A European University Association review that set out to examine mobility strategies at European universities stumbled across the persistent problem of gathering reliable and comparable data on mobility, designed a set of tools to alleviate it and in the process compiled a most interesting snapshot of the current state of affairs in Europe.
The resulting report, Mobility: Closing the gap between policy and practice, offers both new insights into the motivations of institutions and individuals to engage in mobility, and evidence for policy-making and strategic planning that until now has largely been based on anecdotal assumptions.
Even the European Commission has always found it hard to provide comparable statistics on mobility within its own programmes. A persistent lack of reliable evidence in spite of great demand for it usually indicates that apples and oranges are being compared and this has indeed long been the case with mobility figures.
Depending on who counted, statistics could include refugees, residents on foreign passports, full programme as well as single course students, and even people who entered the country on a student visa but never actually set a foot inside a college.
The study is the outcome of a project (MAUNIMO) that explored universities’ perspectives on mobility and attempted to map how institutions are responding to increased pressure from policy initiatives to increase mobility.
The core of the project was a web-based mobility self-assessment tool for universities.
A total of 34 universities from 21 countries piloted the use of the tool, formulating how they define and implement strategies for mobility, how they collect different types of data on mobility, how different external stakeholders influence mobility and how perceptions of mobility vary within their institution.
The project showed that universities feel they need to take a more strategic cross-institutional approach to mobility. A number explained that approaches to various types of mobility were still fragmented across the institution, making it more difficult to define one single strategic vision and indeed to collect comprehensive data.
The pilot universities also pointed to the key role of university leadership in the development of mobility strategies and their implementation.
They outlined a range of other issues that are crucial for the implementation of mobility strategies such as establishing and coordinating dedicated services and better capturing some of the creative practice taking place at faculty level for motivating and evaluating mobility.
All of this has long been known or at least reasonably assumed, but not before committed so lucidly to paper on the basis of solid evidence.
The study is a brave attempt at bringing some order to a chaotic field and ends in an even braver call for even more order.
If by 2020 the target is to be reached of 20% of students in the European Higher Education Area crossing a border in the framework of their studies, the very first requirement is that they can actually be counted.
The work of the EUA may be an important step in this direction if other universities are willing to follow in the footsteps of the 21 pilot institutions – and if EU institutions, national governments and data collection agencies heed the call to work in close partnership with higher education institutions on identifying and implementing data collection parameters and reporting procedures that can underpin more sensible future strategies for learning mobility.
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