Models and guidelines for digital collaboration and mobility in European higher education: an overview



This eBook on models and guidelines for digital collaboration and mobility in European higher education is about:
• the European concept of educational collaboration and mobility;
• more flexible and accessible internationalization by integrating new modes of mobility;
• transnational course and programme collaboration and mobility;
• benefits of digital mobility;
• sustainable institutional policies for international collaboration and mobility.

The European concept of educational collaboration and mobility

• Since 1987, the European concept of educational cooperation and mobility has been largely influenced by successive Erasmus programmes. The exchange programme set up at that time has no equal in the world.
In this concept, the core aim of any mobility is to provide students with an international academic experience, related to a formal course or curriculum in their home university. The mobility is based on an agreement between institutions and a learning agreement, which guarantees the rights of the student. Such agreements can also be concluded by mobility consortia.
• With the proliferation of digital approaches to teaching and learning, digital mobility formats have been developed, involving large or small groups of students, two or more universities, and creating virtual campuses in university networks or European Universities Initiative alliances.
• With the new opportunities for blended mobility, the Erasmus+ programme aims at mobility participation rates of more than 50% of students at European universities.

Modes of mobility

• Following the emergency practices during the Corona crisis, innovative digital pedagogical approaches are further developed according to current teaching and learning design principles. Key design approaches are put into practice in parallel, but can also be combined in courses and curricula, especially synchronous hybrid teaching and learning, blended teaching and learning, and asynchronous online and distance learning.
• With the increasing number of digital courses and programmes, more digital mobility can be organised. The mode of mobility should then be directly related to the digital teaching and learning formats applied in the course or programme of the receiving university.
• The different mobility formats result in specific opportunities for flexible educational collaboration. Making international collaboration and mobility flexible is likely to be a groundbreaking solution to create mobility for all, especially for university alliances that aim for 50% and more mobility of their students in combination with their green campus policy.
• ICT modes of teaching and learning amplify the potential of international education and mobility by creating flexibility (independence of place and time). The design and sequence of mobility modes (physical, synchronous hybrid, blended and online) will be based on principles of international curriculum and course design.
• European policies support educational collaboration and blended mobility.

Transnational course and programme collaboration and mobility

• The core of mobility is an international academic experience and therefore always related to a course or a curriculum as also defined by the European Commission. Different kinds of course and collaboration can involve mobility schemes which can be physical, digital or blended, in accordance with the mode of delivery of the courses.
• Mobility can be embedded within a course: through joint learning activities/components in a partnership with bilateral or network agreements, such as learning communities, virtual classrooms, international virtual seminars or intensive programmes, joint labs, simulations, lecture series, think tanks, field observations/outdoor learning, projects, internships and other learning assignments. These activities are jointly designed by a partnership. Digital interactions between students and with staff are central and can be synchronous and asynchronous;
• In exchange mobility (the “classical” Erasmus exchange programme), individual students choose a study abroad at a host university, according to an individual mobility arrangement (Erasmus Learning Agreement) for courses on which the sending and receiving university agree (Institutional Agreement on a Course Catalog). This is the most common mobility scheme in Europe. Physical and blended mobility are directly supported by the Erasmus+ mobility programme. ECTS credits and grade points are mutually
• In a networked programme with mobility windows, students enroll in the curriculum at the home university and opt for a mobility window / minor program at a partner university in the network, which is fully recognized by the home university. A mobility window consists of a coherent package of courses, aimed at knowledge and skills in a specific domain, in which a university specializes and which it offers as a mobility package/minor programme to partner universities in a curriculum network. Mobility windows can be organized in physical or digital modes.
• In a joint programme with embedded mobility, students register with one registration for the entire study programme in a consortium of universities and pay a single registration fee.
Joint programmes are jointly designed, delivered, owned by two or more universities, offering a joint degree. Students successively take courses at two or more partner institutions. Programmes can be linear or branched with different options. Due to the nature of a joint programme, mobility is mandatory. Mobility in joint programmes can be physical or blended, although in Erasmus Mundus, physical mobility is obligatory with possibly some virtual components.

Benefits of digital mobility

• Both physical and digital mobility bring benefits to students, with an international academic experience at the heart of all mobility. Mobility also leads to international skills and attitudes and contributes to personal development and working in an international context. In addition, physical mobility provides an immersion in another country with specific benefits for students.
• Physical and digital mobility contribute to the quality of courses and curricula. International collaboration and the use of technology-enhanced pedagogies have increased the accessibility, interactivity and personalization of international curricula, even when courses are delivered in virtual spaces.
The fact that this is achievable for 50% and even for everyone is an unprecedented asset for international higher education for students facing global challenges.
• University ecosystems are increasingly hybrid and international, combining physical and virtual spaces. Next to individual universities, the alliances of the European University Initiative strengthen this development. The virtual campus makes the university ubiquitous and truly international. It promotes academic collaboration and improves access for all to international education and research through physical and digital mobility schemes.

Sustainable institutional policies for international collaboration and mobility

• In European educational collaboration and mobility, a truly European dimension is integrated.

From a student’s perspective, this means that the student’s international academic experience is embedded in European values and that European citizenship is promoted, related to these values.

From the institutional perspective, the future of European universities will be transnational, as already evidenced by university networks and EUI alliances. International cooperation and mobility form a basis for strengthening and even integrating research and innovation and the nexus with teaching and learning.

From an EU perspective, transnational cooperation and mobility contribute to the creation of the European Education Area. Digitization of education and mobility will support transnational education for the benefit of all students.
Through the creation of the European Education Area, the EU also promotes mutual learning on policy reforms of national higher education systems. The Digital Education Action Plan and the European Digital Education Hub support this

• The concept of comprehensive internationalization emphasizes the need to develop an institution-wide approach to internationalization. International strategies must be embraced by all institutional leadership and shared with all faculties, teaching staff, support services and students to give an international dimension to the entire university.
• Internationalization starts bottom-up with international contacts and networking by teaching and research staff. By integrating these networks into internationalization policy at faculty level, collaboration and mobility will be streamlined and organised. This ultimately results in structural cooperation and mobility.
At the institutional level, university leadership is increasingly taking collaborative and mobility initiatives within the framework of institutional networks and alliances of the European Universities Initiative (EUI). This more top-down approach can only succeed if support is found among the faculties and lecturers.
Both approaches require continuous alignment where bottom-up and top-down processes meet.
• Institutions have to fulfill the institutional conditions to make international collaboration and mobility successful. Next to leadership and institutional strategies, this includes the continuing professional development of teaching staff; ICT infrastructure which permits international interaction with staff and students in a (multiple) partnership; educational, ICT, administrative and legal support services; and the integration of internationalization in internal quality assurance system. To facilitate processes, the university should roll-out European initiatives such as the European Student Card and Erasmus Without Paper.

Setting up a mobility project

The European Commission supports universities to carry out projects promoting different types of mobility, all related courses and curricula. A mobility project will consist of the following stages:
• Planning
• Preparation
• Implementation
• Follow-up
These projects can involve non-academic partners and be spread over time.

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Models and guidelines for digital collaboration
and mobility in European higher education