FHWS increases the internationalisation of social sciences with the 3IN Alliance

Seven European higher education institutions develop a European campus

 © Fiona Menzel

The opportunity to study in two languages or to visit a partner university abroad was traditionally most popular in engineering and economics programmes. With the 3IN Alliance (European University Alliance of Inclusion, Integration and Involvement), FHWS is working together with the International Office and the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences to expand its mobility offering for students and lecturers.

The presidents of the seven 3IN Alliance higher education institutions
From left to right: the presidents of the seven 3IN Alliance higher education institutions having signed the cooperation agreement in Paris: Jean-Pierre Astruc, President of USPN, Tapio Kujala, Rector DIAK, Robert Grebner, President FHWS, Ioan Vasile Abrudan, President UniTBv, Francisco Chicano, Vice President International Relations Uni Malaga, João Luís Nogueira, President ISAVE Bård Mæland Rector VID

The EU published the first pilot tender in 2018. International project teams with a shared vision could apply as European universities. European universities are transnational associations which are financially supported by the EU. Within a very short space of time, six higher education institutions from all corners of Europe came together, including FHWS. Together, they established the 3IN Alliance in 2019 as a knowledge and learning community focusing on social sciences. Although the initiative did not receive support from the EU in the second round of tenders in 2020, the alliance continues. Today, it even includes seven higher education institutions. “We will still hold fast to the alliance even without EU support because it is a unique opportunity to collaborate internationally,” says Dr. Kristina Gehring, Erasmus+ programme coordinator at FHWS. The collaboration should make stays abroad and intercultural learning easier for students and employees. Fortunately, however, the further development of the 3IN collaboration will be supported and funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) with funds from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in the context of an national programme supplementing the EU initiative.

Internationalisation of social sciences

“The aim is to make use of synergies. We can simply do more if we put all of our knowledge and abilities into one pot and use it to launch a joint project,” explains Gehring. The focus on social sciences sets the 3IN Alliance apart from existing programmes: “Internationalisation currently largely comes from the field of technology or economics,” says Gehring. In a first step, an English-language bachelor’s degree programme is now being developed for the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences. The alliance is planning a long-term education strategy until 2025 with links to research, companies and society. Among other things, a virtual campus, a sort of digital platform for all participating higher education institutions with joint teaching and learning offerings, should facilitate this: here, students and employees should be able to study, teach, research and work at partner institutions with no administrative obstacles. “The big idea behind it is that we, as a university alliance, form a European campus on a small scale.”

From the first tender to a university alliance

In order to address European challenges, European universities pool the strengths and diversity of European research and teaching in new structures. They promote European values and identity. When the EU published the first pilot tender in 2018, the Finnish university Diak and the Norwegian university VID seized the initiative: “When we decided then that we would like to be a European university, we sent enquiries to higher education institutions throughout Europe,” Maria Tendenes, coordinator at the VID International Office remembers. Among the four interested higher education institutions was FHWS. The EU received 54 applications at that time. 17 European universities with 114 participating higher education institutions received support – the 3IN Alliance was rejected. The application was classified as “approved, but not financed”. “The very detailed feedback from the EU motivated us to stick with this alliance,” Gehring looks back.

In February 2020, the 3IN Alliance applied for support as a European university once again. According to Diak University’s estimations, around 150 people were involved in this second application. But the second attempt once again narrowly missed out on EU support. “Within the circle of German higher education institutions which either became European universities or narrowly lost out, there are four Bavarian higher education institutions: Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the Technical University of Munich, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg and FHWS. We have to realise that,” stresses Dr. Daniel Wimmer, Head of the International Office at FHWS.

Diversity as a superpower

Right from the beginning, the geographic positioning of the 3IN Alliance was an advantage. A seventh higher education institution was added with the French university Sorbonne Paris Nord in December 2019. The following higher education institutions are part of the alliance today (August 2021): 

  • Diaconia University of Applied Sciences (Diak), Finland
  • VID Specialized University, Norway
  • University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt, Germany
  • Transilvania University of Brașov, Romania
  • School of Health (ISAVE), Portugal

“The idea was to establish a higher education institution alliance around the core subject of social sciences which is as diverse as possible,” explains Gehring. While the Portuguese higher education institution has 300 students and 30 employees, there are 35,000 students and 3,500 employees at the Spanish university. In total, the alliance is made up of 16 locations at which around 95,000 students learn. This is made possible by 8,000 people working in teaching, research and administration. The alliance also offers a broad spectrum of degree programmes: medical, technical and arts subjects are also represented, alongside social sciences, health science and humanities.

Quote Dr. Kristina Gehring, Erasmus+ programme coordinator at FHWS “The idea was to establish a higher education institution alliance around the core subject of social sciences which is as diverse as possible.“

Learning and teaching on a European campus

Within the alliance, FHWS works on mobility, which offers major benefits for students. Currently, there are often obstacles when students plan placements abroad, because academic achievements are not automatically recognised by the Erasmus programme, for example. Gehring criticises this: “It is astounding that each higher education institution is still its own little kingdom in this area, even though the Erasmus programme has existed for decades. We want to make things more transparent, easier and more accessible for students.” To this end, the coordinators are currently aligning the curricula at the individual higher education institutions, among other things.

“FHWS is strongly positioned in traditional student and employee mobility. Diak, on the other hand, has a lot of experience with virtual tools. Each institution thus brings its expertise to the alliance,” explains Hanna Mikkonen, International Relations Manager at Diak and lead coordinator for the 3IN Alliance. In addition to in-person teaching, the coordinators also plan semesters abroad with “blended learning” elements: students can complete part of their course at a partner higher education institution abroad and at the same time participate in virtual courses at their home institution. On the other hand, if students do not want or are unable to take up a placement abroad, then they have the option of taking purely virtual courses at a partner institution. “We want to be a campus on which students can move freely according to their capabilities and needs, and the same goes for employees,” says Gehring.

Dr. Kristina Gehring, Erasmus+ programme coordinator at FHWS: “It is astounding that each higher education institution is still its own little kingdom in this area, even though the Erasmus programme has existed for decades. We want to make things more transparent, easier and more accessible for students."

Long-term collaboration

“The alliance is more than just the mobility aspect. It is based on strategic collaboration and includes education, research and services,” Mikkonen adds. Even though things have failed to work out twice with regard to support as a European university, the 3IN Alliance will continue. “We are much more colleagues than just partners,” Tendenes and Mikkonen still say today. Everyone has the common big picture in view: a European campus. “Instead of everyone just doing their own thing, we can learn from each other as a result,” says Mikkonen.

Chatting students
The 3IN Alliance should simplify placements abroad for students of social sciences. The FHWS International Office is a good starting point here. (© Stefan Bausewein)
Foto von Helena Gennutt

An article by
Helena Gennutt