Transnational course and programme collaboration and mobility



Transnational course and programme collaboration with different types mobility schemes can be organized by:
• Embedded mobility within a course;
• Exchange mobility;
• Networked programs and mobility windows;
• Embedded mobility in joint programmes.

The core of mobility is an international academic experience and therefore always related to a course or a curriculum as also conceived by the European Commission (European Commission, 2022a). Like all forms of education, mobility is subject of educational design, it is not an add-on to a course or programme. Also in the case of mobility, education is a design science (Laurillard, 2012; Laurillard, 2015).

Collaboration and mobility can take place under different schemes: within a course, exchange mobility (classical Erasmus programme), mobility windows, and embedded mobility in a joint programme (de Moor, Henderikx & Keustermans, 2012; Ubachs & Henderikx, 2012; Ubachs & Henderikx, 2018; Henderikx & Ubachs, 2019).
These different kinds of course and collaboration involve mobility schemes which can be physical, digital (eg synchronous hybrid or online/virtual) or blended, in accordance with the mode of delivery of the courses.

All the schemes mentioned can be applied in any cycle of higher education, i.e. bachelor, master or doctorate.

Embedded mobility within a course

A course can contain joint international activities or course components within a bilateral collaboration, network, mobility consortium or EUI alliance (Henderikx & Ubachs, 2019).

Joint learning activities/course components

Mobility can be embedded in a course through joint learning activities/components such as collaborative learning communities, international virtual seminars, blended intensive programs, labs, simulations, virtual classrooms, lecture series, think tanks, collaborative field observations/outdoor learning, data collection and observation projects /citizen science activities, internships and other learning assignments.

These learning activities can be organized in different modes of mobility: physical, synchronous hybrid, blended or online/virtual.

Teaching staff from partner universities or a mobility consortium design and develop the course and the course components together. Synchronous and asynchronous interactions between students and with staff are a core feature of this type of mobility.

Course-level mobility is often organized between two or a limited number of universities, in mobility consortia, EUI alliances, university networks and EIT partnerships, sometimes in collaboration with external stakeholders (eg industry, museums, international organisations).

An international course with embedded mobility can also consist entirely of such joint learning activities as can be the case, for example, with a blended intensive programme.


Embedded mobility within a course is rewarded with a credit and/or recognized as part of the course. It is stated in the course description and possibly on the diploma supplement. It can be optional or mandatory.
In some cases, this mobility counts towards an honours degree.


The Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) programme of the State University of New York connects students and teaching staff in different countries for collaborative projects and discussions as part of their courses, with an emphasis on cross-cultural and international diversity. Since its inception 15 years ago, COIL has been organized as a global network (SUNY, 2022).

Teaching staff from different institutions jointly design and organize the COIL learning experience and credits are awarded as this experience is part of the formal course. In these cases, the COIL scheme can be considered as a specific case of course-level embedded mobility as defined above, since it complies with the EU core concept of mobility.

The Virtual Exchanges in Higher Education and Youth action

The Virtual Exchanges in Higher Education and Youth activities, funded by the European Commission, promote intercultural dialogue and soft skills development between individuals from third countries and EU Member States (European Commission, 2022a), see also section 2.

Many of these international and intercultural educational activities are organized in a non-formal setting without physical mobility in a youth or educational context.

The European Commission suggests that they could be equally integrated into formal higher education courses. As such, they can indeed be a learning activity in the context of course-level digital mobility or part of a blended intensive programme, as among other things also suggested by UNICOllaboration (Helm & O’Dowd, 2020).

It should be noted that virtual mobility in education must always be conceived as essentially interactive, like all education, which is also the core of the EU Virtual Exchange Programme. This interactivity implies interactions between staff and students and between students.

Guidelines for designing embedded course-level mobility

Embedded course-level mobility should be designed in alignment with the course objectives and the competencies to be achieved in the course (constructive alignment). The mobility should be part if the course plan.

The joint learning activities should be designed on the basis of principles of course or microlearning

When the mobility path as such is part of a programme, the constructive alignment can extend to the objectives of the curriculum.

These principles are explained in the eBook on the design and development of joint micro-credential courses and micro-learning units (Henderikx, P., Ubachs, G. & Antonaci, A., 2022c).

Support of the European Commission

Some activities related to course-level mobility may be supported by Erasmus+, Blended Intensive
Programmes (European Commission, 2022a), where groups of students or staff will undertake a short physical mobility abroad combined with a mandatory virtual component enabling collaborative online learning exchange and teamwork. The virtual component brings the learners together online to work jointly and simultaneously on specific assignments that are integrated in the blended intensive program and count towards the total learning outcomes.

Blended intensive programs for students and staff include a short-term physical mobility abroad combined with a compulsory virtual component that allows for joint online learning exchange and teamwork. The physical mobility of staff and students can be supported by Erasmus+ mobility grants.

In Erasmus+, blended intensive programs must award at least 3 ECTS credits to students.

A blended intensive program can also stand on its own in a curriculum.

Course-level mobility activities can also be supported under the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchanges in Higher education and Youth action Programmes (European Commission, 2022a), provided they are recognized in the formal framework of the course (learning outcomes, ECTS).

Exchange mobility for individual students

The “classical” Erasmus exchange programme

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 host and home university agree (Institutional Agreement on a Course Catalogue). This is the most common mobility scheme in Europe and directly supported by the Erasmus+ mobility programme. ECTS credits and grade points are mutually recognized (see also section 2 of this eBook).

During the COVID crisis, digital mobility modes in many cases replaced physical mobility. Universities and EUI alliances now present catalogs of digital courses (synchronous hybrid, blended or online distance) for mobility. However, these offerings are still limited (Henderikx & Ubachs, 2019).

In the case of online/virtual mbility, this exchange can be based on MOOCs (Sciences Sorbonne-
Université, 2022)

Guidelines for the design of exchange mobility

Institutional internationalisation strategies

Universities develop internationalization strategies to ensure that all students have the opportunity to gain international academic experience (see section 6 of this eBook). Mobility is an important part of such strategies, which are shared by faculties and teaching staff. Internationalization services at central and decentralized levels provide support in their implementation.

Initiating exchange mobility

In most cases, exchange mobility is initiated bottom-up by teaching staff on the basis of research contacts or subject-related networking, and consolidated by the relevant programme board, faculty and the institution. It can also be stimulated from above by university leadership collaborating in university networks or EUI alliances.

Eligible courses

Eligible courses for mobility are selected at the programme level and then adopted in institutional
agreements between universities. Programme committees ensure that the selected programmes have a comparable profile in terms of content and level.

Mobility tools

In some cases, faculties enter into a global agreement with another faculty and students propose mobility courses for approval by the programme committee. In such a procedure, a mobility tool can be used to facilitate the student’s choice of courses and to ensure the recognition of credits in the home programme.

Technology infrastructure and support

In the case of digital mobility, it is necessary that students have access to the LMS of the host institution and that it is equipped with means of communication suitable for teaching and learning interactions.
If necessary, support should be given to the students in using these technologies.

Learning agreement

The courses to be taken at the receiving university are in any case subject to a learning agreement between the student, the sending university and the receiving university (European Commission, 2022a). As part of a fully digital mobility management, universities are now rolling out a mandatory online learning agreement, which includes all mobility and the approval of the sending and the receiving institution (European Commission, 2022c).

European Commission support

Physical and blended mobility

The European Commission supports blended mobility, as it broadens the participation in mobility programs for all interested students. The virtual participation part can contain synchronous hybrid and online distance components (see section 4, modes of mobility), according to the teaching mode in the receiving university.

In the Erasmus+ programme, it is required that the mobility takes physically place in another country than the country of residence, possibly combined with a longer period of virtual participation. It may take the form of study and traineeships or apprenticeships and may include preparatory activities, such as training in the host language, as well as follow-up activities. The duration of physical student mobility can range from 2 to 12 months. Any student may combine a shorter physical mobility with a virtual component (European Commission, 2022a)

In addition, any student may participate in blended intensive programmes (European Commission,
In these cases, physical mobility must last between 5 days and 30 days and be combined with a compulsory virtual component facilitating collaborative online learning exchange and teamwork. A blended mobility for studies must award a minimum of 3 ECTS credits. Virtual mobility is defined as a set of activities supported by ICT, including e-learning, that realise or facilitate international, collaborative experiences in a context of teaching and learning.

Virtual mobility

Virtual mobility can also be organized by universities without a physical component. In this case, the Erasmus+ programme will not fund this activity.

Mobility windows in networked programmes

In the case of international curriculum cooperation in a partnership or network, mobility windows can be organized that offer students the opportunity to follow a minor program or a coherent package of electives at a partner university. In addition to ECTS credits, universities can award double degrees for such networked programs under certain conditions (Henderikx & Ubachs, 2019).

Mobility packages/minor programmes

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 networked curriculum. Students enroll in the curriculum at the home university and can opt for a mobility window / minor program at a partner university in the network, which is fully recognized by the home university.

Mobility windows in networked programmes are optional.

By mobility windows, the curricula of all partners universities are expanded and enriched with specializations/minor programmes. Window mobility can be organized face-to-face or digitally (blended, synchronous hybrid-multi-campus, online distance), depending on how the courses are taught in the host university.

ECTS credits or double degrees

The courses in mobility windows are awarded with ECTS credits as in the usual Erasmus+ schemes (exchange mobility). Double degrees can be awarded when the volume of learning of mobility window/minor programme at the host university is substantial, e.g. 15-30 ECTS for a master’s degree, depending on the policies of the universities involved.

Double degrees are certified on separate documents issued by each university. Each certificate must be signed by the competent authority of the institution concerned and officially recognized in the countries where the different issuing institutions are located as defined in the Erasmus+ Programme Guide (European Commission, 2022a).

Institutional and consortium agreements on networked programmes

Mobility windows can be organized through the usual institutional and learning agreements in the framework of the Erasmus+ programme. Mobility windows are often organized multilaterally in the framework of mobility consortia, EUI alliances, EIT KICs, strategic partnerships or collaborative partnerships. In these networked curricula, students follow their main programme at the home university and a mobility window/course package/minor programme at a partner university in the network.

Institutional or consortium agreements on networked curricula should relate to each of the mobility windows at universities within the network and not just to a catalog of individual courses.

Guidelines for designing networked curricula and mobility windows

Strong involvement at curriculum level

Mobility windows require a stronger involvement and engagement between universities than exchange mobility. Networked curricula with mobility windows are usually the result of previous research and innovation collaboration, or of existing educational collaboration or exchange mobility between the partner universities.

On the other hand, organizing mobility windows through networked programmes is much less complex than organizing joint programmes (see below), which are fully co-developed and owned by a consortium of universities with one joint student enrollment, and which can award a joint diploma (see below) signed jointly by these universities.

Aligning mobility windows in a networked curriculum

To make these mobility windows or minor programs complementary to the main curriculum of the partner universities, curriculum boards must coordinate the content and structure of the mobility windows. They must fit into overarching curriculum goals and strategies, requiring ongoing dialogue between curriculum boards. In the EUI alliances and other networks, these strategies are embedded and facilitated in broader cross-institutional strategies.

Micro-credentials as mobility windows

Curriculum boards may consider including micro-credential courses and or programmes as mobility windows in networked programs. They must therefore fit in with the main curriculum of the partner universities. This can lead to the positive result that both regular students and working students, who bring practical experience, participate in a mobility window.

European Commission support

Mobility windows can be funded by the same Erasmus+ mobility program as for student exchange. Mobility windows can also (partly) consist of a blended intensive programme, financed by the Erasmus+ Programme (European Commission, 2022a).

The design and development of mobility windows and networked curricula are often prepared in curriculum boards of EUI alliances or Erasmus+ Partnerships for Collaboration through which funding is provided, while student and staff mobility itself is funded by the Erasmus+ Mobility programme.

Embedded mobility in joint programmes

Joint design, development, implementation

Joint programmes with embedded mobility are jointly designed, delivered, owned and fully recognized by two or more universities, offering a joint degree (Henderikx & Ubachs, 2019).

Students register for the entire programme and follow courses at two or more partner institutions.
By the nature of a joint programme, mobility is mandatory.
Students register with a single registration for the entire study programme at the joint universities and pay a single registration fee.

Most typical examples are the Erasmus Mundus joint master programmes.

Joint programmes with embedded mobility can be linearly organized in successive mobilities in two or more universities. Over the course of the program, they can also branch out into different specialization programmes at different universities, all depending on the design by the consortium.

A joint diploma is awarded to a student after successful completion of the programme, signed by the authorities of the participating institutions on one document. It should be officially recognized in the countries where the participating institutions are located (European Commission, 2022a).

In the case of joint curricula and embedded mobility, the institutional and learning agreements cover the entire programme.

Guidelines for the design and development of joint programmes with embedded mobility

Joint programs are organized by a consortium of universities, in most cases based on strong research collaboration in a particular discipline.
For the design and development of joint master programs, joint micro-credential programmes, and joint micro-credential courses and microlearning units, separate eBooks are published:

• eBook on the design and development of joint master’s programmes:
• eBook on the design and development of joint micro-credential programmes:
• eBook on the design and development of joint micro-credential courses and microlearning units:

European Commission support

Joint programs may be organized under the Erasmus Mundus programme (European Commission,
2022a). The main goal of Erasmus Mundus is to attract international (non-EU) students. It is mandatory to follow the physical mobility pathways of the programme, but curriculum boards may organize some parts of the programme in a digital mobility mode (e.g. synchronous hybrid multi-campus or blended), e.g. a common lecture series, joint virtual seminars, learning communities, online projects, etc. The mobility of international students is funded by EU scholarships. European students can fund their participation through the Erasmus+ programme.

Joint programs can also be organized with support from the Erasmus+ EUI alliances or Erasmus+
partnerships for cooperation (European Commission, 2022a). In this case, the design and development of the joint program is funded from these sources. The mobility of staff and students themselves is then financed by the usual Erasmus+ mobility exchange programmes.

Blended intensive programmes, funded by Erasmus+, can be part of joint programmes.

Joint doctoral programs can be prepared in Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, including scholarships (Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions, 2022).

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