In view of the fact that the EU-wide target of 20 percent of students completing a stay abroad by 2020 (cf. Leuven Communiqué 2009) had already been achieved at that time, the science ministers of the Federation and the Länder set the goal in 2013 that by 2020 "every second university graduate should have gained study-related experience abroad and at least one in three should be able to demonstrate a stay abroad of at least 3 months and/or 15 ECTS." (Strategy of the Science Ministers of the Federation and the Länder for the Internationalisation of Higher Education Institutions in Germany, 2013) (german only).
Stays abroad offer opportunities to get to know other education systems, to improve foreign language skills and to develop intercultural competences. Mobility is therefore not an end in itself, but contributes to the personal development of students and enables individual educational biographies. In a globalised world of work, experience abroad is also an important qualification component (cf. https://eu.daad.de/service/auswertung-und-statistik/studien-und-auswertungen-der-na-daad/daad-iw-studie-2019/de/78483-daad-iw-studie-2019/) (german only).
Currently, about one third of all German students have completed at least one study-related stay abroad (semesters abroad, internships, language courses, study trips, project work and summer schools) in the course of their studies. In addition to financial aspects and the possible separation from family and friends, it is above all questions of recognition of study and examination achievements and the resulting possible loss of time that are decisive for the decision whether to undertake a stay abroad. In particular, the question of recognition is also central to a change of subject or university within Germany. This applies in particular to the transition from Bachelor to Master.
Recognition is a prerequisite for mobility
An important prerequisite for the national and international mobility of students is the most comprehensive possible recognition of study and examination achievements in the national and international context. This means that competences already acquired are not examined more than once and study periods are not unnecessarily extended.
Building on the objectives of the Bologna reform, in 2020 the Rome Communiqué of the European Ministers of Education recalled the importance of full recognition of degrees and periods of study and emphasised that digital means in particular should be used for further improvement. The higher education policy goals for the creation of a European Education Area by 2025, which are specified in the "Council Recommendation on promoting automatic mutual recognition of qualifications and learning periods abroad" and the "Action Plan for Digital Education", which names the opening of education systems as an important political goal, go in the same direction. This makes it clear that universities are expected to continue to make considerable efforts in the area of recognition.
However, mobility within Germany must not be forgotten when it comes to recognition, as it represents a large part of the recognition process when students change subjects or universities. Therefore, flexible recognition is also necessary within Germany, also against the background of a growing number of study programmes with diverse designations, contents and specialisations.
Structures that promote mobility
The design of study structures has emerged as an effective field of action for increasing student mobility. With the help of various study structure instruments such as mobility windows, elective modules or container modules, curricular freedom for a semester abroad is created in the degree programme. International learning experiences integrated into study programmes can also provide incentives for students to decide to spend a semester abroad.
Not only the design of study programmes serves the mobility of students, but also international and national cooperation between higher education institutions, whether in the form of alliances or networks, as well as institutionalised exchange programmes make an important contribution to this. In addition to university cooperation agreements and double degree programmes, various exchange programmes such as the ERASMUS+ programme of the European Union exist to promote international mobility.
Activities of the MODUS project
The MODUS project aims to further improve recognition practices at universities in order to promote mobility. This includes the recognition of achievements and qualifications from home and abroad. To achieve this goal, the project will develop standards for recognition procedures, support the use and further development of digital opportunities and provide information and guidance services to higher education institutions.
Standard setting will be done through the identification and promotion of good practice by defining core objectives, involving pioneers, examining how good practice works and highlighting elements of transferability. In doing so, national and European or international initiatives to promote mobility will also be made more visible and the utilisation of the results in higher education institutions will be promoted.
Student mobility takes various forms: On the one hand, as a temporary study or internship stay (credit mobility) or as a complete study programme (degree mobility) abroad. On the other hand, students should also be able to change their place of study within Germany. For this reason, mobility within Germany is another important component. In addition, there are various forms of short-term stays (especially abroad), for example summer schools, excursions or language courses. Virtual mobility completes the field of possibilities for students to gain experience in other learning environments.