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Improving Erasmus+, extending our reach: the Coimbra Group at EAIE 2017

01 October 2017

By Dorothy Kelly, Henri Luchian and Joaquim Ramos de Carvalho

The Coimbra Group participated actively at the annual conference of the European Association for International Educational Education (EAIE), which took place in Seville in September.

With over 6,000 participants from 95 countries, EAIE 2017 was an opportunity to engage with a wide audience in topics of importance to the higher education international community and in which the Coimbra Group has played a leading role.

The first of these is the Erasmus+ programme. The Coimbra Group organised two sessions on key aspects of the Erasmus + programmes that attracted considerable interest.

The session on “International credit mobility: a critical analysis” was organised by the Coimbra Group’s Academic Exchange and Mobility Working Group and Dorothy Kelly (University of Granada),  Olivier Vincent (University of Geneva, Chair of the WG), Sara Pittarello (University of Padova, Vice Chair of the WG) and Raimonda Markevičienė (Vilnius University). The session analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the new programme, known as KA107 that allows mobility between European universities and universities from all over the world.

A lively discussion emerged from a packed room. The conclusions were much in line with the points made in the Coimbra Group position paper on Erasmus +: participants welcome the opportunity given by KA107 to engage with partners from all over the world but regret that the good practice developed in the previous Erasmus Mundus Action 2 programme, now discontinued, has not been carried over to the new programme. In other words, cooperation between Europe and the rest of the world is now structured on a bilateral basis instead of multilateral consortia, and projects are approved yearly for only two-year periods, instead of the previous four. These aspects, together with reduced scope of activities covered and increased bureaucratic workload, reduce the strategic relevance of KA107 for institutions, for the European Higher Area and for partners outside Europe.

Participants also criticized the unpredictability of the selection process, which is carried out at national, instead of European, level. A significant number of Erasmus National Agencies had representatives in the room, which demonstrates that concern about KA107 and its improvements are not exclusive to higher education institutions, but on the whole shared by both groups of stakeholders.

The recommendations of the Coimbra Group position paper on Erasmus+ proved their relevance in the light of the discussions:

  • Restoring of multilateral KA-107 exchanges (as in EMA2), as opposed to the current bilateral ones, to boost the European-wide (and international) impact of KA-107 both in terms of actual exchanges and in capacity building potential;
  • Four-year contracts in KA-107 to further the universities’ Erasmus+ international strategic planning;
  • As a possible tool for a shift towards such four-year contracts, Erasmus+ could launch a recommendation (not an obligation) for universities from partner countries to run for the Erasmus+ Charter, in annual calls.

Overall, the session demonstrated that there is very widespread interest in overcoming the limitations of KA107 as a tool to promote the role of European Higher Education in the world and the need to continue the discussion in the next EAIE meeting in Geneva in an expanded format.A second session on Erasmus + promoted by the Coimbra Group was “Getting your academics involved: the key to higher quality student mobility”, with Dorothy Kelly, Henri Luchian (Alexandru Ioan Cuza University Iaşi and Joaquim Carvalho (University of Coimbra). The aim of the session was to reflect on the key role of staff mobility and involvement in assuring the quality of student mobility.  Again, the topic attracted much interest. It quickly became apparent that many institutions are looking for guidance and good practices on how to make the most out academic staff mobility and involvement.

A key issue is the recognition of worktime involved by academic staff. Academics in many countries face a heavy workload that results from the overlap of teaching and tutoring, research, transfer of knowledge, administration and management tasks. A clear recommendation emerges: contribution to internationalisation should be properly taken into consideration in the career development policy of the university. Several ways in which this can be achieved were discussed as well as the importance of providing support services and resources for academic staff involved in international mobility.

The Coimbra Group was the promoter of a third session in an area that, for unfortunate reasons, is attracting increasing institutional attention: “Protocol procedures for emergency situations: student safety and security”, organized by Katarzyna Jurzak (Jagiellonian University Krakow), Isabell Anderson (University of Edinburgh) and Esther Martra (University of Barcelona).  In a world with ever increasing international mobility of students and staff, the need to have clear and efficient protocols to deal with situations involved incoming and outgoing students increases proportionally. The session was an opportunity to report on ongoing work in the Academic Exchange and Mobility Working Group in this area and gather feedback from other institutions.

With three sessions in a major international event the Coimbra Group reaffirmed its commitment to the improvement of the international dimension of higher education and the value of the work being done by its working groups and through it position papers. Many participants that attended the sessions approached our CG colleagues in order to explore further paths of cooperation, making our participation in EAIE 2017 a network a fruitful experience that should be repeated and expanded.

But, the EAIE conference was also the enabler for an important event relating to our relations with Latin America. The University of Granada promoted a meeting between Coimbra Group universities and Group Montevideo (AUGM) universities, taking advantage of the fact that quite a number of member institutions of both networks were present in Seville. The chair and vice-chair of the Latin America Working Group, Filomena Marques de Carvalho (University of Coimbra) and Miguel Carrera (University of Salamanca) were present, as were the Chair of the Executive Board Ludovic Thilly, and EB member Joaquim Ramos de Carvalho, EB contact for the Working Group, and Catarina Moleiro representing the Coimbra Group Office. A total of 13 Coimbra Group universities from nine different countries, and 14 AUGM universities from five countries, together with AUGM Executive Secretary Álvaro Maglia, participated in the meeting. The event was symbolically held in the same room as the 1992 meeting of the Coimbra Group with Latin American universities which led to the “Granada Declaration” urging the European Commission to set up a joint EU-Latin American programme for higher education, an initiative which was no doubt instrumental in the setting up of the various European higher education programmes which preceded Erasmus+. And of course in the longstanding links between the Coimbra Group and the AUGM, first formalized in 2006.

The programme itself began with short presentations of each network and a review of the eleven years of cooperation, analyzed by Francisco Leita (University of Padova) and Julio Theiler (Universidad del Litoral), both pioneers of our joint activities. The full-day workshop gave ample opportunity to increase future cooperation between the CG and AUGM in areas of common interest. In particular, panels debated potential for cooperation in the fields of summer/winter schools, young researcher (doctoral candidate) conferences, joint academic cooperation projects, mobility of international office staff amongst others. Participants agreed that the attendance of so many member universities from the two networks was a qualitative leap forward in our network to network cooperation, bringing considerable added value to the recently renewed MoU.

All in all, the Seville and Granada events are excellent examples of how the Coimbra Group is deeply involved in key initiatives regarding the internationalisation of higher education, through the dissemination of the work produced by its Working Groups and the relevance of its position papers.