Joint degree programmes: fatal attraction or happily ever after?

Joint degree programmes: fatal attraction or happily ever after?

The EAIE Barometer study, a survey under 2411 higher education practitioners, highlighted the growing importance of strategic partnerships in internationalisation. A majority of respondents indicated that they are currently working on developing joint degree programmes with their institutional partners. The momentum is growing, with a record number of over 50 Erasmus Mundus Joint Degree programmes to be selected in 2017 – and newcomers are welcome! Do you know how to approach this joint academic path?

The past 10 years of Erasmus Mundus have resulted in a wide array of good practices, guidelines, studies and reports. The EU survey on the sustainability of these programmes taking place in 2016 is greatly welcomed, adding useful facts to this wealth of knowledge. What is known is that joint programmes produce global citizens who are better positioned to address global issues and contribute to the development of knowledge economies and socially inclusive societies.[i]

A successful partnership

If you’ve identified an emerging need for a specific competence, if you know that your trusted partners each bring complementing expertise and you’re convinced about creating distinctive learning outcomes – then you are already well on track. The big question is: how do you know when the timing is right? Should you always set up a programme and apply just because there is funding available? Do you know enough about your institution and the legal context to enter a cross-border collaboration without compromising student rights? What should you know before starting such a venture?

Going into joint programme partnerships is not very different from making a decision about a private, committed relationship. You need to know a great deal about yourself; your current mission and future vision, your strengths and weaknesses, your compatibility with your partners’ competences, etc. Moreover, you need open communication based on trust.

But are we human – or are we dancer? We are dancing humans! And therefore a logical approach to relationships is not always the whole truth. Sometimes individuals meet randomly at conferences, get inspired by a joint initiative and idea, and they simply make it happen – and succeed. Both tales can lead to happiness ever after. Even in academic terms. But it’s important to know which questions to ask.

What about quality assurance?

To add to the complexity of making partnership decisions, many of the issues faced in joint programmes are not related to your institution, but rather to obstacles in national legislation. Are you aware of the requirements related to jointly issuing degrees in international cooperation? How do you guarantee that the joint programme maintains high quality standards? Some aspects of joint programme development and implementation have become easier due to European-level developments – ie The European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes, adopted by the Bologna Ministers in Yerevan, 2015.

The European approach implies that joint programmes don’t need national accreditation in all of the countries in which they are offered. They can choose a single agency from the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR) to perform one single, joint accreditation. It’s one less hurdle to overcome in countries requiring programme-level accreditation.

Deepen your knowledge

If you ever thought of applying for this type of EU funding, a favourable time is approaching. In 2017, the European Commission is selecting more than 50 Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMDs) – and even more in the years to come. The EU wants to encourage new applicants aboard of this flagship programme. Despite a definite push towards further harmonisation and joint degrees, it will still select high-quality programmes leading to multiple degrees.

Do you find yourself eager to learn more about the added value of joint programmes? Do you want to gain the confidence and tools to enter negotiations on these collaborations, get to know your institution better, and learn about important aspects to consider when starting a joint programme? Are you keen to learn how the European Approach for Quality Assurance can help you? Join the EAIE Spring Academy 2016 in Bucharest, Romania. The course Managing Joint Master Programmes: steps to success will expand on the issues raised in this blog post and much more. Sign up by 29 March!

Annika is Programme Manager for the Global Team within the Higher Education Unit at Centre for International Mobility, Finland.


[i] de Wit, H., Hunter, F., Howard, L., Egron-Polak, E. (2015).  Internationalisation of higher education. European Parliament.