JDAZ General Background

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General background

This chapter provides a brief background on the development of joint programmes to describe the operational context. It covers the influence of the Bologna Process, the international visibility and strategic interests of joint programmes and the available financing instruments.

Key messages for practitioners

The strategic importance of joint programmes is strong and increasing in a global context, both at international inter-governmental level, at national governmental level and at institutional level.

Joint programmes as part of the Bologna Process

The inter-governmental Bologna Process, launched in 1999 with the signing of the Bologna declaration, is one of the main voluntary processes at European level, as it is today being implemented in all 47 states that make up the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The Bologna Process is meant to ensure more comparable, compatible and coherent higher education systems in Europe. Officially, the term Bologna Process has now been replaced by referring to 'the implementation of the European Higher Education Area'.

The Bologna activities have introduced transparency instruments to support student mobility, such as the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) and the Diploma Supplement (DS).

Joint programmes have been encouraged by the Bologna Process and listed on the agenda of all the Bologna conferences since Prague 2001. During the Bologna conference in Berlin in 2003, ministers explicitly agreed on supporting the development and quality assurance of integrated curricula leading to joint degrees. References to recognition of joint degrees were included in 2005 and in 2007. Joint programmes support various Bologna action lines, such as student mobility, joint curriculum development and joint quality assurance. In the Bucharest Communiqué, ministers committed to 'recognise quality assurance decisions of EQAR-registered agencies on joint and double degree programmes'.

A draft European Approach for Quality Assurance of Joint Programmes will be presented for adoption by ministers in Yerevan in May 2015, and will commit governments to allow single programme accreditation procedures on that basis.

There is no accurate account of the number of joint programmes. However, the 2009 Bologna Stocktaking Working Group estimated that there are 2,500 joint programmes within the European Higher Education Area. Estimated percentages of higher education institutions involved in joint programmes and awarding joint degrees can be found in the Bologna Process Implementation Report 2012 (p.43).

Activities supported by several EU-funded programmes have contributed to the further development and international expansion of the Bologna Process. Joint curricula were initially supported in the Lifelong Learning Programme through Erasmus. Later joint programme initiatives were financed through programmes such as Erasmus Mundus, EU-USA Atlantis, EU-Canada, the ICI-ECP programme with industrialised countries, and Tempus.

International scope of and strategic interest in joint programme cooperation

The International Association of Universities (IAU) conducts regular surveys on institutional strategic priorities within internationalisation. In the 2010 IAU Survey on internationalisation, higher education institutions ranked joint programmes as a slightly less important internationalisation activity than in 2005.

The conclusion of the Bologna Process Implementation Report 2012 is that several of the 47 Bologna countries have reviewed their legislation to allow and encourage joint programmes, and that the number of students in these programmes is increasing. The EU is continuing its support for international joint programmes within the Erasmus+ programme in the budget period 2014-2020, with an increased budget as compared to the Erasmus Mundus programme.

The concept of joint programmes as a means for internationalisation has spread globally, probably in response to European developments. For instance, the Institute of International Education's transatlantic study (2009) pointed out that US institutions are most likely to have joint programmes with European partners than with institutions in any other region. Another main finding of this report was that among transatlantic partnerships, joint programmes leading to the awarding of two or more diplomas (double/multiple degree programmes) are much more common than joint programmes leading to one diploma (joint degree programmes), most probably due to legal and administrative challenges related to the awarding of a joint diploma.

For Latin America, the 2006 Asturias declaration stressed the development of joint programmes as a priority area for higher education collaboration with EU countries, and as a way to facilitate academic staff, researcher and student mobility. However, in a global context, according to the 2010 International Association of Universities survey, Latin America is lagging behind Africa and also slightly behind the Middle East in terms of numbers of joint and double degree programmes. A strong Latin-American trend is bachelor-level joint programmes between private institutions and master-level joint programmes with public institutions.

In Japan and China, jointly developed collaborative degree programmes have witnessed significant growth during the last decade, as seen in the increase in numbers and government support for this kind of internationalisation activity. 2009 saw the launch of the Campus Asia programme, a regional initiative similar to the European Erasmus Mundus programme.

A JICA Research Institute survey (2010) shows that there were 260 double degree programmes at 85 Japanese Universities in 2008 and senior international officers expect collaborative degree programmes to become more common in the future.

In 2009-2010, an Asian regional research project, titled 'Cross-border Higher Education for Regional Integration and the Labor Market in East Asia' (ASEAN, China, Korea, Japan, Australia), found that:

  • improving the quality of education is perceived as a more important outcome of collaborative degree programmes than of traditional forms of simple student mobility;
  • most programmes are at master level and within social science, business, law (as compared to business and engineering in Europe);
  • it is expected that cross-border higher education (including joint programmes) will lead to added value in academic and political terms, but that they do not lead to financial profit;
  • the risks perceived are within administrative capacity, ensuring quality and regulation for credit transfer.

There is no global estimate of the numbers of joint programmes and very few statistical surveys have been conducted. However, the most extensive survey done by the Institute of International Education (IIE, 2013) reports that almost all of the participating 245 higher education institutions in 28 countries have plans to develop more programmes, with 95% of the respondents reporting that joint and double degree programmes are part of their institution’s internationalisation strategy.

The development and implementation of joint programmes is mentioned in several European and national educational strategy papers, and also in the internationalisation strategies of individual higher education institutions (HEIs).

The INTERUV project has conducted a survey in 14 European countries, to trace the visibility of joint programmes in institutional strategies. The results are available on its website.

Regional and national initiatives financing joint programmes

Several regional and national initiatives highlight the strategic importance given to the joint programmes as instruments to increase the internationalisation of the higher education sector. Regional financing instruments include, among others, the Nordic Masters programme funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Mediterranean Office for Youth, and the Pan-African University funded by the African Union.

Examples of nationally funded bilateral initiatives are the French-Italian University, the Finnish-Russian Cross-Border University, and the German-Dutch EUREGIO programme.

In some countries (such as Norway), separate national government support is available to develop joint programmes, and in some cases the European structural funds can be used for this purpose.


Key sources

Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, European Commission, EU programmes' Executive Agency homepage.

Erasmus Mundus, EMQA Erasmus Mundus Quality Assessment 2012, Handbook of Excellence Doctoral Programmes. Brussels, Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency, 2012, p.66.

Eurydice. The European Higher Education Area in 2012: The Bologna Process Implementation Report, 2012.

Knight, J., Joint and Double Degree Programmes: Vexing Questions and Emerging Issues, OBHE, 2008.

Other sources

Knight, J., Doubts and Dilemmas with Double Degree Programs, in: “Globalisation and Internationalisation of Higher Education” [online monograph]. Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC). Vol. 8, No 2, pp. 297-312. UOC. 2011. [Accessed: 16/10/2012]

Kuder, M., N. Lemmens and D. Obst. Global Perspectives on International Joint and Double Degree programs, Institute of International Education, New York, 2013.

Asturias declaration (Latin America), 2006.

Banks, C., M. Kuder and D. Obst. Joint and Double Degrees in The Global Context: Report on an International Survey, Institute of International Education, New York, 2011.

Gacel- Ávila, G., Joint and Double Degree Programmes in Latin America: Patterns and Trends, OBHE, 2009.

International Association of Universities. Internationalization of Higher Education - New Directions, New Challenges. Paris, IAU, 2005.

International Association of Universities. Internationalization of Higher Education – Global Trends, Regional Perspectives. Paris, IAU, 2010.

INTERUV website

The Consejo Universitario Iberoamericano (CUIB) and the European University Association (EUA).

Kong, L., ‘Engaging globally through joint and double degree programmes: a view from Singapore’, in: Global Higher Education, 2008.

Kuder, M., and D. Obst. Joint and double degree programs in the transatlantic context, Institute of International Education & Freie Universitaet Berlin, 2009.

Kuroda, K., Y. Takako & K. Kyuwon. Cross-border higher education for regional integration and labor market in East Asia, ASEAN, 2010.

Kuroda, K. ‘Cross-border higher education in ASEAN plus three: Results of JICA-RI surveys on leading universities and cross-border collaborative degree programs’, PowerPoint presentation given at the International Asia-Europe Conference on Enhancing Balanced mobility, Bangkok, 5-6 March 2012.

Matross Helms, R. Mapping International Joint and Dual Degrees: U.S. Program Profiles and Perspectives, American Council on Education, Washington D.C., 2014.

McMahon, F. Joint and Double / Multiple degrees in Ireland, Higher Education Authority, 2013.