 36% mentioned a higher salary level as a relevant impact. What is interesting is that there is a good match between the expectations of the students and what they consider to be the actual impact of the experience after graduation.

A general remark is that the majority of the JPs are still developed mainly from the exclusive point of view of the providers (universities), employers are very seldom involved in the curricular/extra-curricular activities and only exceptionally involved in the designing phase of the content and curricula. Moreover, feedback from JPs alumni is generally not collected. As a consequence, the universities have very limited tools to update and promote their JPs based on concrete facts and figures and the concept of JPs is still widely unknown to most of the main employers.

A high level of satisfaction from graduates

The satisfaction level from the graduates’ point of view is very high (4.3/5.0 while the control group of the graduates holding a single degree from the same universities reported an average satisfaction level of 3.9) with 97% of graduates stating that they would recommend to other students the JP they attended. This high level of satisfaction was practically identical among recent graduates and JP alumni who graduated 10 years ago and very similar across the respondents from the six covered countries. This indicator tells us that most of the existing JPs are of high academic quality, are well consolidated, meet the needs of the labour market and are consistent with the students’ expectations. For these reasons universities around the world should keep investing in this crucial tool for their internationalisation process and make extra efforts to better communicate the value of this product both to potential candidates and to the employers.

The project results will be presented as part of the upcoming EAIE webinars on ‘Solutions for joint-programme success’ which will be held on 8 June (planning and development) and 14 June (management and administration). Visit the EAIE website for further information on these webinars and more.

Mirko Varano is Senior Advisor International Projects at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.