Letting students lead the way: assessing the quality of joint academic programmes

Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees (EMJMDs) bring teaching from various higher education institutions in different countries together under one integrated programme that provides a comprehensive educational experience for future professionals. Many programmes venture across traditional academic borderlines in the mix of teaching they provide. With this dynamic and innovative blend of approaches, how easy is it to ensure quality of teaching in these programmes?

Quality is present from the selection stage: quality aspects account for almost half the points that an assessor can award when an Erasmus Mundus programme is proposed for funding. Once projects start, the EU closely monitors how projects are living up to their claims.

Keeping students at the centre

Central to this idea of quality in an academic programme is the importance of the students themselves - after all, they are the reason the programmes are set up in the first place. Many academics underline the amount that they learn from their students: the strongly international mix of students in any one course brings new insights and new ways of tackling academic challenges. These can come both from the different cultural angles that a student may bring, or from their professional experience - many come to an EMJMD after a stint of professional activity, rather than direct from their bachelors’ studies.

For example, the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree in Work, Organizational, and Personnel Psychology (WOP-P) is all about preparing students to be human resources professionals. As the main actor in the programme, students are engaged from the beginning and asked to trace out their own study track that matches their choice of subject-matter and assignments.

Regular feedback improves quality

EMJMDs rely on student voices to re-align and improve their programmes in the longer term. A constant feedback channel not only allows students to make the most of the programme but also helps the academic staff to improve the teaching component. One of these channels is the Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA), whose course representatives provide a line to communicate students’ ideas and suggestions back to the programme coordinators. EMA also manages a Course Quality Advisory Board (CQAB), which invites all students and graduates to give feedback on their programme of study. Survey results are collated and published online in the EM Course Browser, which so far gives peer-review information on 78 joint master courses.

Georgiana Mihut and Mikhail Balyasin of the CQAB, who pioneered the survey and the browser, explain, ’we believe that judgements about the quality of a course are best made not by […] external researchers, but internally at the level of each course through a dialogue including all relevant stakeholders.’ The browser will soon be updated with the results of the 2016 survey, and Georgiana and Mikhail hope it will become a ‘conversation-starter among students, administrators and professors on the quality of EMJMD courses’.

Read more about EMJMDs and what inspires the academics who run them in 24 Degrees.

If you operate a joint master programme, you may be interested in going for the 2018 Erasmus+ Call for Proposals, which will be published soon and will select some 45 new Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree programmes.

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