Developing and managing joint programmes: why and how?

Developing and managing joint programmes: why and how?

Have you encountered obstacles while setting up a joint programme? The practitioners’ guide Joint programmes from A to Z – filled with good practices, practical suggestions and references – aims to facilitate the process as the increase in the number of joint programmes is listed on the Bologna agenda. 

The Bologna Process, or ‘the implementation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA)’, as it is now being referred to, was launched to ensure more comparable, compatible and coherent higher education systems in Europe. One of the main tasks of the Bologna activities is to support student mobility. Since the Bologna conference in Prague in 2001, joint programmes have been listed on the agenda and their development explicitly encouraged.

Currently, a large number of joint programmes exist. This number, however, could and should be larger. Research outlines the presence of various obstacles that directly or indirectly obstruct the realisation of joint programmes. One of those obstacles is the lack of readily available and shared information on the development of joint programmes. In answer to this, the Joint programmes from A to Z. A reference guide for practitioners was published last month. This guide is a product of the JDAZ (Joint Degrees from A to Z) project, partly funded by the European Commission, and aims to contribute to tackling the aforementioned obstacles.

Content of the guide

The 77-page document suggests guidelines for higher education staff on different aspects when developing and managing joint programmes between institutions from different countries in the European Higher Education Area. In order to do so, apart from the chapters on the development and management of joint programmes, the guide describes the definitions and general background of joint programmes, after which the legal framework is discussed. Moreover, quality assurance and recognition are touched upon. Each chapter begins with a number of key messages for practitioners. Already available data on joint programmes is integrated in the guide. As such, the guide does not aim to provide new, detailed information, nor is the guide meant to be prescriptive.

An important topic that comes with the development of joint programmes is the reasons to do so. The process of developing a joint programme involves a certain amount of effort and costs. For the academic staff interested in setting up a joint programme it is crucial to ensure those at higher levels within the institution are on the same line. As a consequence, it is important for the developing institutions to clarify the added value of joint programmes.

Why develop a joint programme?

Some of the main reasons for higher education institutions to develop joint programmes are to raise the international visibility and reputation of the institution, to raise institutional revenue through the increase of foreign students, and to establish and/or strengthen international research collaboration by building networks of excellence. These and other reasons apply at the programme level as well. In addition, academic staff and students involved in joint programmes benefit from, for example, intercultural competences, student diversity in the classroom, research contacts and a potentially higher quality programme and environment due to the fact that the programme is shaped by multiple institutions.

Important suggestions:

Consider the following suggestions, taken from the guide, if you are in the process of developing joint programmes:

  • Institutional strategic and practical support as well as flexibility at all levels within the institution is of utmost importance.
  • It is important to know the national and institutional rules and regulations of your own institution and your partner institution(s). In addition, be aware of the screening and authorisation process of joint programmes at the (partner) institutions.
  • A joint programme must ideally be anchored in the institution’s strategy and internationalisation policy.
  • Clearly define and exchange your motivation behind setting up the joint programme, such as the academic added value, the wider relevance of the planned learning outcomes and target students.
  • Jointly develop a clear and strong, but flexible cooperation agreement, which includes the objectives, responsibilities and other details such as the curriculum.
  • Get to know the partner institution(s) really well, including academic and administrative strengths and weaknesses. Open communication on a regular basis is crucial.

If you are interested in the guide and/or the JDAZ project as a whole, please visit the Nuffic website, where you can find a download link.

Caroline Duits is a Junior Policy Officer at EP-Nuffic, the Netherlands.