Rapid growth in joint and dual degrees - IIE

Universities and colleges are increasingly looking beyond their own campuses to keep pace with a rapidly globalising world, according to a new study from the Institute for International Education, or IIE.

The report, called Joint and Double Degree Programs in the Global Context, found that more universities are implementing joint and dual degree programmes in an effort to internationalise their campuses, increase global visibility and foster greater collaboration with partner institutions.

"The growth of joint and double degree programmes indicates that higher education institutions are increasingly seeking deeper partnerships with their international counterparts than those offered by traditional study abroad programmes," Daniel Obst, Deputy Vice-president of International Partnerships at the IIE and a co-author of the report, told University World News.

The study was based on a survey conducted earlier this year with 245 tertiary institutions in 28 countries. The respondents - who were mostly from the US, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and the UK - indicated their participation in joint and dual degree programmes and their plans to develop more of them.

A joint degree can be understood as a single certificate signed by all universities involved, while a dual or double degree results in separate certificates from each institution.

The study found that dual degrees are far more common than joint degrees, with 84% of respondents offering dual degrees and only 33% offering joint degrees. Most of the programmes were taken at the masters level, except for universities in Australia and the US, which offered joint and dual degrees at mostly the doctoral and undergraduate levels respectively.

Obst said the focus on undergraduate studies in the US was "part of their efforts to attract international students".

The study also revealed different views regarding the importance of the undergraduate degree. The majority of US, UK and Australian institutions said they planned to develop more programmes at the undergraduate level, while few European universities planned to do so.

The most common subject was business management followed by engineering. The social sciences and physical and life sciences were also top choices.

When choosing partnerships, geographic proximity played a major role. Four of the five main partner countries for France, Italy and Germany were also in the European Union, while Australia's top partners were China, Indonesia and Singapore. Most institutions also looked at existing relationships when choosing a partnership.

The primary reasons cited for partnering with a foreign university were to increase course offerings, facilitate research collaboration, further internationalisation efforts and enhance global prestige. For universities in the US and the UK, increasing revenue was also a major motivating factor.

Obst said joint and double degree programmes "allow partnering institutions to develop a better understanding of each other's curriculum and institutional expertise".

The most pressing challenges when setting up a partnership with another university were securing funding for the programmes and keeping them running, the study found.

Co-author Matthias Kuder of the Freie Universitat Berlin, which collaborated on the report, said universities should come up with a clear strategy when establishing joint and dual degrees.

"The claim that such programmes are part and parcel of an institution's internationalisation efforts is quickly made but, in fact, many institutions lack clear rules and procedures for programme development and have no specific marketing or recruitment measures in place," said Kuder in a statement.

Accreditation was also cited as an issue, mostly due to bureaucracy and the lack of an internationally recognised system. A respondent from Germany wrote: "In the joint degree programme we face juridical difficulties in the accreditation process. There should be an international accreditation institution (European level, mainly!)."

The development of joint and double degrees started in Europe in the 1990s, said Obst. Universities in France, Germany and Italy reported starting the majority of their programmes between 1991 and 2000, in contrast to institutions in Australia, the US and the UK, where most have been developed in the past decade.

The majority of respondents reported student enrollment of 25 or less, yet most said they planned to develop more joint and double degrees.

Obst described the programmes as "an increasingly important global trend" that will extend to many more countries.

"Future joint and double degree partnerships will be forged between an increasingly wider variety of countries, especially the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] countries and other emerging economies such as Turkey, Chile, and Singapore," he said.

The survey builds on a 2009 IIE policy study that focused on transatlantic joint and dual degree programmes.