European universities have embraced internationalisation, especially through the EU’s Erasmus programmes, for almost 30 years. Internationalisation as a phenomenon has been significantly influenced by higher education’s need to address the challenges of globalisation and knowledge production in an environment driven by politics and economic growth, as well as social and cultural integration. This is also set against a backdrop of needing to protect and enhance their reputation, compete for the best talent and ensure that graduates are employable on a global stage
Mobility and integration
Responses to internationalisation are manifold. In a diverse system of more than 4,000 higher education institutions (HEIs) across the 28 EU Member States – each with their own systems and funding structures – there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is also reflected in the different internationalisation strategies in place at the individual institutions. Areas of ongoing debate include the protection of academic values, the pursuit of increased income generation, and prioritising quantity over quality, to name but a few. These are all important for higher-education institutions if they are to reap the benefits of living and working in a global society.
Education remains the responsibility of the individual Member States rather than the EU, whose role is to support and coordinate efforts to stimulate good practice and help higher education fulfil its important functions in relation to education, research and innovation. In terms of student mobility, the European Commission, through the funding of the Erasmus programmes, has been instrumental in stimulating international exchanges of undergraduates. The programme has enabled participants to experience different academic and cultural environments, adding value to their educational experience and increasing their employability. Many countries see the significant benefits of student mobility and support this further through other programmes, initiatives and bi-lateral agreements at the national level.
While attracting students is just one part of internationalisation, it remains a central component. A recent report for the European Parliament reiterates that it is still the main response to internationalisation1. A broader approach needs to take account of the widely cited definition of internationalisation given by Knight:2 “the process of integrating an international/intercultural dimension into the teaching, research and service functions of the institution”.
A charter for internationalisation
The European Commission supports higher-education institutions’ responses to internationalisation through the Erasmus Charter for Higher Education (ECHE). The ECHE provides a quality framework for activities funded by Erasmus+, the latest Erasmus programme, which runs until 2020. By signing the Charter, an institution confirms that its participation in Erasmus+ is part of its own strategy for modernisation and internationalisation. ECHE is a prerequisite for any HEI wishing to participate in Erasmus+, and agreeing to the fundamental principles of the Charter helps HEIs to ensure that the participants are provided with a high-quality experience at home and abroad that is fully supported and recognised.
However, the quality of mobility experiences remains diverse. To support the implementation of the principles of the Charter, HEIs identify their strengths and weaknesses and provide guidance and best practice examples to improve their policies and practices, Technopolis Group is working with the European Commission – supported by a working group of national agencies – on an online self-assessment for Erasmus Charter-holder institutions. The self-assessment targets mainly Rectors, Vice-Rectors and Erasmus+ coordinators, and will be available soon.
1 – ‘Internationalisation of Higher Education’, European Parliament
2 – Knight, Jane. Updating the Definition of Internationalization, International Higher Education, Issue 33, Fall 2003. Boston