A recent European University Association (EUA) report, “Mobility: Closing the gap between policy and practice,” is the outcome of a two-year project, known as MAUNIMO (Mapping University Mobility of Staff and Students), which has explored the university perspective on mobility and how institutions are responding to increased pressures from policy initiatives at both European and national levels to increase mobility. These policy initiatives include, for example at the European level, the targets set by the European Union and through the Bologna Process, which state that by 2020, 20% of all students graduating should have had a study or training period abroad.
The MAUNIMO project centred on the creation and pilot of a (web-based) mobility self-assessment tool for universities. A total of 34 universities from 21 countries agreed to pilot the tool, which is designed to help universities examine a variety of issues such as:
- how they are defining and implementing strategies for mobility;
- how they collect different types of data on mobility;
- how different external stakeholders (including local and regional government, employers, etc) influence mobility;
- how perceptions of mobility vary within an institution.
Top findings reveal:
- Although institutions may have strategies for mobility or internationalisation, many academic staff are not aware of their existence, or how they are assessed.
- Most respondents, while acknowledging the potential social and cultural benefits of mobility for all members of their institution, believe that mobility is particularly important for the careers of doctoral candidates above all others. Undergraduate student mobility falls far down the list, in terms of priorities (see graph below).
- Obstacles to student mobility include, in order of difficulty: insufficient resources, problems with transferability of grades/marks, regulatory complications, concerns about the quality of educational provision in other institutions, and administrative burden.
- Many institutions were surprised to find that, despite widespread usage of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and the Diploma Supplement, awareness for and exploitation of these instruments was still not as extensive as anticipated.
- Current institutional mobility-data collection is conditioned by funding programmes, and in particular by the ERASMUS Programme. However, there is little information on free movers, both students and staff. Data collection is also often decentralised and fragmented.
In general, when asked about the benefits of mobility, the respondents’ reactions ranged from enthusiastic and positive (particularly regarding doctoral candidate and young researcher mobility) to ambivalent and firmly sceptical (in the case of Bachelor students and administrative staff). A possible explanation for this may be that most respondents associate mobility with cooperation and partnerships in international research, as well as learning and skills development, with a clear emphasis on academic as opposed to personal development.
Thus, even though many respondents acknowledged that the international mobility of Bachelor students or administrative staff tended to enhance their independence and intercultural awareness, it was also often viewed as optional or even superfluous.
The report indicates that this may be linked to the fact that these two groups are thought by respondents to benefit less tangibly from time spent abroad. Only about one-third of respondents thought that mobility would enhance the employability of Bachelor students or the career prospects of administrative staff, while in the case of doctoral candidates the corresponding figures were 58% (employability) and 73% (career prospects).
Yet this is in stark contrast to many other reports in the industry which illustrate that studying abroad increases job prospects and enhances creativity, among other benefits.
The mobility of doctoral candidates and early stage researchers was seen as vital in offering key benefits in terms of academic achievement and career development (by improving knowledge flows, stimulating new ideas, creating networks, developing cooperation for joint research and fostering innovation).
Viewed more broadly, the results also do not really reflect the important link between undergraduate mobility and graduate student or researcher mobility. It has been illustrated that enhanced mobility at doctoral level is often stimulated by mobility experiences in the first and second Bologna cycles: in short, those who are mobile as students are more likely to be mobile researchers.
Lack of coordination in strategic planning
The MAUNIMO pilot has shown that universities feel they need to take a more strategic cross-institutional approach to mobility, even if mobility is already inherent to their international strategy.
A number of universities explained that approaches to various types of mobility (student, staff and researcher) were currently somewhat fragmented across the institution making it more difficult to have a strategic vision (and to collect comprehensive data).
According to the findings, current actions at faculty and departmental level tend to focus on the mobility of Bachelor and Master’s students. Doctoral candidates are also of considerable strategic interest but their mobility is often managed by separate structures within the institution. Therefore, potential links between the mobility of Bachelor and Master’s students, and subsequent doctoral candidate mobility are not sufficiently coordinated in strategic planning.
Pilot universities emphasised that the commitment of university leadership was key to the development of mobility strategies and their implementation – in particular in terms of encouraging the active participation of staff and students.
They also outlined a range of other issues that are crucial for the implementation of mobility strategies such as:
- establishing and coordinating a range of dedicated services (for international and mobility-related activities), and
- better capturing some of the creative practice taking place at faculty level for motivating and evaluating mobility.
The report recommends that universities underpin mobility strategies with comprehensive data collection covering different kinds of mobility across the institution (such as incoming and outgoing, short-term, long-term, students, administrative and academic staff and young researchers). National reporting requirements and European data parameters can provide the basis for collecting such data, but they should not determine exclusively what kind of data universities collect and use.
In addition to the university perspective on mobility, the report examines how policy and practice can be better coordinated with regard to mobility in the future.
It outlines that it is crucial that universities are consulted on the development of national mobility strategies, policies and programmes.
As universities have diverse goals with regard to mobility, it is also important that policy makers ensure universities have incentives to develop their own mobility strategies in line with their needs and resources.
Outlining the current gaps that exist in data collection on mobility at a European level and at many national levels, the report stresses that EU institutions, national governments and data collection agencies need to work in close partnership with HE institutions to identify and agree data collection parameters and reporting procedures.
The enhancement of data collection in the future will have an impact on universities in terms of administration and management of mobility, and the use of such data will also have implications for quality assurance, student and graduate tracking, student services, learning provision and strategic development in general.
MAUNIMO is a project supported by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission. It is led by EUA and supported by the following partners: University of Oslo, University of Trento, Swansea University and University of Marburg.
The EUA, as the representative organisation of both the European universities and the national rectors’ conferences, is the main voice of the higher education community in Europe. EUA’s mission is to promote the development of a coherent system of European higher education and research.