How to recognise the benefits of staff mobility in higher education

Dr Sophie BallShould higher education staff mobility be encouraged and, if so, how should it be recognised? Middlesex University took part in an Erasmus+ project which aimed to help institutions struggling to answer these questions. Dr Sophie Ball tells us more...

The impact of international staff mobility on both individuals and institutions is self-evident to those working in this area but lacks wider recognition.

Impressions of paid escapes to exotic destinations still linger, despite the hard work that most international visits involve.

What are institutions doing to dispel this image and capture the benefits? And if staff mobility should be encouraged, what exactly does it achieve and how are institutions recognising the benefits it brings?

These questions were the inspiration for the REALISE project (Realising the potential of the international mobility of staff in Higher Education), a Key Action 2 Strategic Partnership that aimed to improve the implementation and recognition of staff mobility.  

Our objectives

Middlesex University was one of 10 partners involved in the partnership, coordinated by Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier, and we agreed the following key objectives:

  • identify and develop innovative practices regarding the implementation of the Erasmus+ programme for staff mobility;
  • foster the recognition of mobility in the career development of academic, administrative and technical staff in HEIs; and
  • raise institutional awareness about the added value of staff mobility and promote its contribution to HEIs’ internationalisation strategies.

Lack of recognition

A presentation that took place as part of the REALISE project

Generally, staff report low levels of recognition of Erasmus+ staff mobility. In a survey conducted at the start of the REALISE project, we found that only 36% of respondents felt that their experience had been highly valued and acknowledged by their institutions, while an exact same proportion felt that their mobility had had minor or no recognition.

Variations between countries point to differing practices with regards to recognition, with Belgium being the country where recognition is scored most highly.

A major output of the project is the Erasmus+ staff mobility handbook of good practices, designed as a resource for anyone wishing to improve the implementation of staff mobility at their institution. It describes 22 actions tested across 10 European countries, many at more than one institution. These actions cover all aspects of improving the implementation and recognition of staff mobility, from human resource policies to incoming staff visits.

The University of Ghent, for example, describes working with their HR department to develop a career development policy that includes recognition of an Erasmus+ teaching or training visit.

I recount the various ways I identified that staff could think about – and in some cases already were -  integrating an Erasmus+ mobility experience into other professional pathways, both internally and externally to the university.

Student impact and internationalisation

The university of GhentThe 10 partners ran a staff training event at the University of Ghent in May, attended by 85 participants, with workshops and presentations based around the handbook, as well as an international seminar in Brussels.

In the UK, I ran a national seminar, in collaboration with Universities UK International (UUKi) with the participation of Professor Bob Gilmour from Glasgow Caledonian University and Leo Smith from De Montfort University. 

They pointed to the wide reach of the international mobility of staff and its impact on both individual students and internationalisation at institutional level. 

Dr Britta Stordal, from Middlesex University, described using Erasmus+ staff mobility to develop opportunities for student placements in the labs of partner universities as well as to show leadership development in her own career path. 

Tangible benefits

I finish by quoting Britta’s reflections, which summarise so well the benefits that individuals and institutions can realise from implementing staff mobility:

  • running the Erasmus+ Exchange Programme gives me a leadership role in the Department;
  • I plan to use my Erasmus+ work and the running of International Week as a case study for my application to Senior Fellow of the HEA, a requirement for promotion to Associate Professor;
  • I have influenced the curriculum of Biomedical Science to introduce an international component;
  • it gives me great job satisfaction to work with our highly engaged students and give them a great career opportunity; and
  • I have sudden popularity amongst the second year students as the person organising opportunities for them!
Interested in reading more about staff mobility? See how the University of Arts London dramatically increased the participation of their staff in Erasmus+ project.