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CIVIS advocates for clear conceptualisation and criteria for a Joint European Degree

6 March 2024
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What do we mean by a European Degree? In a recent position paper, the CIVIS Alliance advocates for clear conceptual harmonisation in both the definition and the formats it can take.
For CIVIS, 'While current approaches tend to mostly favour joint programmes that lead to the award of a single joint degree by multiple providers (based on some criteria in use for the EDL process), we recommend that the focus remains at programme level'.

Setting innovative and relevant criteria for a Joint European Degree will be key to achieve results, says CIVIS, drawing on the expertise developed in the SMARTT project, which brings together four European University Alliances, 29 higher education institutions, and 15 ministries and quality assurance institutions, brought together to analyse, test, and pilot the new European Degree Label criteria (EDL).

CIVIS advances 11 policy recommendations to insure innovative and relevant criteria are at the centre of the design of a Joint European Degree. They include the need to clarify criteria such as “transnational” and “transparency of learning outcomes”, to enhance virtual mobility and the connection to the labour market and to include a new criterion relating to institutional development of the academic and research components through the joint degrees, with a potential integration with the European Research Area, among other recommendations.

From conceptualisation to implementation: getting things done

To put in place a successful European Degree will take a strong and clearly defined purpose, that makes sense both at the European and national levels, a new financial model to support joint degrees, financial incentives for institutions that need to align with the European Degree Label criteria and integration with existing academic systems and infrastructure, CIVIS points out.

It is essential, based on the results of the pilot projects and the full roll-out of the label, that continuous work is done to define a coherent approach to the European Degree and to articulate it in relation to the higher education system and the particularities of each member state and higher education institution”.

Overcoming existing obstacles

Engineering Library students - Photo Corrado Bonoraption, SUR

There will be obstacles to tackle, says CIVIS, supported on the experience of the piloting phase conducted in the SMARTT project. They involve the need to develop guidelines for consistent learning outcomes, and the challenge to ensure curriculum relevance through continuous feedback surveys at the European level, among other elements.

For CIVIS, structural barriers for degree recognition and transferability need to be addressed, 'through dialogue and support of legislative reforms at both the national and European levels, to streamline professional skill-validation processes and to enhance the reputation of the European Degrees'.

Another key recommendation promotes that teaching and learning design and practices need to consider historical interpretations and cultural sensitivities. New programmes, proposes CIVIS, need to strengthen multilingual learning environments and the development of language skills for students and teachers.

For evidence-based policy actions

CIVIS insists on the importance of considering the results and outcomes of the pilot projects that support the design and development of a European Degree (such as the SMARTT project) and the use of their results and outputs in the establishment of a coherent implementation process in cooperation with European Universities Alliances and the member states.

The upcoming European Commission Communication on a Joint European Degree is highly expected and welcomed, however, a structured and open dialogue with the relevant policymakers, stakeholders, and actors at all levels is essential to fully integrate the results of the piloting process. Such a policy initiative can be fully endorsed and supported if it reflects the shared vision of a wide academic community and the aims of a strong EHEA.

11 steps towards a Joint European Degree: policy recommendations

To establish a cohesive and effective system that facilitates the development, recognition, and quality assurance of joint degree programmes within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), some preliminary recommendations are proposed here, to guide the discussions and implementation processes of a Joint European Degree at European and national levels:

  1. Harmonisation with existing policies and frameworks: Align the EDL with existing European educational frameworks, particularly the Bologna Process, ECTS, and the European Quality Assurance Framework to ensure compatibility and ease of integration. Leverage existing tools like the Diploma Supplement to provide detailed information about EDL-accredited programmes.
  2. Quality assurance and accreditation standards: Develop specific quality assurance and accreditation standards for EDL-accredited programmes, ensuring they adhere to the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG). Facilitate the involvement of EQAR-registered agencies in the evaluation and accreditation processes for joint programmes.
  3. Transparency: Include detailed information on programme structure, learning outcomes, assessment methods, and accreditation status. This transparency is crucial for student decision-making and stakeholder recognition.
  4. Flexible yet structured framework: Create a framework that allows for flexibility in programme design to cater to different academic disciplines while maintaining a structured approach to ensure consistency in quality and delivery. Allow for flexibility within the EDL framework to accommodate the evolving nature of higher education and the specific needs of different academic areas. Develop a standardised template for the EDL that accommodates the diversity of joint programmes while ensuring key information is uniformly presented. This includes degree titles, institutions involved, language of instruction, and mobility requirements.
  5. Digitalisation and technological integration: Leverage digital technologies to facilitate the administration of the EDL, including digital certification, online platforms for information dissemination, and virtual learning components in programmes. Ensure the EDL's format is digitally compatible, facilitating its integration into various institutional systems and enabling easy access and verification by stakeholders, including employers and other educational institutions.
  6. Funding and incentives: Provide financial support and incentives for institutions to develop and implement EDL-accredited programmes, including grants, research funding, and enhanced programme visibility. Implement policy measures that provide incentives for institutions to adopt the EDL, such as simplified accreditation processes, and recognition in national and European ranking systems.
  7. Enhanced mobility and cooperation: Promote policies that facilitate student and staff mobility, including simplified visa processes and recognition of qualifications across EU M-member states. Encourage collaborations and partnerships beyond the EU to elevate the global standing of the EDL, its relevance and appeal to non-EU institutions. Prioritise student mobility and learning experiences in the EDLs design, ensuring that the label reflects a commitment to student-centred teaching and learning methodologies.
  8. Inclusivity and accessibility: Implement policies to ensure the EDL is inclusive, adapted to diverse student populations, and promotes accessibility for disadvantaged or underrepresented groups.
  9. Data collection and research: Conduct regular research and data collection to monitor the impact of the EDL on European higher education, labour market alignment, and student mobility.
  10. Stakeholder engagement and feedback: Engage a wide range of stakeholders in the ongoing development and refinement of the EDL, including academic institutions, students, employers, and policymakers. Establish a feedback mechanism to continually assess the effectiveness and relevance of the EDL.
  11. Promotion and awareness campaigns: Implement EU-wide promotion and awareness campaigns to highlight the value of the EDL and its accredited programmes to prospective students, employers, and the broader community.

List photo (main News menu): Claudio Piva, SUR