Joint degrees can help shift national policy on EU harmonisation

National legislation can be a barrier to offering one diploma from two universities, joint degree advocate says 

September 26, 2019
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Joint degrees can be a tool for pushing national education policy that supports greater harmonisation among Europe’s higher education systems, according to the head of an international collaboration agency.

Vidar Pedersen, head of the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (Diku), said the organisation is actively encouraging Norwegian universities to establish joint degrees – different from double degrees because they offer a single diploma bearing two university logos – in an effort to move towards the Bologna Process vision of greater coherence among higher education systems across Europe.

“We’re in favour of joint degrees with one diploma because we would like this to be a catalyst for streamlining national legislation to allow for [these types of certification],” said Pedersen, who presented on the topic at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference in Helsinki on 25 September.

However, he said Norway has seen a decrease in interest among universities for these programmes since they were first introduced in 2005 because national policy is “unintentionally prohibitive” to this type of international collaboration among universities. 

“Even in a country like Norway, where it is encouraged, you see that the administrative challenges can be so daunting that you give up along the way and decide to just go for the double degree,” Pedersen said, noting that complying with the legal requirements in different countries “is a big task”.

Other policy challenges include streamlining tuition fee payments between two countries, agreeing on how academic credits will be counted in two systems and even allowing foreign students to set up temporary bank accounts.

Joint degrees also tend to provide the same academic outcomes for students as double degrees or joint study programmes – like close academic cooperation on programme and course design, and embedded student mobility – adding to the apathy among academics to take them on.

Pedersen warns against double degrees, however. “We do share a slight concern that if there are too many double degrees you end up with a lot of students having two diplomas for what is actually one education,” he said. “It looks like they have two master’s degrees – one from this institution and one from this one.” 

The European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters Degree programme helped open the door to joint degrees but national legislation across the continent has a long way to go before they are fully integrated into higher education systems, he said. 

“Education in general is a national prerogative, it’s not something that the EU has any influence on, and I think that when you make national legislation for higher education you don’t necessarily have at the back of your mind: ‘we need to facilitate joint degrees’.”

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