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Joint Modules and Internationalisation in Higher Education

Reflections on the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning»


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer, Paula Guimaraes and Balázs Németh

This volume places the development of the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning» (COMPALL) in the context of international development in higher education and adult education. Based on this framework, the authors discuss the development of the joint module in terms of its institutional and didactical structure as well as participants’ motivation and diversity. The book is divided into three parts: (1) Internationalisation in Higher Education, (2) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Case of Adult Education, and (3) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Example of COMPALL.

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COMPALL Winter School students’ motivations (Natália Alves / Paula Guimarães)

Natália Alves & Paula Guimarães

COMPALL Winter School Students Motivations

Abstract: Based on a questionnaire-­based survey supported and interviews, we discuss students motivations to be involved in the 2016 COMPALL Winter School, an ERASMUS mobility programme aimed at promoting scientific, cultural, professional, and personal experiences and the internationalisation of higher education policies and institutions.


Comparative Studies on Adult and Lifelong Learning (COMPALL) is an ERASMUS + project, which started in September 2015 and will end in August 2018. COMPALL aims at developing and implementing a joint module on Comparative Studies on Adult and Lifelong Learning targeted at masters and doctoral students from several European Union member states and non-­European countries. The project intends to contribute to the training of highly qualified researchers and practitioners in the field of adult education by providing students with the knowledge and skills that enable them to incorporate an international dimension into their future work, studies, or research. It is also expected that the acquisition of skills in international comparison and work will improve students employability1.

The Joint Module COMPALL is based on online and on-­campus teaching paths at each partner university, as well as an intensive face-­to-­face course: the International Winter School. Participation in the International Winter School requires students engagement in a very short-­term mobility programme and involves three parts. The first part takes place at students home university. It consists of a preparatory phase during which participants prepare themselves by reading scientific literature made available on the server of the University of Würzburg and by writing a transnational essay on one selected topic linked to one of the several comparative groups offered. The International Winter School Comparative Studies in Adult and Lifelong Learning takes place at the University of Würzburg and lasts for two weeks. During the first week, which corresponds to the second part of the International Winter School, students attend courses focussing on lifelong learning concepts, strategies, and policies in Europe, and are introduced←143 | 144→ to a conceptual model of policy analysis. They also participate in field visits to different adult education organisations, where they have the opportunity to learn from German experience and to get in touch with local stakeholders. The second week is devoted to comparative work group and corresponds to the third part of participating in the intensive course. During this week, and based on the individual transnational essays previously written, participants develop a comparative analysis on a selected topic. The results of each comparative work group are presented to all participants at the end of the second week (Schmidt-­Lauff, Semrau, & Egetenmeyer, forthcoming).

Since the launch of the ERASMUS programme, a significant number of research studies have focussed on higher education students motivations (Lesjak, Juvan, Ineson, Yap and Axelsson, 2015; Fombona, Rodríguez, & Sevillano, 2013; Doyle et al., 2010; Pietro & Page, 2008) and on the political and individual outcomes of short-­term international mobility (EC, 2015, 2014; Teichler, 2012, 2007, 2004; Mitchell, 2012; Oborune, 2013; Janson, Schomburg, & Teichler, 2009). However, very few focus on the motivation factors and perceptions of the students engaged in intensive courses. This is what the present paper aims to do.

The ERASMUS programme: A brief overview

Influenced by student mobility policies in the United States, European countries and the European Commission in the 1970s started to promote temporary mobility programmes for university students aiming at increasing intercultural dialogue and understanding, and improving foreign language proficiency (Teichler & Janson, 2007). The Joint Study Programmes supported by the European Commission from 1976 to 1986 proved to be highly successful initiatives on which the ERASMUS Programme would be built. Targeted at university students, the Joint Study Programmes supported study periods from 6 months to one year at a European university.

The ERASMUS Programme was established in 1987 to support international students wide-­scale mobility within the European Union ensuring equality of opportunities for male and female students; to promote cooperation among higher education institutions; to harness the intellectual potential of universities; and to strengthen the interaction among the European member states citizens (EEC, 1987). As González, Bustillo Mensanza, and Mariel (2011, p. 412) stated, the ERASMUS programme ‘has been one of the first initiatives to implement the fundamentals of the European Space for Higher Education and lies at the heart of the Bologna Process. Curiously, and contrary to what we may think, the name of the programme is not related to the famous Latin scholar Desiderius←144 | 145→ Erasmus of Rotterdam. It is an acronym for European [Region] Action [Scheme] for University Students (Corradi, 2015).

In 2006, the European Parliament and the European Council approved a decision2 establishing an action programme in the field of lifelong learning. Under this action programme framework, changes were introduced to the ERASMUS programme, giving rise to what could be labelled as a second-­generation programme. The range of individuals and organisations eligible to apply was diversified. The second generation of the ERASMUS programme was not only directed at tertiary education and training students and aimed at promoting higher education institutions dialogue but also at teachers, trainers, and other staff working at these institutions, associations, and representatives. It involved higher education, enterprises, social partners, and other representatives of working life, public and private bodies responsible for the organisation and delivery of education, research centres, and bodies providing guidance, counselling, and information services relating to lifelong learning (EC, 2006). In addition, ERASMUS programme could also play a role in pursuing the objectives of the Lifelong Learning Action programme. Furthermore, being established by the Bologna Declaration, it was to support the achievement of a European Area of Higher Education by the year 2010 and to reinforce the contribution of higher education and advanced vocational education to the process of innovation. Beyond these more general objectives, operational ones were defined: to raise students and teachers mobility to 3.3 million students by 2012; to enhance the quality and the volume of multilateral cooperation between higher education institutions and between higher education institutions and enterprises; to increase the transparency and compatibility of the qualifications acquired; to facilitate the development of innovative higher education practices and their transfer between countries; and finally, to support the development of innovative ICT-­based contents, services, pedagogies, and practices (EC, 2006). To achieve these objectives, the programme was to support the following actions: the mobility of students, teaching staff, and other staff at higher education institutions or enterprises; intensive programmes; and multilateral projects and networks.

In 2013, a Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council3 established a new programme named ERASMUS+, to be implemented from 1 January 2014←145 | 146→ to the 31 December 2020. This programme brings together former European programmes such as: Comenius, Leonardo da Vinci, Grundtvig, ERASMUS, ERASMUS Mundus and Youth in Action. The ERASMUS+ programme covers three different fields: education and training including school education, vocational education and training, adult education and higher education; youth and sports. Contrary to what happened with Decision no 1720/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, which kept the ERASMUS programme autonomous, the present regulation makes higher education one among other education and training domains. There are, however, some specific objectives related to higher education that are worth mentioning. The ERASMUS+ programme is to: enhance the international dimension of education and training, in the field of vocational education and training and in higher education, by increasing the attractiveness of European higher education institutions; increase the mobility of students and teaching staff in all cycles of higher education; promote cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices by supporting strategic partnerships between education and training organisations, in particular higher education institutions, and between them and the world of work; and improve the use of ICT platforms allowing for collaborative learning, virtual mobility, and the exchange of good practices (EU, 2013).

Since the ERASMUS programme launch, the number of higher education students enrolled in short-­term transnational mobility has not stopped increasing. In 1987, they were 3,244; in 2014, 270,000 students spent a period studying or training abroad. By the end of the 2013–2014 academic year, the ERASMUS programme had supported 3.3 million students, and it is expected that by 2020, at least 20 per cent of all graduates should have been involved in some kind of short-­term mobility (EC, 2015).

A key issue with respect to the ERASMUS programme is the extent to which the programme objectives have been achieved. From a policy viewpoint, empirical evidence shows that ERASMUS plays a central role in

implementing a European Higher Education Area and increasing internationalisation, cooperation, and innovation among higher education institutions (EU, 2014; Teichler & Jansen, 2007; CHEPS, INCHER, & ECOTEC, 2008);

strengthening the European Unions position as a knowledge-­based society (Rodriguez et al. 2011);

enhancing social inclusion (EU, 2015);

fostering European identity and citizenship (Oborune, 2013; Mitchell, 2012).←146 | 147→

From an individual viewpoint, short-­term transnational mobility helps

equip students with transferable and soft skills, in particular, the eight key competencies for lifelong learning4 (Kumpikaitté & Duoba, 2013; Vaicekauskas, Duoba, & Kumpikaitté-­Valiunienne, 2013; Marques & Almeida, 2014);

improve foreign language skills (Mitchell, 2012; Teichler, 2004, 2012);

develop intercultural awareness (EU, 2015; Conradi, 2015; Williams, 2005);

enhance job search process and graduates professional careers (Paweł, 2015; EU, 2014; Teichler, 2004, 2009).

However, in recent years, some empirical research has questioned the direct effects of participation in short-­term mobility on the emergence of a European identity and on graduates employability. The relationship between ERASMUS and European identity and citizenship became one of the most controversial issues in the academic community. Whereas some scholars presented empirical evidence supporting the idea that short-­term mobility induces a European identity (van Moll, 2013), others show that students who identify themselves as Europeans are not more likely to engage in ERASMUS (Wilson, 2011; Sigalas, 2010). The assumption that ERASMUS enhances graduates employability is strongly supported by empirical evidence. Nevertheless, the ‘distinct professional value of temporary study in another country is declining over time (Teichler & Janson, 2007, p. 486). Two related reasons are pointed out for this decline. The massification of the ERASMUS programme, one of its most successful results, produced a mismatch between the competences acquired through ‘massive participation in transnational mobility and the demand for these competences from employers. Additionally, the diffusion of international competences among European youth made them less exclusive and hence less valuable in the labour market (Rivza & Teichler, 2007; Teichler, 2007).

ERASMUS students motivations

There is not much research about ERASMUS students motivations and even less when intensive courses are concerned. Maiworn and Teichler (2002) are among the few researchers who developed an analysis on students motivations to get in←147 | 148→volved in short-­term mobility. Under the scope of the evaluation of the conditions, processes and outcomes of ERASMUS student mobility in 1998/1999, a representative survey was undertaken. The questionnaire named ‘Experiences of ERASMUS Students 1998/99 included questions that asked the students to select the motives that influenced their decision and to prioritise them5. As the authors point out, there were many reasons to study abroad, but the motives with the highest scores were: the opportunity for self-­development and learning a foreign language – 87 per cent of the respondents considered these motives to have a ‘strong or a ‘rather strong influence on their decision; the wish to gain academic learning experience in another country (82%); the wish to improve understanding of the host country (73%); the wish to improve career prospects (71%); and the wish to travel (71%), (Maiworn & Teichler, 2002, p. 88). Two years later, Teichler (2004, p. 397), referring to these results claimed that ‘students expect the four major benefits of temporary study abroad frequently quoted by experts, namely, academic, cultural, linguistic and professional benefits.

In the 2006 ESN Survey (Krzaklewska & Krupnik, 2007, p. 14), students were asked to point out the importance of each motive listed6. The most ‘important or ‘very important motivations indicated by the respondents were: to have new experiences (98%); to practice a foreign language (90%); to learn about different cultures (90%); to meet new people (90%). These results were similar to the findings of Maiworn and Teichler (2002). However, Krzaklewska and Krupniks research showed that there were important differences when age, gender, income, and country or region were taken into account (Krzaklewska & Krupnik, 2007, pp. 14–15).

The quantitative research conducted by Lesjak, Juvan, Ineson, Yap, and Axelsson (2015) used an ERASMUS mobility motives scale. The scale was composed←148 | 149→ of fourteen items7 and measured on a 5-point scale from ‘strongly disagree to ‘strongly agree. The most important motives to get involved in ERASMUS mobility were consistent with previous research findings, presented above. The respondents wanted ‘to experience something new (mean=4.67), ‘to grow personally (mean=4.55), ‘to learn about different cultures (mean=4.5), ‘to meet new people (mean=4.5), ‘to have a semester away from home (mean=4.41), ‘to improve foreign language (mean=4.32), and ‘to experience European identity (mean=4.01) (Lesjak et al., 2007, p. 854).

Based on autobiographical narratives and interviews with ERASMUS students, Krzaklewska (2008) identified four motivational areas and eleven different motives to get involved in short-­term international mobility8. Three of the motivational areas are similar to the major benefits identified by experts (Teichler, 2004): academic, cultural, and linguistic. However, when students were asked to freely write about their motivations, the professional motives lost importance and were replaced by personal ones. This finding, along with the relatively low scores of the items related to employability motives used in the quantitative research mentioned above, allows us to question the importance given to the employment and professionally related motives by some scholars and European policy-­makers.


The aim of this article is to answer to the following question: What were the motivations of the students that attended the International Winter School in 2016 (Lattke & Egetenmeyer, 2016)9? The analysis of this article is based on a qualita←149 | 150→tive and comprehensive approach (Lichtman, 2006). To this end, the discussion focuses on empirical data collected by the evaluation of the 2016 International Winter School. It aimed at collecting data on students motivations. The evaluation was supported by a survey, namely a paper questionnaire filled out by 82 of the 91 participants and on short interviews of 8 selected students, both masters and doctoral. A content analysis (Neuendorf, 2002) of data concerning students motivations was performed to identify the main features discussed in next section.

Data discussion


Students attending the COMPALL Winter school were 68.3 per cent female and 31.7 per cent male. The gender balance is consistent with other findings on ERASMUS students (EU, 2015; Lesjak et al., 2015; Krzaklewska & Krupnik, 2007; Maiworn & Teichler, 2002), confirming the higher participation rates of female students observed since the launch of the programme (Maiworn & Teichler, 2002).

In accordance with the Winter School target groups, 67.1 per cent of the participants were enrolled in a masters course at their home university, 30.3 per cent were doctoral students, and 2.6 per cent were enrolled in other study programmes. Students were from 17 different countries of origin: 66.6 per cent from European countries and 33.4 per cent from non-­European ones. The most represented countries were Germany, Italy, and India with 51.2 per cent of all participants.

For the majority of participants (53.7%), the Winter School was the first international mobility experience. Those who did have a previous mobility experience attended an international conference, completed an exchange semester or/and an intensive international course, participated in a study excursion abroad or, more rarely, in an international internship or volunteering activity.

COMPALL students motivational factors

Winter School participants were asked to rank the importance of each of seven motives presented to them, using a 5-point scale (1- not at all, 5- very much). All the motives received high ratings, with means ranging from 3.72 to 4.65. The top motivations to participate were related to culture and academics. To meet lecturers and students from other countries were the most important motives to attend the Winter School (meeting lecturers from other countries, mean = 4.65; meeting students from other countries, mean = 4.50). Students were also motivated by the opportunity of improving their academic knowledge in the topics ‘Comparative Studies and ‘European Lifelong Learning Strategies, the core topic←150 | 151→ of the course (interest in the topic ‘Comparative Studies, mean = 4.26; interest in the topic ‘European Lifelong Learning Strategies, mean = 3.93), as already emphasised by Schmidt-­Lauff, Semrau, and Egetenmeyer (forthcoming). To improve career prospects was another important motivational factor (improvement of your career prospects, mean = 4.14). This last result was similar to other findings (Krzaklewska & Krupnik, 2007; Maiworn & Teichler, 2002), revealing once more the belief in one of most important expected benefits of transnational mobility (Teichler, 2004). Further motives were related to language and culture (interest in travelling to Germany, mean = 3.74; improving English language skills = 3.72).

The motives to participate in the Winter School were strongly influenced by two educational and demographic attributes: the participants educational level and country origin. Doctoral students motives were consistently more academic and career-­related than those of masters students. They were motivated by the specific Winter School topics, by interacting with researchers from other countries, and by improving their career prospects.

Table 1: Motives to participate in the Winter School 2016 (cf. Lattke & Egetenmeyer, 2016)


However, the strongest differences in motivational factors were found between European and non-­European participants. The latter were much more motivated by strictly academic motives – their interest in Comparative Studies and European Lifelong Learning strategies – and career perspectives than their European colleagues. Among others, two reasons may explain the importance attributed by non-­European participants to these motives. Janson, Schomburg,←151 | 152→ and Teichler (2009, p. 25) point out that one of the benefits of studying abroad is the ‘acquisition of academic knowledge (theories, methods and basic disciplinary knowledge) in areas of expertise which are not taught in the home country at all or only on a substantially lower level. If this benefit can be perceived as one reason for getting involved in short-­term mobility by European students, we can hypothesise that this reason was even more important for students coming from non-­European countries, where most probably European lifelong learning strategies are not taught and comparative studies are less developed. The enhancement of career prospects has been presented as one of the benefits of mobility programmes and as one of the important motives indicated by ERASMUS students for being involved in transnational mobility (Krzaklewska & Krupnik, 2006; Krzaklewska, 2008; Maiworn & Teichler, 2002). If European students valorise the professional value of ERASMUS in the labour market, it is not surprising that non-­European students value it even more and mention improving their career prospects as the second most important motive to attend the intensive course.

The answers to the open questions about learning and personal outcomes were consistent with participants motivations to attend the Winter School, as argued by Schmidt-­Lauff, Semrau, and Egetenmeyer (forthcoming) as well. Students stated that they learnt about adult education policies and strategies in different countries:

‘I learnt about politics, policies and strategies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning;

‘I learnt about Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in different countries in terms of structures, demand and needs, funding, programmes, policies and frameworks of the programmes.

Students also referred to learning about comparative research methodologies and skills

‘How to compare different aspects in different countries;

‘I learnt to do a comparative study, the procedure, the methodology.

In terms of what is referred to as academic learning outputs, we can add the improvement of English language skills mentioned by several participants.

Contrary to the learning outputs, which were concentrated in three main topics, participants personal motivations were much more diversified. Similar to Krzaklewskas (2008) findings, participants referred to their development as persons. Some claimed they became more self-­confident and more tolerant when cultural differences were at stake:

‘To be more open-­minded towards other people;

‘To reduce my prejudice;←152 | 153→

‘Confidence in oneself;

‘I met international friends. They raise my self-­confidence.

Others emphasised the acquisition of cultural skills and knowledge:

‘I got in touch with so many cultures so I learnt to know and interact with them;

‘I gained intercultural competencies through dialogue and an understanding awareness;

‘Marriage in different cultures, religion, food, weather, language, behaviour, transport, education, clothes: intercultural experience!;

‘While interacting with students from other countries, I learnt some words in their language and their national dishes (food), cultures.

To sum up, students presented several motives to attend the Winter School. Our findings showed that participants engaged in this intensive course primarily for cultural and academic reasons (to meet students and colleagues from other countries) and secondly for the specific academic topics taught (‘Comparative Studies and ‘European Lifelong Learning Strategies). These results corroborate previous findings, reinforcing the idea of academically oriented motivations among ERASMUS students. Along with academically oriented motivations, career motives were also very important to these participants, as they were for most ERASMUS students.

When comparing participants motivation factors with the most important outcomes they reported, we found that there was a high level of consistency between them concerning the acquisition of academic knowledge and skills. However, we also would like to stress the importance attributed to several aspects of personal development and to the acquisition of cultural skills and knowledge.

Final remarks

Considered a successful programme, ERASMUS has a long history of promoting students mobility in the last decades. Recent data concerning students participation reinforce the idea that it facilitates relevant occasions for promoting intercultural dialogue and foreign language proficiency, among other aims. Additionally, ERASMUS is an important opportunity for increasing internationalisation and cooperation among higher education institutions.

In this article, students motivations to participate in the intensive course COMPALL Winter School were analysed. Although most of existing research focused on short-­term mobility, that is, one or two semesters abroad, very few studies looked at intensive courses, which usually last no more than two weeks, such as the one discussed in this article. Like many other studies, the COMPALL survey stressed students personal academic, cultural, and linguistic motivations. These motivations were more pronounced among non-­European students. Ow←153 | 154→ing to the aims and extent of the COMPALL survey, it was not possible to get in-­depth data about students motivations. Therefore, it is important to note that data analysis for the purpose of this article alerts us to the need to include items related to cultural and personal dimensions in the list of motives. This proposal will allow us to, on the one hand, add complexity to the study of Winter School students motivational factors, and on the other hand, to compare them with the motives of those engaged in short-­term international mobility.

Complementarily, when considering the main aims of the ERASMUS programme, data analysis of COMPALL students motivations revealed the wish to share academic knowledge, skills, and values for developing research on adult education and lifelong learning policies. Future studies on student motivation could explore how the ERASMUS programme has contributed to standardisation in higher education and to the reduction of adult education and lifelong learning policies to European perspectives, even though knowledge and research traditions in adult education policies are quite diverse around the world. This concern is very much linked to the fact that non-­European students expressed higher motivations for attending the Winter School than European students. Such differences might also be studied by further research and evaluation surveys.


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1 Cf COMPALL homepage:, retrieved 16.06.2017.

2 Decision no 1720/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 November 2006 establishing an action programme in the field of lifelong learning.

3 Regulation (EU) no 1288/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013 establishing ERASMUS+: The Union programme for education, training, youth and sport.

4 According to the Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning, these competencies are: communication in the mother tongue; communication in foreign languages; mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology; digital competence; learning to learn; social and civic competences; sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; cultural awareness and expression.

5 The suggested motives were the following: wish to become familiar with subjects that are not offered at your institution; hope to obtain better marks/examination results after your return from the study period abroad; wish to become acquainted with teaching methods that are not used at your institution; wish to gain academic learning experience in another country; wish to have access to specific laboratories and equipment; learning a foreign language; wish to travel (e.g. ERASMUS offered convenient/cheap means of going abroad); other friends were going; wish to have another perspective on your home country; wish to improve career prospects; wanted a break from your usual surroundings; opportunity for self-­development; and you did not think much about it (e.g. it was required for the degree programme) (Maiworn & Teichler, 2002, p. 88).

6 The motives used in this research were: to have new experiences; to practice a foreign language; to learn about different cultures; to meet new people; to live in a foreign country; to have fun; to enhance future employment prospects; to improve my academic knowledge; and to be independent (Krzaklewska & Krupnik, 2007, p. 14).

7 The items were: experience something new; grow personally; to learn about different cultures; meet new people; to have a semester away from home; improve foreign language; experience European identity; experience different educational system; to improve my academic knowledge; enhance employment opportunities; new contacts in field of studies; academic support for my thesis; take advantage of ERASMUS grant; it was compulsory (Lesjak, Juvan, Ineson, Yap, & Axelsson, 2015, p. 854).

8 The eleven motives are distributed by the four motivational areas as follows: ‘1. Academic (improving academic knowledge, studying in a different system, hoping that it will be useful for future employment/work) 2. Linguistic (practicing a foreign language); 3. Cultural (learning about different cultures, living in a foreign country); 4. Personal (having new experiences, having fun, meeting new people, being independent, developing as a person) (Krzaklewska, 2008, p. 9).

9 The data are based on an external evaluation carried out within the ERASMUS+ Strategic partnership COMPALL, performed by the German Institute for Adult Education (Lattke & Egetenmeyer, 2016).