Written by the group Punavihreät, 22.10.2020
The University of Helsinki is active in international networking and in establishing new international partnerships, which is showcased by UH’s membership in several international associations and alliances (https://www.helsinki.fi/en/university/globally-connected). Through the international networking, UH aims to provide and produce high-quality research and teaching as well as strengthen its global reputation.
Among these partnerships, UNA Europa, an alliance of eight European universities funded by EU, is a true pilot project that has just started to test its first models of joint Bachelor degrees and Doctorate program in selected focus areas. Although joint degree programs can be seen as an expected continuation of exchange and mobility programs (Knight, 2011), for example joint European Bachelor degrees are rare. However, the number of international collaborative programs is increasing.
What are the reasons for the scarcity of the international joint degrees? Typically, the costs connected to the planning and running of the joint programs are higher than those of the ordinary programs, and ensuring long-term funding may be difficult. Development of a common curriculum also needs careful planning especially in the early stages of the process to be able to successfully implement joint programs. Several critical aspects that must be considered and decided include for example pedagogical considerations, intended learning outcomes, teaching methods, evaluation criteria and collection of feedback (JOIMAN Network, 2012).
There are also other challenges related to the joint programs. In practice, building a joint degree can face many legal issues, such as national regulations that prevent a university to confer a degree with a foreign institution (Knight, 2011). In addition, a joint degree may not be recognized by the host countries if the degree certificate contains names of several institutions. These uncertainties are not attractive from the students’ point of view and raise a question about who would be willing to be “a test case” when new joint degrees are piloted?
This also reflects back on the university rankings and degrees that are recognized as prestige. For academic institutions, the joint programs may be a way to increase their reputation and ranking by collaborating with institutions that have equal or greater status (Knight, 2011). The institutional benefits of the joint programs also include development of curriculum, exchange of teachers and researchers, and access to expertise and networks of the partner institutions. However, quality assurance, from its definition to execution and measurement, is another major challenge to tackle in organizing international joint programs (Zheng, 2017).
High standards of teaching and learning needs to be ensured when the partners involved in the joint program do not have a common native language. Is English the only choice for the common language or would it be possible to use other languages? In any case, the language requirements and possibility to improve language proficiency level of both teachers and students need to be agreed by each partner (Knight, 2011).
How students can then benefit from the joint programs? A joint program can be completed in the same time period as an individual program in one institution, and the students have an advantage to belong to academic communities of two or more institutions. It is also expected that the language skills of the students will be improved, through which their communication skills, employability and understanding of other culture increases.
Coming years will show us if the currently piloted joint programs will be successful. It can be expected that long-standing collaboration between different institutions help in building and making joint degrees and curricula a reality, thus highlighting the importance of institutional level international networking. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a rapid curriculum and pedagogical developments in digital learning environments (Crawford et al., 2020). As the internationalization in higher education should become more inclusive and less elitist by not focusing predominantly on mobility, but more on the curriculum and learning outcomes (Stronkhorst, 2005), this “new normal” may also open up new avenues for the development of the joint degrees.
Crawford J, Butler-Henderson K, Rudolph J, Malkawi B, Glowatz M, Burton R, Magni P, Lam S. COVID-19: 20 countries’ higher education intra-period digital pedagogy responses. Journal of Applied Learning & Teaching. 2020. 3:1-20.
JOIMAN Network. Guide to developing and running joint programmes at Bachelor and Master’s level. Bologna. 2012.
Knight J. Doubts and Dilemmas with Double Degree Programs. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education. 2011. 8:297-312.
Stronkhorst R. Learning outcomes of international mobility at two Dutch institutions of higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education. 2005. 9:292-315.
Zheng G, Cai Y, Ma S. Towards an analytical framework for understanding the development of a quality assurance system in an international joint programme. European Journal of Higher Education. 2017. 7:243-260.