Collaborative International Degrees Are on the Rise

September 11, 2011

Joint- and dual-degree programs are an increasingly common way for universities to further the internationalization of their campuses and raise their global profile, with master's programs the most common types of joint ventures, and the United States and China the most desired partners. These and other findings were part of a report released today, "Joint and Double-Degree Programs in the Global Context," from the Institute of International Education.

The report is based on survey data collected this year from 245 higher-education institutions in 28 countries. Senior administrators were asked about their involvement with and interest in joint- and dual-degree programs. Generally speaking, a joint degree is a single certificate issued by the institutions involved, while in a dual-degree program, graduates receive separate certificates from each institution.

According to the survey, only 33 percent of responding institutions offered joint degrees, while 84 percent offered dual, or double, degrees.

Daniel Obst, deputy vice president for international partnerships at the Institute of International Education and one of the report's authors, said that joint-degree programs "are much more complex to implement and hence are a lot less popular." In some instances, the report notes, local legislation even prevents the establishment of joint-degree programs.

More American institutions reported offering dual-degree programs than did universities in any other country, while French institutions offered the greatest number of joint-degree programs. The United States is unusual, however, in that half of these programs are at the undergraduate level, whereas in other countries most collaborative-degree programs involve master's degrees. Australian institutions, which have more partnership degrees at the doctoral level, are also an exception.

The most common field of study is business and management, with engineering coming in second. The social sciences and mathematics are among other popular disciplines.

The United States places second, after China, in a ranking of countries in which survey respondents said they wanted to set up collaborative-degree programs in the future, although it remains the top choice for respondents from France, Germany, and Italy. China is also the first choice for where American institutions say they would like to set up partnerships.

These preferences reflect different institutional and national strategies, said Mr. Obst. "Many American campuses are looking to recruit international students as a motivation for setting up these programs," he said. Although 63 percent of American respondents said they did not have any specific student-recruitment measures for such programs, of those that do, 65 percent are concentrating on attracting international students, according to the report. In Europe, in contrast, where significant financing has come from the European Commission's Erasmus programs, the emphasis has been more on fostering student and staff circulation.

American colleges, Mr. Obst noted, "are making an active push to send more students out" to rectify the imbalance that often exists because so many more students come in from abroad than take part from the United States.

Deeper Alliances

Although most joint- and dual-degree programs enroll fewer than 25 students, they constitute an increasingly central part of universities' strategy for internationalization. Almost all of the survey respondents said they planned to establish more such programs. American institutions especially are pursuing deeper strategic alliances with a handful of institutions, rather than seeking partnerships with as many as possible, and the push to develop collaborative-degree programs reflects this shift in focus, said Mr. Obst. "In the United States they will never be the leading source of international engagement, but they are emblematic of these much more in-depth relationships that institutions are forming," he said.

The report notes that collaborative degree programs can be challenging to put in place and sustain.

"If we were talking about human beings, we would be talking about how do you find your husband or wife," said Matthias Kuder of the Free University of Berlin, another of the report's co-authors.

The most common way in which institutions pair off is through existing exchanges or established contacts, such as two professors who have worked jointly on projects before. Some programs even originate through students' projects. Although such "bottom up" involvement is essential, there must also be wider participation from the department and the institution to ensure the program's success and continuation, Mr. Kuder emphasized. "If it is only based on the idea of these two people, chances are that if one retires or goes elsewhere, it breaks down," he said.

Ensuring adequate financing for programs, especially once initial start-up grants run out, is also important, he said. "If a program only attracts students for as long as there are scholarships available, I wouldn't say it's a good program." Institutions that are the most rigorous from the beginning—asking tough questions about why they are establishing a program, who is going to take part in it, whether and how it will attract enough students, and what advantages it brings to the institution as a whole—will be the most successful in the long term, Mr. Kuder said. "You need to have a very clear-cut strategy as an institution."

This latest survey follows from a previous report from the institute, "Joint and Double-Degree Programs in the Trans-Atlantic Context," which was released in 2009 and focused on the United States and Europe.


More global news from The Chronicle

SIGN UP: Get Global Coverage in Your Inbox
JOIN THE CONVERSATION:    Twitter     LinkedIn