Staff Mobility

Staff mobility

María Kristín Gylfadóttir and Eyrún Sigurðardóttir (Rannís, Iceland)


Staff mobility is an integral part of the internationalization of European higher education institutions, an issue of increasing importance in European higher education policy and a key aspect of the Bologna process. Promoting staff mobility is important in many respects. Firstly, it is important for the professional development of the individual teacher, either through participation in conferences, study visits or training. While teaching abroad can also be part of a professional development, it also targets the international labour market. Secondly, staff mobility supports the objectives of the faculty/department he or she belongs to, through establishment of working relationships (teaching/research) with faculties or departments in other countries which could lead to joint research, sharing of experience, teaching and/or the establishment of double/joint degrees. Thirdly, staff mobility can also impact the institution as a whole, and even national goals through supporting strategic goals of internationalization.

Staff mobility is also very important for advancing and supporting student mobility. In fact, staff mobility is considered in the European policy context the most important multiplier for student mobility. Staff that have good relations and networks with institutions abroad, either through training, teaching or research know the added value of being mobile and are more likely to support students in becoming mobile themselves. Higher education teachers with an international outlook and who are mobile in their work also add an international dimension into their classroom and thus foster an international outlook among the great majority of students who will never have the chance of being mobile themselves.

Despite all this, staff mobility is surprisingly little researched in Europe and still secondary to student mobility. This fact is clearly reflected in the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education application form where staff mobility is clearly secondary to student mobility. Thus, questions regarding staff mobility are integrated into sections on student mobility and the only relevant open question for analysis on staff mobility is placed under section C5 in the application form “When participating in a mobility activity – After Mobility.” Similarly, institutions are only asked to provide statistical information on staff mobility taking place within the Erasmus programme but not on staff mobility within other programmes as is the case for student mobility. Thus the analysis that follows only presents a partial picture of staff mobility within Nordic higher education institutions.

The mapping

A framework designed for the purpose of this analysis was used when mapping the data on staff mobility in the ECHE Nordic applications. The methodology used is a bottom up approach. Applications were read and recurring issues identified and included in the mapping. When the most important points had been identified a selection of applications from higher education institutions that included 90% of the student population of each country were read and analysed. This included 25 of 52 institutions in Norway, 27 out of 40 institutions in Finland, 21 out of 42 institutions in Sweden and 16 out of 39 in Denmark. All Icelandic institutions were analysed as they are only 7.

When analysing staff mobility in the ECHE applications we looked at three different points mentioned in the only open question in the ECHE application form directly asking about staff mobility ( see section C5 When Participating in Mobility Activities-After Mobility). These points are: promotion, support and recognition. Each point was then subdivided into three categories. Regarding the promotion of staff mobility we especially looked for three different methods of communication: Presentations to other staff following a mobility, online information, and thirdly information shared at meetings and workshops. In regards to support for staff mobility three support methods were considered: extra funding, re-allocation of time and assistance in organising mobility. Recognition for staff mobility also has three different categories: part of professional development, salary and recruitment, and promotion. We also looked for indications/information on encouragement to participate in mobility for other staff at the higher education institution.

Information on staff mobility used in the analysis was sought in three different questions in the ECHE applications:

“Please describe the structure at your institution for the implementation and organisation of European and international mobility (division of tasks, operational and communicational methods)”

“Please describe your institution's measures to support, to promote and to recognise staff mobility”

“Please describe your institution's measures to support, promote and recognise the participation of your own institution's staff and students in European and international cooperation projects under the Programme”

In order to be scored on each individual point the higher education institution had to clearly mention that point in the application. Where the institution only mentioned that they “encourage”, “recommend” or “plan” they did not get a positive score on that point. The main source of information for staff mobility was the second question (above) the other two were also considered and in some cases provided additional information on the above mentioned points.

Focus areas

Capture-tafla-1 Table 1.

Average scoring on promotion, support and recognition in each country

Table 1 above shows clearly where the focus lies within Nordic higher education institutions when it comes to staff mobility. Overall, promotion is the issue institutions are most attentive to, then comes support and lastly recognition. Promotion receives an average score from 41% in Norway to 65% in Sweden. The average score of promotion in Swedish institutions is 65% of while support and recognition have an average score of 37% and 21% respectively. The average score of support is much smaller, ranging from 35% in Denmark and Norway to 43% in Iceland. Recognition has the lowest average score in reference to staff mobility. Here the average score is from 10% among Icelandic institutions to 27% among Danish institutions. In the case of Icelandic institutions the focus is on promotion with an average score of 57% and 43% on support while recognition only receives an average score of 10%. While there is a considerable imbalance in focus, particularly in regard to recognition, institutions in some countries are more balanced. In the case of Finland we can see that support and promotion receive somewhat similar attention on average 40% and 37% respectively while recognition scores on average 25%.

The results - promotion

Table 2 below shows roughly the proportion of higher education institutions analysed that include each item in their staff mobility promotion, support and recognition.

Capture-tafla-2 Table 2. Proportion of the analysed higher education institutions in each Nordic country that mention each category.

Tools used for promotion of staff mobility are somewhat different between the Nordic countries. The most used promotional tool is online information communication and the least used is presentations to other staff after a mobility. Over 70% of institutions in all the countries, except Finland, say they use online information to promote staff mobility. In the case of Finland the score is considerably lower or 56%. Although it can be assumed that most higher education institutions offer information online institutions fail to mention it clearly in their applications. Sweden stands out when it comes to information meetings and workshops with 86% of Swedish institutions offering this kind of promotion for staff mobility. Sharing experiences and newly acquired knowledge is in general considered important when it comes to promoting both student and staff mobility. However, when it comes to promotion of staff mobility, this is the least used method among higher education institutions in all the Nordic countries. The proportion of institutions which say they share information after mobility ranges from 4% in Norway to 29% in Iceland. The fact that mobility experiences are not widely shared can be an indication that staff mobility is still considered mostly for personal or professional development and not necessarily to advance departmental or institutional objectives. Although less likely, the reason could also be that staff mobility is a widespread practice within Nordic higher education institutions with limited need to regularly spread news about its benefits.

The results - support

On average, support is somewhat similar in all the Nordic countries, with the proportion of institutions mentioning that they provide support to mobile staff ranging from 35% to 43%. The support measures, however, mentioned by the institutions are different. While only 24% of Norwegian institutions mention that they provide assistance to staff in organising mobility, 74% of Icelandic institutions mention that measure and 57% of Swedish institutes. Finnish institutions, however, stand out when it comes to reallocating teaching time for mobile teachers with 59% of respondents claiming that mobility is included in scheduled working time or working time is reallocated to include the mobility. 36% of Norwegian institutions use this measure, 29% and 24% of Icelandic and Swedish institutions respectively, and Danish institutions lag behind with only 19% of institutions mentioning it.

Providing extra funding for staff mobility is a measure used by surprisingly many institutions. There are, however, considerable variations between countries. Finnish institutions stand out in this respect. It is, however, unclear from the answers whether the extra funding is provided on an individual level, that is to supplement Erasmus grants, or if the extra funding is used to allow more staff to go on mobility. Thus only 19% of Finnish institutions clearly state they provide extra funding on an individual level while almost half of Norwegian institutions, or 44%, say they provide extra funding for mobility and 38% of Danish institutions.

The results - recognition

Recognition is the cornerstone of and the most important element in student mobility and very clearly stipulated in the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education. When it comes to staff mobility, however, recognition has not received as much attention although this element is strengthened in the new Charter application. This fact is clearly reflected in the ECHE applications from Nordic institutions. Out of the three points analysed, recognition scores the lowest. The average score of recognition as a support measure for mobility thus ranges from 10% to 27% (see table 2 above). When broken down in different recognition measures the picture looks somewhat different.

The most common method mentioned for recognition is professional development. 28% of institutions in Norway and 29% of institutions in Iceland and Sweden respectively claim that staff mobility factures in when it comes to professional development, while almost half the institutions mention this measure in Finland, 44%, and 50% in Denmark. None of the Icelandic institutions mention staff mobility as a factor in recruitment and promotion, around 20% of Swedish, Finnish and Danish institutions said it mattered, or 24%, 22% and 19% respectively. Staff mobility further plays a negligible role when it comes to salary negotiations. None of the Icelandic institutions mention this as a factor and only 4% and 7% of Norwegian and Finnish institutions say staff mobility may affect salary. In the case of Swedish and Danish institutions 10% and 13% respectively mentioned salaries as a measure used in recognition.

Mobility of other than teaching staff

While teaching staff is considered the most important multiplier for student mobility in European mobility policies, the importance of other staff being mobile, such as international officers, financial managers, guidance counsellors, librarians and other administrators, should not be overlooked. All these play an important role in internationalizing the European higher education systems and particularly in ensuring good and proper implementation of student mobility. When it comes to encouraging other staff than teachers to be mobile, Swedish higher education institutions are by far the most active with 52% of the institutions mentioning this measure. The other Nordic countries in comparison pay however very limited attention to encouraging this staff to be mobile. Only 7% and 8% of institutions in Finland and Norway respectively mention this while 13% of Danish institutions and 14% of Icelandic institutions claim they encourage other staff to be mobile. Here, institutions only got a positive score if other staff, such as administrative staff, were clearly mentioned in the answers. While the scores are alarmingly low, the reality at the institutions might be different and as much encouragement as the scores indicate might not be needed. An analysis of the proportion of teaching staff versus other staff active in Erasmus mobility in the academic year 2012-2013, shows that while staff teaching constituted just over two-thirds of all staff mobilities in the countries participating in the Erasmus programme this academic year (just over 52.500 mobilities in total), less than half of those, or 16.549, undertaking training were academic staff (41%). Other staff participating in staff training were finance administrators (24%), general administrators and IT staff (16%) and staff from international offices (10%). [1] While these statistics are on a Europe-wide basis, it can be assumed that the picture is not much different in individual countries, including the Nordic countries.


While staff mobility, particularly the mobility of teachers, is considered very important in European policy documents to advance internationalization at European higher education institutions, and in particular to encourage and support student mobility, it is given rather limited attention in the ECHE application. Furthermore, institutions are only asked to provide information on staff mobility activities within the Erasmus programme while data for student mobility included all student mobility supported by each institution. This discrepancy should be corrected in future charter applications as the answers provided do not give a full picture of the extent of staff mobility at European institutions, and in the case of this analysis, of Nordic institutions.

The results of the analysis of staff mobility within the Nordic countries as presented in the ECHE applications show that Nordic higher education institutions are most focused on the promotion of staff mobility. Most often institutions communicate staff mobility opportunities online but Swedish institutions stand out when it comes to face-to-face meetings or workshops. When it comes to sharing experiences after mobility with colleagues only a few institutions report it as a common practice.

Most Nordic institutions provide support for staff mobility. While Icelandic institutions stand out when it comes to supporting staff in preparation of mobility, Finnish institutions are by far the most advanced when it comes to including mobility activity in scheduled working time or working time is reallocated to include the mobility. Surprisingly many institutes say they support mobility with extra funding with Norwegian and Danish institutions in the lead. Further investigation is, however, needed on whether this funding is to supplement individual Erasmus grants or is provided to allow more staff within institutions to be mobile.

While recognition is the cornerstone of and the most important element in student mobility this element does not receive much attention when it comes to staff mobility. This fact is clearly reflected in the ECHE applications from Nordic higher education institutions. Out of the three different points analysed, recognition scores the lowest, ranging from 10% to 27%. Thus staff mobility plays a negligible role in salary negotiations but is more often taken into consideration when it comes to professional development with institutions in most Nordic countries mentioning this in up to 50% of cases. More focus on recognition would most likely make staff mobility, in particular teaching mobility, more desirable and might help to increase the demand for participating in staff mobility activities.

Nordic higher education institutions further claim that they pay limited attention to promoting the mobility of other staff than teaching staff. The most plausible explanation for this is that the demand for participation in staff mobility among other staff is in most, if not all, institutions much more that the money available through the Erasmus programme. This said, if the total number of staff at higher education institutions would be compared to the number of mobile staff annually, the percentage is most likely very low.

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