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Sustainability of Erasmus Mundus Master Courses – Best practices

A recent report by the unit responsible for Erasmus+: Higher Education, Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees in the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) identifies key factors and practices that have allowed some Erasmus Mundus Master Courses (EMMC) to remain sustainable in the long term, in the absence of EU funding. The report titled - Sustainability of Erasmus Mundus Master Courses - Best practice guide based on survey results and analysis -  is based on data gathered through an online survey in March 2016 on the sustainability of EMMCs, which collected ‘information on the factors that ensured the continuity of master programmes once the funding from the European Union had ceased’.  All 64 master coordinators selected under Erasmus Mundus calls from 2004-2010 were encouraged to take part in the survey, and a 61% response rate (39 replies) was achieved. The survey addressed a variety of aspects, ranging from timing and implementation of the sustainability strategy, programme changes following the end of EU funding, information and promotion tools, enrolment numbers and students hosted, graduate employability, as well as institutional impact and challenges encountered.    

Main findings of the report include:

  • 49% of the total 64 programmes in the sample continued without EU financial support, while the remaining 20 masters (~51%) ceased activities.
  • Financially sustainable programmes were found to deploy various strategies, most commonly (64%) relying student tuition fees. Thus, aspects of quality and the design of programmes to meet students’ specific needs was crucial.
  • Public funding was the second biggest source of income (26%), attained through support of national authorities and local institutions and showed the need to secure backing from public bodies.
  • Anticipating the absence of EU funding from the start, 32% of active masters implemented a sustainability strategy from the beginning of the project.
  • Innovation and modernisation was identified as critical after the end of EU funding, this meant significant alterations in their activities, for many programmes.
  • Information channels and promotion tools were essential factor in sustainability.
  • To attract students, there is a need to capitalise on added values as high employability rates, mobility paths and quality. Scholarships played a key role in attraction, supported by strategies making programmes financially accessible for students.
  • All respondents - active and inactive masters - found the institutional impact positive in their experience in the EM programme in several aspects (please see the chart below).

Furthermore, a collection of testimonials by respondents, concerning aspects such as course attractiveness and delivery, internationalisation and sustainability strategies, provided valuable insights which can be replicated and used as a starting ground for new initiatives.



Lessons on risk factors to sustainability can be learned from those EMMC examples which had to stop operations.  The graph shows the three main risks identified in the survey.





Finally, the report defines ‘sustainability’ in the management of master programmes to include a variety of aspects as “funding diversification, sustained leadership commitment, the relevance of the course vis-à-vis social needs, the evolution of international policies and priorities amongst the consortium partners”.’ It highlights the need to move beyond a one size fits all approach and design tailor made sustainability strategies depending on the diverse needs of each EMMC. A checklist (see picture below) has been developed that advises on how EMMCs can organise work and adhere to core aspects of sustainability.

Although sustainability considerations remain a complex and multifaceted endeavour, if adapted to the unique needs of EMMCs, sustainable strategies with a view to innovation and flexibility may enable participating institutions to reach long term positive effects as the continued cooperation within the consortium and beyond, research collaboration, international visibility and improved management procedures.

Education, Audio-visual and Culture Executive Agency - Sustainability of Erasmus Mundus Master Courses Best practice guide based on survey results and analysis (Full Report)