Here are some of my early stories and blogs from April and May 2012 in the lead-up to the 2012 Bologna Process Ministerial Conference held in Bucharest at the end of April. Originally posted under ‘UNI NEWS AND VIEWS” on this website, they provide a useful reminder of where we were a year ago with the whole question of cross-border student mobility in Europe.

May 2012

No barriers for students at Bologna

Nic Mitchell reports on moves by Ministers to encourage greater student mobility to strengthen the European Higher Education Area.

STUDENT MOBILITY was high on the agenda at the 2012 Bologna Process Ministerial Conference held in Bucharest at the end of April.

Held every three years, these ‘summits’ are designed to focus attention on creating a living and workable European Higher Education Area (EHEA) – a key plank in the educational revolution that government ministers wanted to sweep Europe when they launched the so-called ‘Process’ at a meeting in Bologna in June 1999.

Since then, progress has been slower than many predicted, particularly in terms of ‘tearing down the barriers’ to the movement of students and staff across national borders.

When they last met in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve in 2009, the Ministers set themselves the goal of 20% of European students spending at least three months studying in another country by 2020.

Ambitious target

While precise figures are notoriously difficult to obtain on outward student mobility, I do know from my own research that the British government estimated that less than 2% of UK domiciled students were enrolled in foreign tertiary education in 2010.  So, for the Brits at least, that is a ten-fold increase in outward mobility in a decade.

And not only do the Education Ministers want to see more students, early stage researchers, teachers and other staff in higher education going abroad to help Europe ‘internationalise’ themselves and their education systems and institutions – but they also want to see a better balance between inward and outward mobility.

That’s going to be another problem, especially for a country like the UK. The British Council reported last year that while there were 370,000 international students in the UK, there were just 33,000 UK students overseas.

So, what’s to be done?

Well, since the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve conference three years ago, a Mobility Working Group, chaired by Peter Greisler from Germany, has been trying to produce precise benchmarks to monitor progress, identify problems to a better balance of incoming and outgoing students and looking for examples of good practice.

They discovered structural, legal, financial and other obstacles to mobility of students and staff, such as:
* financing of mobility (including portability of grants and loans and improved information on funding possibilities)
* recognition, curricula, legal and administrative obstacles
* language issues
* lack of motivation and information.

They also found very diverse national mobility strategies and the perception of mobility obstacles, depending on the target group.

Among their conclusions was that Europe should prioritise learning mobility, not cultural exchange; and even where there are specific imbalances, mobility itself is good and therefore should not be restrained. But they did say action should be taken to avoid ‘brain gain, brain drain’ scenarios.

There is also the need to implement national / international mobility strategies with measurable indicators.

The most controversial point revolved around the minimum duration of mobility for the target. Despite some opposition from those wanting to record shorter periods, the Working Group stuck to its guns and decided to recommend only monitoring mobility experiences abroad worth at least 15 European credit transfer system (ECTS) credits, or three months in duration.

They also wanted quality assurance tools used for promoting mobility in the EHEA. ‘Academic staff members need to be part of the strategy – they can act as motivators and multipliers,’ the Working Group declared.

So, what does it all mean for higher education communicators?

Well, again looking at things from the UK, there’s been a flurry of activity since the Bucharest meeting, with the main newspapers read by academics focusing on Bologna for the first time in ages.

Mind, it wasn’t all positive! Peter Scott, a professor of higher education studies, at the London-based Institute of Education, provoked some of his academic colleagues in an ‘Opinion’ piece in The Guardianentitled: ‘A universities revolution that excites the world… except England.’

Perhaps, more positively, the British Universities and Science Minister David Willetts told Times Higher Education (3 May, 2012) that he was “very pro student mobility”, adding: “I’m keen to encourage those who wish it to do some of their study overseas. If there are barriers, I want to remove them.

The ‘Mobility for Better Learning’ strategy finally adopted agreed that all member countries develop and implement their own internationalisation and mobility strategies with concrete aims and measurable mobility targets.

It wants to include both the 15 ECTS credits or three months periods spent abroad, plus those who obtain their degree abroad in the 20% target, and to strive for ‘better balanced mobility in the EHEA’ – hence the flurry of activity by the UK.

It also wants to increase mobility ‘through improved information about study programmes’ and ‘shorter response times for international applications’ as well as better web-based information about study programmes.

The strategy also wants to explore the ‘potential of using common standards for the description of study programmes.’

And another job for us is to improve ‘the communication of the individual, institutional and social benefits of periods spent abroad’ – with the target audiences including parents, career advisors and students.’ And it calls for more regular research into the private and social returns of learning mobility, including better employability records of graduates who have studied abroad.

·      The EUA produced its own report from Bucharest, which focused more on the need for ‘sustainable funding’ to enable Higher Education to be at the heart of efforts to overcome the economic crisis.


(May 2012)

UK UNIVERSITIES and Science Minister David Willetts has announced a partial grant to encourage more British students to venture overseas for at least part of their studies.

Speaking to the Times Higher Education (3 May, 2012) Willetts said he was ‘very pro student mobility’.

“I’m keen to encourage those who wish it to do some of their study overseas. If there are barriers, I want to remove them.”

His comments came in response to recommendations following the eight Bologna Process/European Higher Education Area Ministerial Conference, held in Bucharest, last month (April, 2012).

In the report drawn up by a steering group including representatives of the UK Universities International Unit and the British Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) fears were raised that higher tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year might put students off study abroad options.

In the past, English universities waived the fees of students spending a year in Europe under the Erasmus programme and were compensated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

This will continue for the first year of the higher fees (2012-13), but Mr Willetts then says a new system will be introduced allowing universities to receive up to 40% of the full fees from students who spend a year abroad. “The students themselves will be required to pay up to 15%, while a grant worth 25% will be available from HEFCE for any who go abrood under an exchange scheme, whether as part of the Erasmus programme or not,” the Minister told the THE.

May 1, 2012
From my blog… NICE IDEA…

April 2012

Among the big issues facing the Ministerial conference on the Bologna Process in Bucharest (April 26-27, 2012) is the painfully slow progress being made on student mobility within the European Union.

Back in 2009, Education ministers set themselves a target of one in five students spending at least three months studying or training abroad by 2020 as part of the Bologna process for creating a European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

But, according to a working party report to this week’s conference in Romania, the reality on the ground makes that goal seem over-ambitious.

Although a few countries believe they should meet the original target, the vast majority are no-way near and the current EHEA average for inward mobility of students from other countries is calculated at just 2.4%.

So, it looks like ministers will have to consider revising their targets downwards – with 5% appearing to be the most likely new goal. That’s still ambitious, but perhaps more realistic.

The Working Group on Mobility report to the Bucharest conference this week say there needs to be a better balance between incoming and outgoing students.

And action needs to be taken to address some of the main obstacles, which they say include:
* financial insecurity, specifically the expected financial burden of a period studying abroad
concerns about recognition of awards in their home country
* language issues
* curricula obstacles
* legal and administrative barriers
* lack of motivation and information

Clearly even the 5% goal won’t be achieved without a lot more hard-work and the adoption of national strategies for internationalisation and mobility.
April 2012

THAT WAS the headline in a Comment piece by Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK (UUK) – page 28, Times Higher Education (12 April, 2012) – which appeared to criticise both the British media and Maastricht University for stories suggesting UK students were “flocking” to the Netherlands to escape soaring tuition fees back home.

The piece went on rubbish such claims, suggesting “approximately 3,340 Dutch students” were in the UK – more than double the number of Brits going Dutch for their higher education.

If the numbers are so small, what is there to worry about apart from the shame that so few British students seem prepared to venture abroad? I said as much in the Readers comments on the online version of the article.

I also responded to a follow-up blog on the Universities UK website, which offered more “facts” about the tiny minority leaving our shores for Holland.

I am not quite sure why the PR and marketing efforts of Maastricht have triggered such a response, but if it raises awareness of the imbalance in student mobility ‘in and out’ of the UK, then maybe it is a good thing.

But I’m surprised Nicola Dandridge could be so precise about the flow ‘in and out’ of the Netherlands as I’ve struggled to get hold of reliable up-to-date data on UK student mobility.

Even UUK and the British Council find it difficult to be sure about the precise numbers.

And, of course, Holland is just one of a number of countries that may prove an attractive alternative as fees rocket, particularly in England.

Sweden is just one of several Scandinavian countries taking more of interest in UK students – and not just for its undergraduate courses. They don’t charge EU students tuition fees for bachelor’s and master’s degrees and seem keen to get more British students on their programmes as they step-up moves to become more “international” by teaching more postgraduate courses in English.

Student mobility is clearly a story to watch in 2012….