Organising learning opportunities for adults in foreign countries (or “transnational mobility" as it is often called) poses some unique challenges for anyone concerned with quality. How can you make sure that the experiences that participants have are of a high quality?
Transnational mobility has grown considerably in recent decades, especially in higher education. Alongside European programmes like Erasmus+, many countries run their own programmes. However, while there is growing documentation on the quality aspects, a search of this literature suggests that it is quite fragmented. Indeed, one could almost argue that the development of quality approaches has not really kept pace with the expansion of mobility schemes. Relatively little is devoted to adult learning.
On one level we have high level documents like the European Quality Charter for Mobility and the Leonardo da Vinci Mobility Quality Commitment for Training Placements which provide valuable general checklists of what ought to be provided during mobility periods abroad. Then at another level we can find projects that have tackled particular challenges and produced useful guidance, toolkits etc, like the guide produced by the Support for Mobility consortium.
Maybe what we have been lacking is something in between these two levels, approaches to quality that are comprehensive and specifically tailored to their target groups and especially adult learners. In 2011 a European conference organised by the European Commission and the Council of Europe concluded that there was a need for quality criteria and indicators at European level.
In 2012, a major study on mobility activities for the EC found that “Even though “quality” is an important topic in policy papers and discussions, the concrete manifestations are often at a high abstraction level (e.g. quality charters). There is only limited evidence of diversified quality assurance or quality management systems being developed and implemented.”
Evidently, there is a relationship between quality for mobility and wider systems of quality assurance and management. There is an argument that quality criteria for mobility on their own do not deliver the same benefits unless they are part of coherent quality strategies (the MoVE–iT report recommended transforming generic quality criteria into specific quality assurance strategies). So maybe this apparent gap doesn't matter. After all, why not simply extend existing quality practices in your organisation to cover mobility?
I guess the problem here is that transnational mobility, especially for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, can raise specific issues that need to be tackled. Evidence shows that some parts of the mobility process are typically much less developed than others. In particular “…there seems to be much less emphasis on preparation and debriefing after homecoming than the actual placement period itself, but it may be argued that in the case of disadvantaged participants, these elements are of crucial importance to the success of the project in terms of learning".
Such issues might not be covered simply by extending existing practices. And, in any case, mobility takes place in a context where in adult learning quality approaches in general need to be enhanced.
Andrew McCoshan has worked in education and training for over 20 years. For the last 10 years he has specialised in policy development studies and evaluations for the EU, and before that was a consultant in the UK. Andrew is currently a freelance consultant, an Associate with the UK Higher Education Academy, an ECVET Expert for the UK, and a Member of the UK Education & Employers Taskforce Research Group.