Educational Mobility Beyond the 'New Europe': The Legacy of Erasmus (Hopkins)

Educational Mobility Beyond The "New Europe"
The Legacy of ERASMUS

John D. Hopkins
International Educator (NAFSA), Autumn 1991

The 1990s promise an integrated Europe full of new relationships and opportunities. We have already witnessed a unified Germany, the Channel Tunnel linkage, and the revival of democracy and free market economies in the East. Political and monetary union seem imminent as the ECU is quoted alongside the franc and the pound. Industry, science and education throughout the Continent are creating new alliances. These are exciting times for Europe and Europeans, full of charge and promise.

Plato observed that the direction in which education starts us will determine our futures. Nowhere have the dynamics of European unification been more evident than through the massive initiatives for mobility in higher education launched during the past four years by ERASMUS, the European Community Action Scheme For the Mobility of University Students. Students from previously insular educational systems throughout the Continent are now increasingly able to study across linguistic and pedagogical frontiers, with full equivalency for credits earned in foreign institutions.

ERASMUS Within a Uniting Europe

ERASMUS is a cornerstone of the larger structure of European unity. Political and economic union after 1992 will create a single European market. The managers and workers of Europe's future must traverse the boundaries of previous disunity. Linguistic and cultural differences will persist, but they cannot remain barriers to the movement of labor and expertise.

Increased mobility in training and education is essential. Through study within the other languages and cultures, future managers will gain better access to the new unified European workplace. Through enhanced mobility, universities will gain a more productive networking of resources beyond what local and national budgets are able to provide. The mobility impetus is visceral, a necessity for survival in the global market.

ERASMUS evolved from the decentralized tradition of European higher education, where academic and administrative authority are at the departmental level. In most European universities, the department decides both on the admission of its students and the curricular parameters which shape their studies. Professorial and teaching staff in the department have traditionally decided on transferability and credit equivalence issues, in the relatively few cases in which these have previously arisen. Students must check with each teacher to determine whether their previous courses might be "equivalent" to the teacher's own courses. If so, credit may be awarded. If not, the student starts anew. Decisions would often differ remarkably even within departments of the same university, not to mention across national borders.

Such procedures do not encourage mobility. The limited mobility of the past has mainly involved teaching and research staff rather than students. Professors establish contacts with colleagues abroad. Joint projects are undertaken; researchers from one department visit the other. Informal linkages were thus established, but at disciplinary levels rather than a university-wide basis. The limited administrative needs of such linkages could be handled within the department, but their small, personal scale made a wider dimension impractical.

ERASMUS changes this scale. Since 1987, ERASMUS has made rapid progress toward its ambitious goal of 10% student mobility. In 1986, 2500 E.C. students did part of their studies abroad. In 1987 88 the number increased to 4000, and by 1989 90 to 28,000. More than 44,000 students have now been exchanged, aided by grants from an ERASMUS budget of over 200 MECU, through 1748 new linkages among 1100 institutes and universities.

With this vastly larger number of students newly mobilized via ERASMUS grants, coordination outside the department is essential. As new personnel are employed to design, fund, publicize, and administer exchanges, a centralized exchange administration staff is developing within the institutions. Once operative, this new staff will also aid the forming of other new partnerships, facilitating European mobility on a worldwide, not just Euro-wide, scale. This will in time be the larger legacy of ERASMUS.

ERASMUS in a Nutshell: Concepts and Language

ERASMUS began by extending the scope of traditional departmental linkages through a "European University Network." This Network links institutions via "Inter-University Cooperation Programmes" (ICPs), with credits articulated through the "European Community Courses Credit Transfer Scheme" (ECTS). ICPs are voluntary consortia of individual departments within certain universities of several countries. They plan an ICP curriculum which combines the local resources of the different departments. Mobility projects operate within this ICP framework of participating departments. Studies done on these projects are fully recognized by the student's home university as part of the home degree.

The ICP mirrors the pattern of academic and administrative authority centered in the department. It enables a cohesion of study and research done by exchangees, and provides an exacting criteria for accountability. All exchange projects take place within the framework of a single discipline, with the curriculum parameters mutually agreed by the participating departments.

The ICP structure works only within the circle of participating departments. Eventually, standardized transferable courses and credits will be needed to enable a wider diversity of students and institutions. This standardization is addressed by the ECTS.

The ECTS is the first step toward a central coordinative staff beyond the boundaries of the department. Each participating faculty and department describes and evaluates its courses in standardized, transferable credit units. Once a standardized credit system is in place, exchangees can be certain they will receive full value for their studies abroad, regardless of discipline or institution. Once such prerequisites are established, the next step is to publicize the opportunities that are available.

The new information needs of increased mobility are supplied by NARICS (National Academic Recognition Information Centres), the second step toward a centralized exchange staff. NARICS provide information on the educational systems and study programs of ERASMUS member nations. Each country has a national center to dispense information, and institutions within the country appoint their own International Relations Coordinators. The national and local NARICS dispense their respective mobility information to potential visiting students and partner institutions.

Corollary schemes of ERASMUS address the specialized concerns of increased industrial, technological, and educational linkages across national boundaries. Improving foreign language proficiency is the focus of LINGUA. COMETT in turn addresses technological cooperation between universities and industry, including research into the educational needs of industry and advanced technological education in the universities.

Extending ERASMUS — TEMPUS and T.E.X.T.

At present, ERASMUS funding and participation is restricted to a narrow range of subjects in a limited number of institutions. Extension to more subjects, institutions, countries and special needs than the ERASMUS funding and mandate itself allows is enabled through such programs as TEMPUS (Trans-European Mobility Program for University Studies) and T.E.X.T. (Trans-European Exchange and Transfer Consortium.)

TEMPUS is a new program providing higher education development aid to Eastern Europe. TEMPUS focuses on Poland and Hungary, but also includes Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria. It is based upon ERASMUS, COMETT and LINGUA, but as the focus is development assistance, reciprocity is not expected. Teaching and learning is emphasized rather than research. TEMPUS projects may include any participants from the "G 24" group, including the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey in addition to the 12 E.C. and 6 EFTA countries. TEMPUS thus expands the scope of E.C. initiatives outside Continental boundaries.

T.E.X.T., a membership organization based at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in the U.K., expands the ERASMUS-ECTS concept to institutions, countries, and subjects beyond the limits of the ERASMUS mandate. T.E.X.T. projects may include both institutions which participate in ERASMUS and those who are not ERASMUS participants but who wish to participate in ERASMUS-type projects under the T.E.X.T. aegis. Membership is open to any European higher education institution, association, or consortium.

T.E.X.T. has standardized transfer arrangements similar to those of ERASMUS-ECTS, but is more flexible in that students need not return to their home institution to complete their studies, and imbalances are allowed in the numbers of students exchanged between departments. T.E.X.T. also maintains its own database on the higher education systems of its members, including admissions requirements and degrees awarded by participating institutions; course structures and descriptions; credit units available to home, exchange and transfer students; advisory material for exchangees; and equivalencies of diplomas and awards.

For complex schemes such as T.E.X.T., COMETT and TEMPUS to work, new personnel were required. Pre-ERASMUS, it was rare for European universities to have full-time positions for international admissions, advising, coordination, or any of the other centralized international administrative functions that North American universities often take for granted.

However, participation in European mobility, whether independently or through these schemes, virtually requires a central oversight of all the international activities of an institution. Curricula for visiting students must be described in standardized form. Guidebooks must be published and distributed. Housing must be arranged, and orientations staged. Visiting delegations must be hosted and briefed. Conferences must be attended by personnel who can speak with authority for all the institution's programs.

Developments since 1986 have been remarkable as much for the creation of a central authority to implement these tasks as for the actual students exchanged. In order to participate in the new mobility schemes, universities have been forced to employ and train, on short notice, a new echelon of international staff. With institution-wide responsibilities, they are usually located within the central administration. They are newly budgeted, newly tasked, and highly visible. As such, they may also be controversial.

The Magnitude of Change Since ERASMUS

The magnitude and rapidity of change has been remarkable. In 1986 the Finnish Ministry of Education hosted a symposium on the challenges of "internationalization," concerned that Finland might be "left out" of mainstream European exchanges. In 1986 there was only one university position in Finland designated for international concerns. There was little recognition of the formidable practical work required to support exchange mobility. One university rector illustrated well the attitude toward "international staff" during his plenary address. "The only need I could see for such people," he stated, "would be to purchase theater tickets for our foreign visitors..."

That was before ERASMUS. Five years later, Finland is different. The rector is now among the most active supporters of exchange professionalism, an entire international staff within footsteps of his office. This staff hosts and participates in regular Finnish exchange meetings. They have attended the last three NAFSA and both EAIE conferences. The university has joined ISEP, COMETT and TEMPUS. Their linkage programs are exchanging both students and staff. And they are not unique in Finland.

Compared to one position nationwide in 1986, the OSEAS Database, which documents academic exchange advisers and administrators, now lists 45 persons from the 20 Finnish universities who do either all or most of their work in international mobility. And one can extrapolate from Finland to development throughout Europe. A new cadre of international personnel has been created. Where formerly no positions existed, International Coordinators and Advisers are now at every university. They are supported by their institutions and enthused with their work. They are eager to learn. They provide a new dimension to exchange prospects for the future. But what are they doing in the present?

The Creation of New Networking Structures

Both national and international communications are being expanded. Within each country, networking structures are being created to provide greater personal and institutional cooperation. Within Finland, university coordinators in the OSEAS Database have met biannually to discuss organizational developments, conference plans, training resources, and mutual concerns. Electronic mail linkages have been established through which information may be quickly exchanged. The creation of these coordinators' positions and their subsequent networking is the foundation on which new inter-university cooperation and development is being constructed.

New administrative structures have emerged as a result of the increased cooperation. In Finland, the University of Turku, Turku School of Economics and Abo Akademi University (the Swedish-language university of Turku) have created "Turku International University," combining the resources of all three institutions in that city and offering greater potential for reciprocal exchange than any of the institutions alone could possibly have managed.

Cooperation between universities in different cities is also increasing. The International Student Exchange Program (ISEP) is currently developing new exchange linkages between U.S. and Soviet universities through the existing Soviet connections of its seven Finnish ISEP member institutions. Previously unused capacity of each institution's individual linkages is now being exploited more fully, to the advantage of all.

This year, American ISEP students in the Russian Language program at Tampere University (an ISEP member) have been able to use available capacity in an exchange agreement between the Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland (not an ISEP member) with the Togliatti University of Economics and Engineering in Leningrad. For each participating student, the programs, resources, and exchange capacity of four universities and three different exchange agreements in three separate nations benefitted through this new networking of linkages.

While the potential for such "interlinkage" had existed in the past, there was neither the conceptual framework nor the international staff to exploit the potential. Now, linkages can be more fully exploited through new exchange mobility staff and resources. Throughout Europe, universities are better able to initiate, support and expand both old and new exchange agreements. They are increasingly able to support more programs, and exchange more students and scholars through these programs.

The Potential for New Linkages Beyond Europe

Future linkages will not be confined to European programs alone. The impetus of mobility is always toward a wider circle. For Europeans, the appeal of higher education in the U.S. will continue, while the attraction for Americans of opportunities within the expanded European framework should increase. Moreover, the ability of institutions outside Europe to establish new European linkages will be greatly enhanced.

Heretofore, a key problem of International Directors visiting a European university has been knowing to whom to speak in order to establish a working agreement. Signing an agreement was easy. The Rector is head of the university and signatory to all protocols. But who could speak to the nuts and bolts of new linkages? Who was responsible for implementing the agreement? When problems emerged late at night a continent away, whose telephone should ring? Such staff did not exist. Nor did an institution-wide control of exchange experience or capacity.

Past agreements often failed precisely due to the lack of coordinated support for the agreement or the staff to implement its practical demands. Those who had international experience were in separate departments, often operating under differing procedures. This is now changing.

With new NARICS, ERASMUS, TEMPUS, COMETT and other coordinators now working in each institution, a coherent professional staff is emerging to provide reliable exchange support. Chains of command and responsibilities are being defined. Agreement between the departments and the central administration is beginning to emerge on who is responsible for what. Increasingly, visitors will be able to ask practical (rather than theoretical) questions and expect a clear "yes" or "no" from authorized and knowledgeable respondents. New agreements may be signed with an increased reliance that they can and will succeed.

The Implications of "Newness"

The broader legacy of ERASMUS for international mobility is that it has forced the creation of a new European exchange infrastructure. But the definition and implications of "new" should not be overlooked: merely that an infrastructure exists does not imply that it is yet mature.

Of 187 European university exchange administrators currently in the OSEAS Database, a full 30% report a total international employment experience (including previous jobs) of one year or less. A further 16% report 1.5 to 3 years of total international exchange experience; the next 14% report between 3.5 and 5 years total experience. Thus 60% of all European university staff in the Database have a total international employment that is less long-lived than ERASMUS itself. They are new and inexperienced. They urgently need more contacts for international networking, guidance, and resources.

In response, the European Association for International Education (EAIE) was founded in 1989 at the University of Amsterdam. The founding conference attracted over 500 participants, well above expectation. The second conference in 1990 attracted over 700, and EAIE 1991, to be held in Montpellier, France, is expected to attract 1000.

Each successive conference will result in exchange staff who are better connected with their colleagues abroad and more knowledgeable in the procedures of their mutual work. New and better ideas will be more easily shared: how to organize and run an international center, where to find reference guides, what strategies can be employed to gain faculty cooperation, how to enlist community support services....

But while the potential for professional associations is obvious, they will not attract new members unless potential members are aware of their existence and the services they offer. The establishment of efficient information networking is crucial.

Consider that the inaugural EAIE 1989 included 26 Finns out of 500 attending, with 38 Finns among the 720 at EAIE 1990. Bearing in mind that EAIE conferences have focused on E.C. initiatives, and Finland is not an E.C. nation and has not yet begun ERASMUS exchanges, Finnish participation far exceeded that of Germany and other E.C. members whose numbers of universities and centrality of interest in EAIE dwarfs that of Finland (and who had less far to travel). Why?

The difference might be more and better information. Finnish coordinators knew the details of each conference well in advance via their OSEAS nexus. Their E-mail network and regular meetings supplied information on opportunities of professional value. The importance of such information networking is inestimable. Europeans are searching for professional development activities and will be eager to join new associations if they are aware that the association exists, and its services are in their interest.

The OSEAS E-mail network also relays NAFSA information. When the OSEAS Database began in 1988 one Finnish institution was a NAFSA member. Despite NAFSA's focus on U.S. issues, twelve Finnish institutions (60% of the universities, a favorable comparison with U.S. statistics) are now NAFSA members. Attendance at annual NAFSA conferences increased in 1989-1991 from 2 to 4 to 9. Information networking was again the key.

The Dilemma of Newness: Short-Term vs. Long-Term Prospects

The long-term prospects for European exchanges are promising. Yet in the short term, new exchange agreements should still be negotiated with caution. Rapid mobility expansion has brought an air of urgency to "internationalization." Universities often feel they must "internationalize" quickly to not be left out, yet few have clearly defined why or how they wish to do this.

The exchange staff faces extraordinary pressure. Most are new to their jobs, which are new to their institutions. They work with programs which are also new within the field of international education. There is seldom a reserve of experience on which to draw for guidance. Even where this exists, when facing superiors enthralled with a fancy of "internationalization," caution born of knowledge is not easily understood. Pressure accrues to justify the salaries and travel taken from limited budgets for new international jobs. Results must be produced quickly. It is easy to promise too much.

For new staff to succeed too well may also prove impolitic. Competition for funding and prestige is intense; departments do not relinquish easily their traditional autonomy, and envy within the administration itself is not unknown. With the ensuing turf wars, the attrition rate of Coordinators is high.

The new infrastructure, and new delineation of exchange authority and responsibility within each university, will require time to mature. But European higher education has already changed. There is a new cachet to exchange within Europe by Europeans. Mobility has brought new dynamism and increased resources to study and research.

More than mere movement of students, a commitment to European unity has begun. As the 1990s unfold, and vision and maturity are gained, mobility both within and beyond the New Europe will firmly and steadily expand. Higher education will become more truly international. This will be the legacy of ERASMUS.

Adapted from an address to the November 1990 ISEP Coordinators' Conference in Washington, D.C., on "Educational Trends in Europe." An abstract of this article was published in the Volume I, Number 2, Fall 1991 INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR as Educational Mobility in the New Europe: The Professionalization of International Education.

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