By David Tobenkin

International joint- and dual-degree programs are on the rise at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Here's what happening in Europe, not to mention the impact of the Bologna Process.

Leading institutional partners for joint- and dual-degree programs are in Europe. That is not surprising given the major push in Europe for the establishment of joint- and dual-degree programs as a priority for inter-European cooperation, including the Bologna Process aimed at harmonizing EU countries' degree structures and quality assurance metrics.

"Double and joint degrees have become a highly desirable tool in the Bologna Process—to promote convergence of higher education systems as well as to foster both international cooperation and competition," says Fiona Hunter, international director at Università Carlo Cattaneo-LIUC in Italy and president of the European Association for International Education. An example, she says, is Erasmus Mundus, an EU intiative that supports European top-quality master's degree courses and enhances the visibility and attractiveness of European higher education in third countries. It currently provides EU-funded scholarships for third country nationals participating in these master's courses, and plans to extend the scholarships also to EU nationals.

"[Erasmus Mundus] is an instrument to achieve the Bologna goals by improving the quality, visibility, and attractiveness of European higher education by creating centres of excellence and encouraging incoming mobility from third country graduate students and scholars," says Hunter. "This is done through the provision of master's programs offered by consortia of at least three European universities from three different countries, although there can be additional partners from outside Europe. Third-country students who are admitted to these master's programs receive an Erasmus Mundus scholarship, and all students must study in at least two of the institutions in the consortium in order to obtain either the joint- or double-degree award."

Hunter says there are around 105 Erasmus master's degrees now being offered in European universities that provide 6,000 grants to incoming third-country students. Hunter says that the program is considered a success and that new developments and extensions to the existing programs are currently being planned. "There are currently only mobility grants for European students but this is expected to be extended to full scholarships in the next round of applications, due to be launched in October 2008, once the proposal has gone through all the bureaucratic hoops in Brussels. Other expected changes are the extension of the program to the doctoral level, new quality assurance measures, and greater involvement of non-European partners."

Godfrey notes that European Union countries have made great progress in eliminating legal and some structural barriers that have heretofore prevented collaborative programs among European institutions, particularly joint-degree programs: "Serious structural barriers remain before joint degrees within Europe can thrive," Godfrey says. "Systems remain governed by the state and are rigid. While tuition costs are lower, universities have fewer resources, and these are mostly public, which can be an obstacle to investing in a pilot dual or joint degree."

The European efforts may serve as a valuable template for efforts to institute cross-country programs. "American universities reinvent the wheel all the time," Godfrey says. "We haven't figured out a way to solve the structural issues of how do we connect institutionally, so it's every university trying to do it themselves. The Europeans are working collaboratively on it and I'm impressed at the progress they've made." One European educator says that there is a difference in the approach of Americans and Europeans toward dual- and joint-degree programs that can frustrate cooperation.

"Europeans are more sensitive to the value of the 'degree' and, therefore, studying in another country with no degree involved is not as valuable as being awarded a degree in another country," says Marie Jose Albert Batt, associate dean for international relations at the Groupe ESC Dijon-Bourgogne/Burgundy School of Business in France. "Americans don't seem to value a 'non-American degree' that much and they're often not ready to stay long enough in Europe to get the degree. Therefore, the exchange is often unbalanced: 'degree-seeking students' go from Europe to the U.S. while semester students or students enrolled in 'short-term programs' tend to go from the U.S. to Europe. My institution is a business school and we have a fair number of double-degree programs at the graduate level (M.B.A. mainly) with American business schools. We send about 20 to 25 degree-seeking students to the U.S. each year, but we very rarely welcome American degree-seeking students. On the other hand we welcome close to 200 American students per year for short-term, customized programs of two to six weeks."