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, eqar.eu).
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:
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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:
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.