Support for the development of new joint programmes

What are joint programmes?  

A Joint programme is an integrated study programme at any level developed and managed jointly between two or more HEIs from two or more different countries, leading to the award of a joint or multiple degree, attested by one or more diplomas.
In practice, joint diplomas are still the tip of the iceberg, while multiple degrees are the more common model. A multiple degree is separate degrees awarded by issuing separate diplomas by the participating HEIs. If two degrees are awarded, it is a “double degree”.

In a typical joint programme, a student spends one year at one university and a second year at another university (60 + 60 ECTS) but a number of different models exist at different universities. The venue at which a student carries out his/her master’s thesis varies as well, which can also lead to the following scheme: 60 ECTS at one university, 30 ECTS at a second university, and 30 ECTS for thesis work at a company or a third university. 

The JPROV project has identified four different types of joint programmes that would utilize online studies and resources:
1. The typical joint programmes completely in-campus
2. Joint programmes with short mobility (3-6 months)
3. Joint programmes with very short mobility (2-6 weeks)
4. Joint programmes entirely online and with virtual mobility 

Joint Programmes and Virtual Structures
“Joint programmes are understood as an integrated curriculum coordinated and offered jointly by different higher education institutions from European Higher Education Area (EHEA) countries and leading to double/multiple degrees or a joint degree.” (European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes,

The EHEA discussions on the topic gravitate not only to student mobility, but also to curriculum development, recognition, and quality assurance. Though the mobility element is an integral part of joint programmes, virtual elements come into play into every aspect of this discussion. Flexibility and wider options for the implantation of Joint programmes are desirable supporting students along the study cycle.

The JPROV project, which is constituted by four different higher education institutions, prepared a project survey on the support services and administrative requirements and procedures for the introduction and management of virtual elements in Joint Programmes.
Although it was not possible to achieve significant output, the survey still provided relevant indication of the scope of embedded digital elements possible in international programmes:

  • Synchronous online teaching
  • Asychronous online teaching
  • General preparation of students and staff
  • Online language courses
  • Online cultural courses
  • Online administration through dedicated platforms
  • Online joint management of the programme
  • Online social events
  • Tools for the creation of a virtual international classroom
  • Online extra/curricular activities
  • Online internships
  • Online joint supervision of project work (including thesis work)
  • Online summer/winter schools
  • Online management and supervision of teamwork
  • Online mentoring/coaching/tutoring

Embedding virtual elements into Joint Programmes

One method for embedding virtual elements in joint programmes is to foresee these as part of their study lifecycle.

Virtual Structures: formats and contents

The study life-cycle points towards support structures that could be implemented virtually. From recruitment to employability support, every phase can profit from embedded virtual structures. These structures provide framework conditions for implementation and follow-up processes that fulfil both administrative and legal requirements of Joint Programmes. Virtual structures are available for each corresponding phase:

  1. Marketing and Recruitment
    Virtual elements are an integral part of the marketing effort. Virtual fairs offer the opportunity for students to get acquainted with the diverse study offer as well as meeting students and staff from the participant universities virtually. Preparatory work and well-integrated marketing strategies are key to the use of these elements. The definition of target groups, adequate social media outlets, and use of already existing tools in innovative ways are advised. Although well-developed systems for virtual fairs exist, cost-benefit requirements are at play and the use of already existing tools simplify an already time-consuming effort.
    • Unite! virtual fair: it happens annually within the scope of Unite! University Network for Innovation, Technology, and Engineering. It is organized in the interactive platform Spatial Chat and showcases the partner study offer, including the joint programmes.
      The virtual environment offers various interactive opportunities for students and staff, clarifying many of the administrative hurdles.
    • #Studentsoftudarmstadt: it is an initiative built around student Ambassadors, which brings the student insight on university life through social media. These kinds of initiatives bring the already existing administrative structures at the University closer to
      their target groups. A step prior to the establishment of interactive social media is the structured support in place for international students, beyond the academic issues. A student counter can also be offered virtually, offering more inclusive options to people
      with mobility issues.
  2. Pre-entry activities
    • Online self-assessment: a tool that offers potential students a glimpse into the requirements and possibilities of their future study fields. Tests are available that help the potential student to reflect on their choice of studies and to identify and clear misconceptions not only on the study programme, but also on the administrative support at place, for instance, on the availability of housing and the possibility to combine study and part time work.
    • Hybrid/virtual prep-courses: With PreCIS (Preparatory Course and Support Programme for International Students), the TU Darmstadt supports international first-year Bachelor students in successfully starting their studies. The concept of the preparatory course and support programme is based on a holistic approach and consists of three elements: a two-week preparatory course with a specialist language course at the centre (PreCIS pre-course), a one-semester peer mentoring programme (PreCIS buddy programme) and a semester-long workshop programme (PreCIS workshops). PreCIS pre-course addresses the specific support needs of international students at the beginning of their studies: participants can gain in-depth knowledge of mathematics and German as a scientific language, complete study skills training and get to know various facilities at the TU Darmstadt. The pre-course is offered in three parallel course formats: as a face-to-face course, as an online course and as a blended learning course. The important motivating reason for three different formats is to reach as many international first-year Bachelor students as possible in different situations and to prepare them for Bachelor studies at TU Darmstadt.
  3. Admission
    • Online application in a joint admission platform: an online platform guides every step of the process and offers structure to guarantee a smooth selection phase.
    • Interviews via video conference: each programme is to define which programme works best for its admission interviews. The technical requirements should be sent in advance to the interviewee along with the tailored expectations within the chosen degree programme.
    • Digital consulting/advising during the application, enrolment, and onboarding process: CRM tool Leads (chatbots, etc.)
  4. Orientation and support
    • Digital learning centre of student representatives at the department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology (etit): The digital learning center of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology is based on theMatrix chat system. It allows students to log in with their University ID and have conversations in group rooms or private chats. Audio and videoconferencing are also integrated and provide a further and more inclusive meeting place.
    • Hybrid study support “PALS: it is a peer mentoring system by Buddies that can also be conceive under a virtual environment, structured around the pairing of students for mutual support.
  5. Learning and teaching.
    • Regulars´ E-Learning Table: This is a format that brings together e-learning and interested people to share experiences and inspiration for digital teaching. Students, administrative and academic staff report on their experience or planned projects. Among the concrete possibilities are:
      • Hybrid teaching, where part of the students attends the respective course onsite at the university, while the other part of the students attends online.
      • The use of learning management systems, such as Moodle.
      • Adaptative learning, by which the learning materials adapt to the needs of the learners, including digital learning for exam preparation within Moodle, for instance.
  6. Study abroad
    • Blended intensive programme (BIP): one of the innovations of the 2021-2027 generation of Erasmus+ programmes, it consists of intensive programmes developed and offered together with at least 2 other Erasmus partner institutions that combine mandatory physical mobility with mandatory virtual components. There is no compulsory format for the virtual components, varying from a couple of hours of course content to the implementation of one aspect of the course offer virtually. In the end the BIP should generate three ECTS credit points, recognized by all institutions involved.
    • Virtual Exchange Credit Programme (VECP): the partners of the Unite! University Alliance offer virtual modules in selected degree programmes. The list of faculty-led open modules is made available to students, who can apply and enrol in virtual courses at partner institutions with credit gain. The applications are processed at the home institution and the students nominated to the host institution accordingly. Students must fill out a second application to the host institution after the nomination. After successful application at the host institution, the student is enrolled and must register for the selected courses before the semester starts.
    • Summer / winter schools: INSPIRED, the International Project Week for Interdisciplinary Research-Oriented Digital Learning, is a hybrid or digital model, where a three-week summer school takes place. In the e-Learning course, the participants of diverse academic backgrounds prepare independently to complete the task that awaits them during the summer school. Their main objective in the “Do phase” is to investigate an unconventional and challenging (bio)engineering problem together – in international and interdisciplinary project teams, whether co-located or remote.
    • Joint digital lectures
    • Joint supervision of the Master’s thesis
  7. Employability
    • Hackathons involving industry
    • Joint digital lectures involving industry
    • Joint supervision of the Master’s thesis involving industry
    • The Universities members of JPROV possess different yet similar structures to the ones showcased above. Ultimately these structures cater to both highly structured and formalized as well as highly agile, flexible, and adaptable programmes. There are however still challenges to implementing and using virtual components.

Challenges and opportunities

The JPROV campfire at Stockholm in June 2022 focused especially on the accreditation issue as still a significant hurdle to embedding virtual elements to joint programmes. Participants from different sectors of education note that in many countries or universities online programmes do not allow credits unless the student is physically present for up to 90% of the time. Even if a university or a country would allow students to get credits from online studies, they might have other requirements that make online joint programmes less feasible. For this reason, a more encompassing definition of joint programme with shorter and/or virtual mobilities is an important step.

The increase of virtual elements into joint programmes is not only dependent on new digital tools and innovative teacher training, but also on lobbying for more credit recognition when incorporating virtual formats. The solutions encompass the clear definition of criteria and structures that surround curriculum development, support services, accreditation, and recognition, as well as blended mobility options.

Administrative Requirements
As the above-mentioned examples of virtual elements show, a vast range of virtual structures and initiatives already exist involving students, academic and non-academic staff surrounding joint programmes. They are fundamentally characterised by their flexibility and adaptability. The administrative requirements should therefore be as flexible and adaptable. To place the existing structures under the student life cycle, monitoring and disseminating their existence is a first step into embedding digital elements to joint programmes.
The administrative support requires knowledge of the existing structures and coordination of the definition of requirements and expectations to be fulfilled by Joint Programmes within the multiple partner reality. As such, the co-creation of the framework is a relevant aspect towards successful development. In that, workshops and discussion groups provide for long term longevity of the programme, beyond individual initiative and are a powerful tool in identifying the virtual tools available and their potential for the programme.
Accessibility and the definition of an area/person responsible for transversal communication and follow-up are key steps into implementing successful programmes with virtual elements. This requires setting up the processes related to each element as well as their articulation to the institutional goals.
The processes should cover, but not be exhausted to the study life cycle, and convey adjustment needs due to technical issues. Rules and principles should be stablished up front to easy up communication.

Practical recommendations

In order to further promote the integration and implementation of virtual elements into joint programmes the following practical recommendations could serve as a guideline. The target groups are administrative, technical, and academic staff, who are either involved in the development of a new transnational joint programme or who plan on integrating virtual or blended elements into existing joint programmes. They are structured reflecting to the four different types of virtual formats and the development cycle of such initiatives. Download the guidelines for more detailed recommendations and survey results

Joint programme models

Much of the work that supports, at least within Unite! European Alliance, the negotiation of a Joint Position regarding the ambitious European Degree comes from the 2015 and 2021 projects – Reforming Dual Degree Programmes for Employability and Enhanced Academic Cooperation (REDEEM) and Shaping the Next Generation of Joint Programmes in Science and Technology (REDEEM2), carried out under the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships framework and under the umbrella organization of CLUSTER (Consortium Linking Universities of Science and Technology for Education and Research).

REDEEM2 developed a set of guidelines and recommendations that might assist the reforming and creation of JP’s. A Joint Programme (JP) is a Bachelor’s, Master’s or PhD programme offered jointly by two or more universities, located in different countries. A JP presents an integrated curriculum coordinated, managed, developed and offered jointly by different higher education institutions (HEI) leading to double/multiple or joint degrees, attested by one or more diplomas. The programme can be developed and managed jointly or it can be the result of an agreement between two independent programmes. Students receive multiple or joint degrees and a long mobility (typically one semester up to a year) is embedded.

A JP facilitates mobility and intercultural exchange among its participants (students, faculty and technical/administrative staff). Promoting international employability of its graduates, a JP allows students to gain diverse experiences, learn about different cultures while acquiring an international degree.

We present as example five possible scenarios in the Master’s Joint Programme between two degree issuing universities (60 ECTS + 60 ECTS), ranging from the most traditional to completely virtual JP.

Fig.1 – Schematic representation of a traditional JP.

The traditional JP, where usually the students spend one year (2 semesters) in each partner university:

A JP with a longer stay at one of the universities (2 or 3 semesters) and a shorter physical mobility at another university (1 semester). One of the semesters at the longer staying university can already be a virtual exchange at the second university:

A JP with most of the time spent physically at one of the universities, and with a very short mobility in a second university (e.g. summer school, intensive programme, field visit, master thesis, short internship, project work) that can be integrated during any semester:

Fig.2 – Schematic representation of a JP with a longer stay at one of the universities and a shorter physical mobility at another university.

Fig.3 – Schematic representation of a JP with most of the time spent physically at one of the universities, and with a very short mobility in a second university in the last semester, as an example.

A JP entirely online, where the student attends classes virtually, first in one of the universities (2 semesters) and then (2 semesters) in another university.

A JP where the whole of the programme is physically in one university (4 semesters), however, for the second year (2 semesters) the student is at a virtual exchange with another university:

Fig.4 – Schematic representation of a JP where the whole of the programme is physically in University A but where the second year is spent virtually in University B.

Fig.5 – Schematic representation of a JP taking place entirely online.
In virtual exchange at Univ. A

Students participating in traditional JP face the challenge of being away from home for a year, which can be a long time to be away from family, friends or even work. It can also be very expensive for those students coming from countries with lower living costs, as well as particularly challenging for students with education special needs. On the other hand, students have the opportunity to get used to a new culture and way of living. Complementarily, shorter mobilities are a lower cost alternative that may remove the need to apply for visas or residency permits.

Those aspects make JP with shorter or no mobilities more inclusive for working students, students with dependent family members and medical conditions that make longer stays difficult. Some drawbacks to these programmes include difficulties in planning a programme structure, less opportunities to get to know the culture and employers of the targeted country, and eventually higher costs due to extra trips between universities.

Finally, completely virtual JP allow greater time flexibility, reduced logistics, increased sustainability, and constitute a great opportunity for different audiences. At the same time students are offered the chance to work in virtual settings and with international teams. On the downsize, students have less socialization and engagement opportunities (with potential impact on their wellbeing), limited access to hands-on and lab activities, and reduced access to resources (computers and internet connection).

The guidelines and recommendations for reforming and creating JP’s in HEI’s in Europe, coming from the results obtained by REDEEM2 and developed according to the results of online surveys, focus group interviews and thematic workshops, include: organizational aspects, legal frameworks and inter-institutional agreements, management, support for double/joint degree for incoming and outgoing students, quality assurance, matching the curricula, personal development and employability, marketing on the academic value, assessment and selection of students and, of course, teaching methods.

Five recommendations of the REDEEM2 project are relevant to JPROV:
• “Bring together all the professors involved in a workshop meeting in order to create a deeper understanding about the complementarities of the curricula and (innovative) teaching methods, as well as to clarify the motivations and vision of the JP”
• “Consider introducing mandatory staff mobility for teaching in the agreements in order to boost the jointness of the programme and increase the understanding of the teaching process at the partner universities”
• “If you have already experienced that your respective group of incoming double/joint degree students have problems adapting to another education system and other teaching methods, address these issues within preparatory cultural trainings, language courses or within student mentorships”
• “Create a transdisciplinary teaching environment”
• “Think about using e-platforms/MOOCS”.

Additional challenges are the monitoring and assessment of student’s performance, as well as feedback regarding their progress. Concerning the challenges of virtualization of the JPs, the “Joint Programmes: Embedding Virtual Exchange Project” (JPROV) developed the present handbook with guidelines on contents and pedagogical approaches for online teaching and learning and a glossary to support faculty ensure the quality of these programmes. Additionally, the JPROV project developed the online teaching digital toolbox which consists in a repository with the elements involved in creating joint online courses, including a technology toolbox, good online teaching practices and a compilation of activities suitable for an online environment.