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“When a Double degree becomes a challenge for internationalisation"

Svetlana Shenderova

Dr. Svetlana Shenderova, researcher of EDUneighbours project, Tampere University, Finland, discussed at EAIR 2019 Open Space

who and how partner universities are responsible for a double degree programme.

EDUneighbours selected as the cases 13 double degree partnerships implemented in 5 Finnish and 10 Russian universities for interviews in 2017-2018.

I considered as the most important questions the follows:

1) how each partner university allocate responsibilities for a double degree with itself including the role of central/faculty and administrative/academic departments?

2) how Finnish and Russian universities allocate responsibilities for the double degrees between each other?

3) how the division of responsibilities produces transaction costs and when it turns into challenges for internationalisation?

Usually one Finnish university had established partnerships with several Russian universities. Therefore, the EDUneighbours had an opportunity to compare how differently one or another Russian partner implemented the same degree with the same Finnish partner.

Transaction costs: hidden menace for university management

I consider Double degree transaction costs as all efforts, time and indirect expenditures of stakeholders both inside any partner university and between each of them in order to cooperate in a double degree programme.

Double degree story: within Finnish and Russian partners

The analysis of the interview data revealed that Finnish universities completely relied on their academics to develop the learning outcomes, content and curricula for a double degree. In addition, faculties played a significant role in the double degree track control, approval and implementation.

In Finland universities seemed to integrate academic and international affairs successfully.

Students were not involved into the recognition process of their study period abroad; Finnish universities made it automatically for them.

Meanwhile Russian universities had multiple places for double degree decision-making. For example, academics were usually responsible for double degree learning outcomes, content of courses and their delivery to the students. Notwithstanding these parts of the double degree should also be approved by the central administration of the university before its launch and during the implementation. The central administration had a separate departments for academic and for international affairs. Their officers controlled the double degree without any specific knowledge in its field and had no responsibility as to students and academics.

Russian academics at the faculties were overloaded by permanent negotiations with different central administrative officers

who often did not want to adapt domestic programme rules for the purposes of the double degree.

Who cares about a double degree: how partners allocate their responsibilities

Finnish and Russian universities often agreed to allocate double degree responsibilities based on a general cooperation agreement without any amendments in relation to double degrees. Academic heads of some double degrees trusted in their partners’ ability to organise everything for their students in the best possible way.

The interviewees in both counties mentioned the curricula development as the most painful issue for a programme implementation. It demanded a lot of internal negotiations which should be revised again if a partner changed its views on the updated curriculum.

Transaction costs exceed the benefits of a double degree as the whole programmes. That is why partners often agree to be responsible for their parts of a double degree independently from each other.

Partner universities rarely develop common approach how to manage curriculum design, quality assurance, student and staff workload and assessment, travels etc. A trivial combination of the similar content based on ‘1+1’ principle: 1st year at home university plus 2nd year abroad or vice versa. However, such combination was down to the added value of a double degree: it offered new experiences such as living and study abroad more than to acquire new knowledge beyond the domestic curriculum.

Finnish funding, e.g. (FIRST+) prevailed in double degree partnerships. Instead a significant number of Russian universities among the cases was supported by the government programmes. However, only few of them used these programmes to fund mobility of students and academics involved in double degrees.

Mobility costs were often covered by students and teachers themselves. All the cases showed that both Finnish and Russian students had to spent their non-reimbursable time and/or money for acquiring a visa or for fees to get their transcripts of records/Diploma Supplement translated.

When the division of responsibilities generates double degree transaction costs

Both the vague division of responsibilities within any partner institution and lack of details in the agreement between the partner universities increased transaction costs. Fragmented or vague double degree responsibilities led to permanent changes in double degree procedures. It consequently increased the number of required internal university reports, meetings and additional demands not necessarily understandable for an international partner.

Some Russian universities hired special managers to combine the demands of the international partner, academic head and different administrative offices regarding the double degree.

Academics and administrators of double degree programmes argued that they were in a state of a permanent conflict regarding the recognition with several central offices. In some cases, vaguely divided responsibilities for the credit transfer and curriculum design led to non-recognised period of study abroad. These Russian universities considered double degree students as absent. Therefore, the students had to spend their time to take their exams in their home university again or even attend an additional semester.

Transaction costs influenced on sustainability of double degrees: annual intake or symmetrical mobility were not met in any Finnish-Russian double degree programme.
4 from 13 partnerships died by 2019.

The questions of EAIR 2019 Open Space participants focused on such issues as:

how partners harmonise curricula; how they calculate teaching and student workload when the number of hours in one credit is different in Finland and Russia; and how student and teaching mobility is organised and funded, and how serious is the role of historical tensions between the countries in double degree management.

To conclude, if the implementation of a double degree programme demands too many efforts to divide responsibilities clearly and follow this division, the partners prefer to minimise transaction costs. They return to the exchanges as the only appropriate approach to attract international students. Therefore, poorly defined responsibilities within and between partners multiply transaction costs of the double degree, and consequently, they become a challenge for internationalisation.

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