IV. Conference Proceedings

Plenary Session 2:  Student and Professional Mobility 2030 and Beyond: Transferability of Degrees, Credit Transfer, Refugees, and Immigrants

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Student and Professional Mobility 2030 and Beyond:
Transferability of Degrees, Credit Transfer, Refugees, and Immigrants



Chaired by Liette Vasseur, President, Canadian Commission for UNESCO and UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: From Local to Global at Brock University, Canada. This plenary focused on the ways in which higher education could tackle the challenges for student and professional mobility going into the future. The panel shared concrete ideas and examples on how policy and technology tools were used to improve the structures around mobility, with special attention paid to issues such as transferability of degrees, credit transfer, and refugee and immigrant rights. As well, the panel acknowledged the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and discussed some of the adjustments that have been or should be made to reach the intended outcomes for mobility programs even with the limitations on physical mobility.


Sjur Bergan, Head of Education Department, Council of Europe and author of the Lisbon Recognition Convention and the European Qualification Passport for Refugees, stated that the main lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that mobility needs to adjust to unforeseen circumstances. He said: “This may mean, in some cases, interrupting exchanges and ensuring that foreign students are catered for at and by their host institutions or helped to return home safely. This also means that public authorities need to be flexible, for example regarding visa extensions or continued financial support”. Bergan discussed the importance of higher education institutions working along with their countries so that individuals visiting those institutions feel welcomed and included. He highlighted that part of this challenge has been the rise of populism in Europe and in other parts of the world, which views the world in terms of us versus them and it is often rooted in more closed mindsets. Bergan mentioned the foreign degree recognition as part of one of the instruments to make mobility easier. This tool allows universities to recognize foreign academic work and degrees. For example, the Diploma Supplement does not replace a University Diploma but it provides a description of the degree (or academic program) for those who are not familiar with the host country’s educational system making it easier to understand what these qualifications represent and entail. He said that institutions should issue the Diploma Supplement automatically, free of charge, and in a common language. Bergan commented that developing qualifications frameworks have gained much attention in the last few years because these frameworks not only describe individual qualifications, but they also show how they are interconnected and how they can move from one degree to another. In Europe, self-certification is the process through which national authorities demonstrate that their framework is compatible with the overarching framework, also known as the Bologna Framework. This framework should answer three important questions:

  • The quality, workload, and level of qualification,
  • the profile of the qualification, and
  • The learning outcomes.

Finally, Bergan highlighted the European Qualifications Passport for Refugees, which offers a tested method for assessing and describing qualifications that cannot be adequately documented. He maintained that the qualifications passport can make the difference between a vicious circle, where refugees are put to one side, kept passive, told they are not worth much, and eventually lose both their competences and their motivation, versus a virtuous circle in which refugees are valued, motivated, and can be used to build on their qualifications. He concluded that when refugees are motivated and valued, they are better enabled to contribute to their host countries as well as their home countries, if they return home.


Fabio Nascimbeni, Senior Expert of the UNIEMD, Mediterranean Universities Union, Italy,  Senior Fellow of the European Distance and eLearning Network (EDEN) and a fellow at the Centro de Estudos sobre Tecnologia e Sociedade of the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil and at the Nexa Centre of the Politecnico di Torino) shared lessons from the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange pilot program launched by the European commission in 2018 for peace-building and digital learning. 30,000 young people from Europe and the South Mediterranean region in both higher and non-higher education participated in this program for over 3 years. He said that the Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange pilot program proved to be an innovative alternative approach to mobility when physical mobility was not possible. He said that the project encouraged participants synchronous and meaningful interactions. According to Nascimbeni, virtual mobility has allowed experiences to be better prepared, more inclusive, more intercultural, and more balanced. These are important characteristics that physical mobility should consider and integrate. He explained that the virtual exchange is viewed as a sustainably designed pedagogical process, one that is technology-enabled, scalable, experimental, and learner-led. Nascimbeni reported that young people involved in the project valued the opportunity to speak online with others from different backgrounds about a range of topics describing the experience as mind opening. He mentioned that a project like this can help students learn about other countries before deciding where to go physically. He stated that although traditional mobility is a cornerstone of internationalisation, it can be boosted and complimented by virtual exchange as a preliminary activity and a follow up activity that strengthens multicultural understanding and community building. He added that it is common to see participants continue working, becoming facilitators, keeping in touch with the community, and creating strong bonds that, in many cases, are not guaranteed by physical mobility.


Ethel Valenzuela, Director of the Southeast Asian Minister of Education Organization, SEAMEO Secretariat’s, presentation focused on academic mobility and how SEAMEO was able to sustain and pivot mobility programs even during the unprecedented COVID-19 situation. Valenzuela said that SEAMEO’s academic mobility initiatives started 5 years ago, with the vision of promoting greater mobility in Southeast Asia and reforming and revitalizing teacher education with the Southeast Asian Teacher Network (SEA Teacher) and Southeast Asia Technical and Vocational Education (SEA TVET) programs. The SEA Teacher academic mobility program was a successful project where pre-service teacher education students spend one month in another institution outside the country and a host university supervises the teaching experiences of that student. Valenzuela said that SEA Teacher Program in partner universities considered options for conducting mobility programs online to ensure the continuity without risking the health and safety of students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team embarked on a SEAMEO lecture series and asked the SEAMEO TVET and Teacher Network to share video clips from their institutions on topics including how to teach in this new normal, how to utilize technology in teaching, and how to use various apps and resources. In the first trial, the program received more than 100 video lectures from all institutions participating in the mobility program. She stated that, although different from what was originally envisioned for SEA Teacher Mobility, the SEAMEO lecture series produced practical and easy-to-replicate teaching strategies that can be used to make the shift from the traditional to virtual delivery. Valenzuela warned against allowing COVID-19 to disrupt learning and highlighted some of the lessons to be learned from this pandemic in terms of continuity and the value of internationalizing universities in the new normal. Her conclusion suggests that internationalization is a way of enhancing teaching, research, student services and the expansion of programs.

Bergan added that credit systems in universities could encourage interaction between domestic and international students to create more opportunities for the development of intercultural competence if domestic students can earn credits for working with their international peers. -Sjur Bergan.


Discussion and Q&A

The panelists commented on a few additional topics after their individual presentations. On the topic of how institutions can make mobility more inclusive by reducing the cost for participants, the panelists highlighted the importance of preparing potential participants on practical issues and considerations, including helping them understand what to expect for life in the host country as well as where and how to look for funding. In addition to offering scholarship opportunities for mobility, the panelist agreed that sharing and reasonably distributing the expenses among host and guest institutions have also been a useful model for reducing the costs for participants in mobility programs. On the topic of how mobility programs can better address intercultural competences, Nascimbeni mentioned that this is a key objective for virtual mobility exchanges that could be reached through a safe online space, proper facilitation, and relevant content. Bergan added that credit systems in universities could encourage interaction between domestic and international students to create more opportunities for the development of intercultural competence if domestic students can earn credits for working with their international peers.



The panelists agreed on the importance of building systems and structures that can reduce barriers for mobility and encouraging participant success. This includes the recognition of foreign experiences and qualifications, the establishment of a culture that values intercultural understanding and competence at the institutional level, and the agility to balance and combine physical and virtual mobility to allow for more inclusive and diverse programs. Finally, the panelists agreed that visa requirements can be challenging obstacles for mobility and called for a shift towards more relaxed and sensible policies in this regard.



Reflections from the Chair and Way Forward

The session underlined many major points to consider in the future with or without a pandemic. My reflections touch three aspects that underline the importance of mobility. My first reflection related to ensuring safe space for intercultural exchange and understanding. The pandemic has enhanced the populism attitude in many countries as we saw a rise of anti-Asian movement. There is a need to promote cultural education to all to ensure a better understanding of the various cultures that create our world. This can start in all our own institutions. Mobility programs can also contribute to this in many ways. I really like the idea of online exchanges as a first step to allow this safe space to happen. However, and this is my second refection, I would caution that online mobility should not be regarded as the only way. I still believe that personal experience in another country is a great way to understand better that various cultures and become more tolerant and emphatic towards others.

My third reflection relates to the importance of mobility programs. They should be more valued and reciprocal among institutions. My experience has been that students who had the opportunity to be part of mobility programs are more open to the world, understand better international issues and have a clearer vision of their role in society. As a way forward, institutions should better engage their students in experiencing intercultural exchanges. Rethinking about the UNSDGs, mobility programs can offer a great way to contribute to many of them not only through education but also experience in the field with communities. Mobility programs should not only be passive or theoretical where students remain on a close campus. Most cultural experiences are coming from being present, engaged, and practicing their skills in communities or in the field where students can use and transfer what they have learned in class to contribute to the SDGs.

Keeping in mind the current globalization trend, Barragán Codina & Leal López (2013) mention that higher education institutions need a comprehensive transformation to adequately prepare students to the current internationalization and cultural and social diversity happening across the world. Mobility programs should therefore be an integral component of this process of transforming institutions into a more global and inclusive community. To do this, in the future, mobility programs should also include in their curricula classes on the SDGs and how everyone can contribute to the betterment of our world. Interestingly, because it is often regarded to be under political or social sciences, from my experience, the SDGs are rarely discussed and even less presented to students in natural or life sciences. This may also affect the number of students taking advantages of mobility programs coming from these disciplines, with the exception of doctors, veterinarians and engineers without borders. While there may be several barriers to international mobility for many students (Kehm, 2005), it has many advantages that cannot be denied. Making these programs more accessible and organized in an effective manner can help secure them in the future, especially for countries where they have been seen as an ad hoc activity.



Barragán Codina, J. N., & Leal López, R. H. (2013). The importance of student mobility, academic exchange and internationalization of higher education for college students in a globalized world: The Mexican and Latin American case. Daena: International Journal of Good Conscience8(2), 48-63.

Kehm, B. M. (2005). The Contribution of International Student Mobility to Human Development and Global Understanding. Online Submission2 (1), 18-24.