Evaluation of the participation of the German Higher  Education sector in Erasmus+ cooperation projects 

Date de publication : 10 février 2022 | langue de rapport : DE

Erasmus+ Programme generation

2014-2020

The Erasmus+ Programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe promotes  both individual mobility and cooperation projects in the higher education sector between  European institutions and partner countries around the world. The Erasmus+ cooperation related funding lines support academic cooperation and German higher education institutions  (HEIs) in the further development and implementation of their internationalisation strategies. These funding lines aim to contribute to the further development of the European Higher  Education Area and the European Research Area. The study at hand focuses on the  programme period 2014-2020 and analyses the following eight cooperation-related funding lines

The project types in these funding lines differ significantly in their orientation: from master’s  degree programmes (EMJMD) to cooperation projects between (primarily) HEIs in Europe  (Strategic Partnerships) and outside Europe (Capacity Building projects) as well as economic actors (Knowledge Alliances) to projects with political objectives, i.e. with a focus on EU studies  (Jean Monnet) or a focus on policy support in various educational areas (Forward looking  cooperation projects, Policy experimentations, Social inclusion through education, training and  youth).  

The present evaluation aims to provide more detailed information on the programme participation of HEIs in Germany, their motivations to participate, the project results and the  supporting role of the NA DAAD within the framework of the Erasmus+ cooperation-related  funding lines1. The following evaluation questions are addressed: 

These questions were analysed using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods.  Specifically, this includes extensive document and secondary data analysis, qualitative  approaches via an interview programme and focus groups with HEI representatives and other  Erasmus+ experts as well as an online survey among project participants to collect quantitative  data. Generally, it must be noted that the study is characterised by a high level of complexity:  On the one hand, this is reflected in the variety of funding lines to be examined, some of which  differ significantly in character; on the other hand, this is reflected in the heterogeneity of the  evaluation questions. Accordingly, the evaluation results allow a variety of overarching  conclusions, but detailed analyses – e.g., differentiated according to the individual funding  lines – can only be carried out to a limited extent. Overall, the mix of methods and a final  validation in a total of five focus groups allow for a solid data base to answer the evaluation  questions. 

Overall, between 2014 and 2020, 217 HEIs with a total of 1193 projects have been involved in  the Erasmus+ cooperation-related funding lines. This corresponds to a little more than half of all  406 HEIs in Germany. While 88% of all German universities and all of the six pedagogical  universities take part, 43% of the universities of applied sciences (UAS) and 25% of universities of  art/music participate. Universities are the most often involved type of HEIs in most funding lines;  only in the Strategic Partnerships is a larger proportion of UAS represented. 

In a European comparison, the participation of German institutions overall is at a high level: Germany is always among the top seven countries with the most projects in all eight funding  lines, and in some funding lines also in the top 3. Due to a substantial budget increase,  participation in the decentralized Strategic Partnerships strongly increased from 2016 onwards.  Over the programme period 2014-2020, in most of the other funding lines, no trend towards  increased participation by German institutions as coordinators or trends in the success rate of  applications coordinated by German institutions can be identified. Nevertheless, there has  been an increase in the funding volume for Erasmus+ cooperation projects with German  coordinators, as well as a stable high level of participation in the centrally organized funding  lines. 

Central to this study is the analysis of participation patterns, i.e. the analysis of the frequency  with which individual or different funding lines are used by HEIs. In the evaluation, the use of  several funding lines – as one possible approach among many – is interpreted as an indication  of a possible strategic use of the portfolio of Erasmus+ cooperation projects, meaning that the  use is not limited to the project managers at the HEIs. The analysis shows that half of the HEIs  focus on one funding line while almost a quarter of the HEIs are involved in two funding lines.  There are differences in the participation patterns between the different types of HEIs: Almost  70% of universities use more than one funding line, with most universities participating in two to  four funding lines. A particularly broad portfolio of funding lines with more than four funding  lines and many projects is almost exclusively used by large universities. The vast majority of UAS  participate in one or two funding lines. According to the interviews, a plausible explanation of  these differences could be that the application for and implementation of the Erasmus+  cooperation projects is facilitated by sufficient resources and support at the HEIs; after all, the  different types of HEIs differ in their framework conditions, resources and support structures (e.g., teaching load, support structures for third-party funding, staff in mid-level faculties). Programme  participation also becomes more likely the larger the HEI is, due to the higher number of  potential applicants. The broad involvement of universities in particular, however, does not  allow for conclusions to be drawn regarding the strategic use of various funding lines, but is primarily based on the commitment of individual HEI representatives. For this reason, the  question of strategic use was also examined in qualitative interviews (see below). 

Objectives and approaches to Erasmus+ cooperation projects  

The second evaluation question focuses on the objectives pursued by HEIs participating in  Erasmus+ cooperation projects. In this study, the objectives are categorised as  

The results show that the cooperation-related as well as intrinsic / content-related motivators are paramount to the Erasmus+ project participants. The establishment and expansion of  professional networks in particular is one of the most important objectives in all funding lines.  Content-related motivators such as the increased visibility of the project topic, societal impact, or improved teaching also play an important role. Increased visibility and reputation of the HEIs – strategic motivators – are also key objectives. Depending on the funding line, there are  different priorities in the motivators of those involved in the projects. What all funding lines have  in common is the high importance of cooperation-related goals. 

The Erasmus+ projects are almost exclusively initiated by the project participants themselves or  by partner organisations, i.e., primarily via a bottom-up approach: Thematic interests and  networks usually form the basis for emerging projects. The projects are less frequently explicitly  embedded in the internationalisation strategies of the HEIs or steered by the HEIs executive/  strategy level. As part of the evaluation, however, examples could also be identified in which  the implementation of Erasmus+ cooperation projects is strategically supported and/or these  are specifically used for the implementation of internationalisation strategies. There is a  tendency towards a strategic approach and explicit institutional links within small and medium sized universities, pedagogical universities and (larger) UAS. According to the interviews, one  reason for this could be that the relative, strategic importance of the funding lines is higher at  these HEIs than, for instance, projects from EU research programmes. 

Outcomes and sustainability of the Erasmus+ cooperation projects  

In accordance with the cooperation-related objectives of the project participants, the  evaluation shows that the expansion of professional networks is one of the most important  outcomes of the Erasmus+ cooperation projects. The other most important outcomes include  improved teaching methods and content, increased visibility of the respective project topic,  and increased visibility of the respective HEI. These central outcomes are primarily at the level  of project representatives. Other, unintended effects include, for example, the broader use of  the project results on the subject of digital education and / or virtual mobility at HEIs due to the  COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in increased digitisation at HEIs. Furthermore, some project  participants also used their projects for the preparation of other funding initiatives.  

The project participants especially consider the formation of networks, an expanded range of  teaching content and methods as well as the further development and publication of their  own scientific work as sustainable. Nevertheless, ensuring the sustainability of the specific  project results is a challenge for many of those involved in the projects, for instance due to not introducing the developed teaching modules in HEI curricula because of different  interpretations of educational systems or HEI requirements. A lack of permanent staffing as well  as follow-up financing – e.g., for joint follow-up activities, the further development of the project results or elements specific to the funding line (e.g., EMJMD scholarships) – can compromise  sustainability. 

The NA DAAD information and advisory services  

A success factor for the implementation of the Erasmus+ cooperation projects is, among other  aspects, the support of the HEIs provided by the NA DAAD. The information and advisory  services offered by the NA DAAD comprise a number of elements, including events, information  materials and personal consultation. The consultation is guided by the approach « from the idea  to the project », i.e., the NA DAAD aims to provide comprehensive advice to project  representatives and interested parties throughout the funding cycle, especially regarding the  matching of project ideas and funding lines. 

Around two thirds of the surveyed project participants have already used the information and  advisory services. It can be highlighted that both the survey participants and the project  participants in the interviews and focus groups are almost exclusively satisfied with the work of  the NA DAAD. The events and personal consultations are the most positively rated services; the  latter is perceived as needs-oriented, in-depth and dedicated. The information material  available is slightly less popular, but it is still viewed as helpful by the majority. In this context, it  was pointed out in interviews that documents with more concise, target group-oriented  messages and content could be helpful in addition: not only for those interested to inform  themselves about the specific potential of the funding lines for their own work and their own  HEI, but in order to pass the information on to the respective HEI administration and  management. 

A positive highlight is the effective support within the application process as well the support in  the implementation of the projects. Overall, a majority of project representatives consider their  needs for advice and support covered by the NA DAAD

Conclusion 

Various aspects of the overarching added values and strengths of the Erasmus+ cooperation related funding lines can be summarised: 

On the other hand, several obstacles to the use of the full potential of the Erasmus+  cooperation projects could be identified: 

Accordingly, Erasmus+ cooperation-related funding lines have great potential to promote  internationalisation at HEIs through the bottom-up development and expansion of networks  and content. The projects can also be used strategically to systematically support the  internationalisation of HEIs as a whole. Concrete examples of how different funding lines and  projects can be embedded in the strategy and implementation of internationalisation at HEIs are shown in the evaluation. Increasing the awareness of HEI management and administrative  units for internationalisation for the (strategic) added value for HEIs can therefore be beneficial. 

Finally, based on the evaluation results, recommendations were formulated for the NA DAAD  with respect to its role in higher education policy, e.g., in order to increase the awareness of  HEIs as well as regarding communication and exchange formats that are even more target group oriented. Recommendations for the funding administration at EU level were also  identified, e.g., regarding possibilities for an improved cost-benefit ratio for project representatives and regarding the support to ensure project sustainability. Finally, the  evaluation recommends HEIs to improve both the institutional connection of the projects and the internal networking in order to use the Erasmus+ projects as effectively as possible for the  internationalisation of the HEIs.

Find the full report in German in the top right corner.