Mobility: closing the gap between policy and practice

Mobility: closing the gap between policy and practice

Does your university have a comprehensive overview of the mobility activities of staff and students, and of how these activities interrelate? With student and staff mobility increasing in importance, it is becoming imperative that those involved in strategic planning have a greater awareness of the mobility at their institutions. Yet strategic reflections on the many different types and aims of short- and long-term mobility are far from universal. Few institutions are equipped to respond to the growing conviction that mobility should be measured and evaluated. 

Growing importance of mobility

Mobility is strongly linked to the EU’s wider goal of building “smart and sustainable economic growth, fostering employability and social cohesion”. The EU growth and competitiveness strategy ‘Europe 2020’ also includes growing incentives for researcher mobility. ‘Erasmus for All’, the upcoming education programme framework for 2014–2020, places emphasis on mobility strategy, “there will be stronger EU added value under the programme, which will strengthen the outcomes and conditionality attached to mobility, and require that mobility be set within a coherent institutional development strategy”. There is also a need for capacity to enable institutions to keep in step with the resolution endorsed by Bologna ministers in Bucharest 2012: “We agree that all member countries develop and implement their own internationalisation and mobility strategies or policies with concrete aims and measurable mobility targets”.

With such importance being placed on mobility by the EU, how do we close the gap between policy and institutional practice?

Identifying trends and perceptions in the management of mobility

MAUNIMO (Mapping University Mobility of Staff and Students) is a project which was launched by the European University Association (EUA) and four of its member universities (University of Marburg, Denmark, University of Trento, Italy, University of Oslo, Norway and Swansea University, UK), designed to study opinions on the value and benefit of mobility, and to raise awareness of institutional strategies. The project ran from October 2010 to September 2012 and was tested on 30 additional universities in 21 countries from January to April 2012. The focal point of the project was a mobility mapping tool (MMT) – a web-based mobility self-evaluation instrument.

The MMT was designed as a ‘dynamic’ survey, raising complex analytical questions on all types of mobility, which included 70-90 questions depending on the profile of respondents. Key questions were:

  • What is the role of institutions in meeting national and European mobility targets?
  • To what extent do institutions formulate their own goals regarding mobility and how do they relate to other institutional strategies (teaching/research/internationalisation)?
  • How do institutions collect data on mobility and why?
  • Does this data collection support their strategic interests?
  • How can institutions better support and influence policy agendas regarding mobility?

Disconnect between practice and policy

Only a few respondents linked their strategic discussions on mobility to developments at European level and to policies such as Europe 2020. As for doctoral mobility, this is viewed as a high strategic priority. But it was mobility at Bachelor’s and Master’s level that generated the most extensive strategic discussion. This contrast in emphasis may be explained by the fact that doctoral candidate mobility is often managed by a separate structure within the institution and that the potential links between the mobility of Bachelor’s/Master’s students and doctoral candidates are insufficiently exploited in strategic planning. Enhanced mobility at doctoral level is often stimulated by mobility experiences in the first and second Bologna cycles. In short, those who are mobile as students are more likely to be mobile researchers.

Obstacles to mobility may be lack of trust of the quality of educational provision in another institution. Worries about losing good doctoral candidates to other institutions also occur. As for staff mobility, indifferent and/or negative attitudes to mobility emerged, such as:

“There is no real policy. Staff mobility is based on personal initiatives and not evaluated.”

“Many think it irrelevant and that administrative staff does not have the need for further education.”

“Everything that breaks the current work organisation is seen more as a problem than as an opportunity for growth.”

However, the following response from the academic staff, who was the largest respondent group, is more encouraging:

“[Mobility] triggers independent thought, improves our ability to deal with difference and makes us question the established ways of seeing and doing things. Mobility is a great experience that enhances your personal development, your job opportunities, your confidence and your enjoyment of life.”

Yet underlying all the concerns listed above is a mixture of unanswered questions: how much mobility do we actually need, and should mobility be voluntary or a compulsory element of academic studies? Can benefits and drawbacks of mobility be defined unambiguously?

View the full copy of the MAUMIMO project report here.

By Morten G. Kielland. 
Morten Kielland works as Institutional LLP Coordinator at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HIOA), Norway.