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16th Nov 2012

The expanding footprint of international consortia in higher education

Universities worldwide are becoming increasingly internationalised, and many are also expanding their participation in international consortia. These multi-institution partnerships typically include a broad range of collaborations and joint scholarly activity and, often, a significant student mobility component as well. As the global field of higher education consortia continues to expand, the mobility progammes they support represent an emerging opportunity for student recruiters as well as an important aspect of broader student mobility patterns worldwide. A consortium is defined as having at least one coordinating institution/organisation and one partner higher education institution cooperating, but usually more parties are involved. The goals? One is to develop logistical and programme-based synergies among institutions that allow students to add a global dimension to their degrees. The other is for institutions to gain new efficiencies operating or expanding student mobility programmes.

Universitas 21

Universitas 21

(U21) is a high-profile, global consortium that comprises 24 research-intensive universities in 16 countries. With such strong links, consortia are a hotbed for market research. For example, Universitas 21 developed a new ranking system as a benchmark for governments, education institutions and individuals. As previously reported on ICEF Monitor, the new report into national education systems gives the first ranking of 48 countries and territories which are the ‘best’ at providing higher education. U21 institutions may also participate in a variety of initiatives within the consortium and several members have collaborated in the development of an innovative mobility programme: the Global Issues Programme (GIP). The GIP was created by the University of British Columbia (Canada), the University of Nottingham (UK), the University of Melbourne (Australia), the University of Queensland (Australia), Lund University (Sweden), and TEC de Monterrey (Mexico). The GIP is a multi-disciplinary undergraduate certificate programme with four core subjects and dozens of elective ones related to globalisation. Each of the participating institutions specialises in a core subject and offers electives based on their teaching strengths. Participating students (over 150 currently):

  • can mix and match online and on-campus course offerings (with an option to never have to leave their country);
  • are engaged internationally;
  • can complete the certificate as they study for their main degree;
  • do not have to pay additional fees (courses are offered on an exchange basis).

Universitas 21, and specific U21 initiatives such as GIP, illustrate the reach of a global consortium. But there are also more regionally focused consortia that engage institutions within a given country or countries, and then connect those groups with additional international partners, often with the goal of expanding participation in mobility programmes and operating exchange, internship, or joint studies programmes more efficiently.


Europe’s Erasmus Programme is one of the world’s largest and best-established mobility programmes. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Erasmus funds co-operation projects between higher education institutions across Europe, and is responsible for placing 230,000 students in study abroad programmes each year. The Erasmus Programme has had:

  • close to 3 million students participating in it since 1987;
  • over 300,000 higher education teachers and other staff participating in exchanges since 1997;
  • more than 4,000 higher education institutions in 33 countries participating, with more wanting to join.

And now, it is about to receive major new funding (€19 billion over seven years for an increase of roughly 170% over current funding levels) that is projected to fund the international mobility of five million students, faculty, and staff through 2020 under the umbrella of a consolidated Erasmus for All programme. There are numerous consortia working within the Erasmus Programme today, and the number and scope of these collaborations are both expected to expand considerably under the Erasmus for All programme. At the EAIE 2012 Conference session “Working as a consortium: benefits and challenges when organising placements,” it was revealed that 74 Erasmus Placement Consortia organised 5,736 placements in 13 countries in 2010-11, representing 14% of all Erasmus placements. One such consortium is FARO Global, which “offers students studying their final degree courses in Spanish universities the possibility of carrying out a period of work experience in companies situated in Europe, Asia, USA and Canada.” FARO Global comprises 79 Spanish universities. It was organised in 2002, at which point only 25% of Spanish universities offered international work placements. Since its formation, FARO Global has accomplished the following:

  • 3,500 placements
  • trainees from 72 universities (91% universities)
  • trainees from 89 degrees
  • 67% working six months after finishing their placement
  • 33% offered jobs by host companies
  • 36% working abroad
  • 77% working in the private sector

Those are impressive numbers when you consider that less than ten years ago, only a quarter of Spanish university students would have had the opportunity to gain work experience abroad.

Consortia as a tool for student mobility

The examples of U21 and FARO Global illustrate how higher education consortia can stimulate and support new or expanded mobility programmes. We should note, of course, that the participants in such initiatives are moving among consortium partners, and most often on a fee-neutral basis, and so they are not immediate recruitment prospects as such. But today’s exchange student may well be tomorrow’s fee-paying graduate or transfer student. And those same exchange students become international alumni who encourage additional demand for study abroad in their home countries. The challenge for educational marketers, therefore, may well be how to effectively integrate their recruiting efforts with increased consortia activity and the expanded student mobility programmes that will almost certainly result.

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