The First Universities Ireland North-South Research Project

The first U.I. North-South Research Project is on the feasibility of harmonising regulations, awarding joint degrees and developing credit transfer arrangements between the nine universities on the island of Ireland.

This 12-month research project, beginning in January 2003, will be undertaken by Mr Lewis Purser, currently Programme Manager and Head of the Geneva Office of the European University Association (EUA).

Abstract and Rationale

The harmonisation of regulations between universities North and South, the awarding of joint degrees and the development of credit transfer arrangements have been identified by Universities Ireland as potential mechanisms to work towards its stated goal of improved inter-university co-operation across the island of Ireland. This goal should be seen in the context of maintaining and developing the island’s position in the European and global knowledge economy.

Within the emerging European Higher Education Area, and in response to growing competition in international higher education, the universities on the island of Ireland are actively looking at ways to promote closer collaboration. This position is a developing one as a result of the post-1998 political situation on the island and a growing awareness of the implications of the Bologna Process.

This research project will assist the universities of Ireland, North and South, to develop and expand their current provision of cross-border degrees, modules and credit transfers within a wider European framework. The project will deliver a series of detailed recommendations, targeted at a variety of levels, to build on the current situation and to overcome existing obstacles to co-operation in these areas.

Goals and Objectives

1.The project will draw on cross-border experience in Ireland, the UK and Europe to make detailed proposals as to how North-South university arrangements might be harmonised through agreed protocols to facilitate future cross-border modules at both postgraduate and undergraduate levels.

The project will review existing Irish cross-border courses and modules at masters and other levels, as well as similar courses and modules across Europe, in order to identify the necessary conditions for the success of such courses and modules, and the obstacles hindering their development.

This will involve the detailed examination of both policies and practices – at national and institutional levels – governing current legal, regulatory and financial frameworks, recognition procedures, student and staff mobility, quality assurance and accreditation.

The project will also examine how universities in Ireland have actually developed the content and structures of existing courses, including the use of modules, credit transfer and accumulation arrangements, the sharing of responsibilities for teaching, supervision, assessment and awards, and what appeal procedures are in place. The opportunities and challenges posed by the use of new technologies in the teaching and learning processes across borders will be specifically addressed.

2.The project will make detailed proposals on how such protocols between universities on the island of Ireland might provide a model for protocols for use between Irish universities, North and South, and other EU universities.

The project will extend the detailed examination of current arrangements between universities in Ireland, as outlined above, to examine how other European partners might be included and the implications of this for Irish universities. It will study the outcomes of the current European University Association Joint Masters pilot project and the recent EUA conference on Integrated Programmes and Joint Degrees; the use of ECTS (or ECTS-compatible systems such as NICATS) for expanding credit transfer arrangements with other European universities; and the functionality of current credit transfer and accumulation arrangements between universities across Ireland, both in terms of student learning and administrative procedures. It will make recommendations regarding the extension or adaptation of these arrangements to include a wider set of European partners.

3.The project will place its recommendations in the context of the Bologna Process of harmonising degrees and assessment procedures within the EU as a whole.

The project will draw on the outcomes of the Trends 2003 survey (Progress towards the European Higher Education Area) and the 2000-2002 Tuning of Education Structures in Europe project (first phase) to make recommendations in the cross-border Irish context on common understandings of generic and subject-specific competences, the role of ECTS as an accumulation system, and the role of quality assurance and evaluation in learning, teaching, assessment and performance.

In pursuit of good practice elsewhere which might inform the Irish situation, the project will also examine examples of cross-border higher education co-operation in other European regions: e.g. the EUCOR network between six French, German and Swiss universities in the Upper Rhine valley; the ALMA initiative involving four universities in the Dutch-German-Belgian border region; and the Oresund University consortium involving 12 universities and colleges in Denmark and southern Sweden.