Administrative support for internationalisation – mobility agreements and joint degree programmes

Kristi Barcus (Univeristy of Oslo, Hedda)

Kristi Barcus
(Univeristy of Oslo / Hedda)

In this entry, Hedda’s own Kristi Barcus (University of Oslo) shares her expertise about working with internationalisation within the study administration. While we often hear about the importance of internationalisation as a strategic objective for universities, an administrative perspective provides valuable insights into the specific measures that can be taken to assure that such policies are effectively put into practice. 

Since I started working at the University of Oslo in 2006, internationalization has become an ever increasing “hot topic”.  The university even dedicated an entire year to internationalization, calling 2012 “internationalization year”. UiOs Strategy 2020 has set a strong emphasis on internationalization both within its teaching and research activities. But what does internationalization mean to a study administrator and what are some ways in which administrators contribute to internationalization at universities?

Student Mobility

Working in study administration, internationalization is to a large extent linked to student mobility. During the recent SIU Internationalization conference in Trondheim the rector of the University of Bergen, Dag Rune Olsen, reflected on the importance of student mobility.  He said, “If a student doesn’t plan on studying aboard during their degree, maybe they should reevaluate their reason for studying. (own translation)” The idea that all students should spend time abroad during their studies is often a core aspect of internationalization policies at universities. The expectation that having an international dimension of a study program is valuable not only for the student and her future, but also to the university itself is an important factor. But how do you motivate students to study abroad? What can an administrator do to facilitate this?

Students often express that one reason why they don’t study abroad is because it is difficult to know which courses will be approved when they return. This is a challenge that the administration has tried to tackle at my department. One way we have approached this is through the development of exchange agreements and “package solutions” for students. The latter means that students are given a list of pre-approved courses that they can take at specific universities prior to studying abroad. This ensures that the courses that have been completed will be accepted upon return, thus making it easier for them to study abroad. We have seen an increase of students using these exchange packages, so the measure has been a successful approach. Getting students to spend a semester abroad does not have to be so difficult, as long as the steps are taken to be proactive and strong cooperation is developed between universities, often done through the administration. As such, the role of administration in facilitating this kind of cooperation is essential.

Increasing Joint Degrees

In addition to traditional student mobility agreements that are usually focused on spending only a period of time abroad, a recent trend is an increased focus on developing joint degrees. A joint degree programme is the essence of internationalization; multiple institutions coming together across national borders to work together in the establishment of a common programme and degree. There is a shared responsibility of the entire programme, both from an academic perspective but also from an administrative perspective.The University of Oslo has set a goal to increase the number of joint degree programmes to 20 by 2016, and one could argue that this is a very ambitious goal.

While the obvious benefit is that joint degrees offer a built-in internationalization dimension, the drawback is that the development of such programmes can be a time consuming process, requiring a lot of resources. However, one can do things to make sure that the time and resources are used in the most efficient manner. One way to do that is by including administrators systematically throughout all stages of developing such programme.

One common mistake that is made while developing and planning a joint degree programme is not including the administrative staff from the beginning.  It often occurs that the administration is brought into such a cooperation after the planning and development stage is nearly finalized. This can result in additional work needed to be done in order to fit the programme into the national and local regulations at each institution.  When only academics are involved, there can be the chance of developing a programme that is not in sync with the most recent regulations regarding study programmes. While some may say that administrators are too hung up on regulations, they should be included from the beginning in order to assure a smooth process and that all the legal and regulative aspects of offering a study programme are followed. Nothing is worse than spending months on developing a joint degree programme only to find out that it cannot operate due to legal or regulative issues that could have been prevented. There are many administrative staff members that have knowledge about agreements, joint degrees and regulations – use the competencies and expertize of those around.

The importance of Internationalization

Internationalization is a current “hot topic” and will be one for some time. The development of international cooperation through the use of joint degrees and mobility agreements is one way that universities can increase their international profile. An active internationalization policy is a prerequisite to being a leading university in modern globalized world. One must not forget to involve the administration in the development of such a policy.