Introduction

Introduction

Kate Sevón, UHR (Sweden)

Background

Within the framework of the European Union programme Erasmus+ (2014-2020), students in higher education have the opportunity for exchange studies – often referred to as “mobility”. Moreover, institutions can engage in staff mobility, cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices under the programme.  An approved application for a so-called Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE) is a prerequisite for an institution to participate in Erasmus+, and in 2013 over 4,300 higher education institutions in Europe were granted such a charter.

In the ECHE application, higher education institutions confirm that their participation in the programme is part of their internationalisation strategy. Furthermore, the applications contain statistical information about, for example, mobility, and information about the institutions' international activities in more concrete terms. The institutions answer the same questions about internationalisation and mobility in all countries, so ECHE applications provide us with an opportunity to compare the situation in all the countries.

In this report we provide comparable data from the Nordic countries to give an overview of some aspects of the institutions' international activities, and also to highlight some areas of development nationally. The aim of the project is also to contribute to supporting the Nordic institutions to clarify the role of their international cooperation work in relation to the European Modernisation Agenda for Higher Education. The analyses are the result of a joint project by the National Agencies for the Erasmus+ programme in the five Nordic countries: the Centre for International Mobility (CIMO) in Finland, RANNIS in Iceland, Norwegian Centre for International Cooperation in Education (SIU) in Norway, the Danish Agency for Higher Education in Denmark, and the Swedish Council for Higher Education (UHR) in Sweden.

Information in the ECHE application

In the ECHE application, institutions should, among other things, report and confirm the following:

  • certain statistical data for the academic year 2012/2013. Some of the data has not been collected previously, e.g. the number of agreements and the number of joint programmes. The number of people working with the programme at central and local levels should also be reported.
  • that all students and staff are well prepared for their exchange period and have the language skills needed. Institutions should also describe their language policies (for incoming students/staff) and language support (for outgoing students/staff).
  • the involvement of their staff in their institution's international activities. Institutions should describe how staff mobility is promoted, supported and recognised.
  • that recognition of the students' exchange period is assured. Institutions should also describe what kind of support they give to incoming and outgoing students for their mobility periods and their practices for recognition.
  • their management practices relating to exchange and cooperation agreements with other institutions. Institutions should describe how they organise their work in transnational mobility, and describe their practices for signing and monitoring mobility agreements.

Limitations of the material

All the ECHE applicants have answered the same questions, but at the same time the material has its clear limitations. The answers of the institutions do not give a complete picture of their international activities, and therefore only some aspects of them can be described and analysed. Another issue is that some of the questions are complex and contain several questions in one. This combined with the limited space allowed for the answers provide a methodological problem for our analysis. Some of the answers are general whereas others focus on specific features, making it difficult to compare the answers. There are also questions in which some institutions focus on one part, e.g. incoming students, and other institutions on another, e.g. outgoing students.

In this analysis, we assume that the institutions mention the factors they prioritise the most. However, the fact that an institution mentions certain activities does not exclude that other activities are carried out. Some activities might, for example, be considered self-evident and thus not necessary to mention in the application.

Another limitation in the material is that the institutions are required to fill in the application in order to participate in the Erasmus+ programme. One can suspect that the answers to a certain extent have been adjusted according to what the institutions think that the European Commission wants, and that the answers thus do not give us a full picture of the institutions' international activities.

The limited time allocated for completing the application (from March 23 to May 15) is likely to have been problematic not least for the large institutions with, in many cases, relatively independent faculties (or equivalent). It may also have been difficult for large institutions to give detailed information on their international activities because they might differ between different faculties or departments. Furthermore, institutions with few or no cooperation agreements with institutions abroad are in a different position to describe their international activities compared to institutions with a broad range of activities and that are active in this area. Despite these limitations, we do believe that the applications provide relevant material to review international work in the institutions, broadly and comparatively, and with regard to Europe in particular.

Recommendations

It seems reasonable to assume that the European Commission also has other purposes for the ECHE applications besides deciding which institutions can take part in the Erasmus+ programme. If this would have been the only purpose, the format of the applications could have remained the same as in the previous programme periods. One purpose may be to inspire institutions to reflect on how they organise their international activities, and how their international strategies could contribute to developing high quality education. For this purpose, the questions should be more specific. For example, if one wants to get information about how the institutions handle bilateral and learning agreements, there should be separate questions for both because they are different in character. For the same reason, outgoing and incoming mobility should be separated into different questions, which would give specific information on practices in the two categories.

Preparation of ECHE applications at institutions could contribute to a dialogue on internationalisation and mobility. It would, however, require more time than the seven weeks that was available in the first application round. The application contains questions on strategic as well as practical issues, and could thus constitute a good basis for discussion about the aims of the internationalisation work in institutions. The section of the application that seems to work best for this purpose is the Erasmus Policy Statement (Overall Strategy), in which institutions are free to describe their strategic work and policy.








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