Using Global Mobility Strategically

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How can the Erasmus+ programme make a tangible contribution towards the internationalisation of universities with global mobility? We take a look at the strategic importance of this programme for international cooperation and the priority regions designated by the EU Commission. 

The current programme generation opens up interesting opportunities for international cooperation through mobilities. Exchanges with partner countries, in other words non-EU countries or countries not associated with Erasmus+ (Iceland, Liechtenstein, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey), are becoming even more important thanks to a new option. Alongside the university projects offered since 2015 to promote international exchanges at and by German universities, which involve a complex application procedure with qualitative assessment (KA171), worldwide mobilities have also been funded since 2021 in the «traditional» mobility projects (KA131) with a quantitative application – to a limited extent and for both students and staff. We have named this option «KA131 International». 

The funding mechanisms

The international dimension of the Erasmus+ programme is funded by a combination of internal (KA131) and external (KA171) funding instruments provided by the EU Commission. With a range of funded mobility types that have been adapted to those of intra-European mobilities, Key Action 171 is backed by two different external financial instruments:

  • the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) for the Western Balkans. The aim is to promote political and economic reforms in the region to align its values and regulations to those of the EU, not least with a view to preparing some countries for EU accession.
  • the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI). This is the most important funding instrument for the EU’s external actions, with a total budget of 79.5 billion euros for the 2021–2027 period.

The available budget is distributed among 12 different regions, with the amounts of the individual allocations varying. The EU has also assigned particularly large amounts to some priority regions, namely the Western Balkans, Sub-Saharan Africa, Neighbourhood East and South-Mediterranean Countries.

German universities continue to be very active

Announced for the second time in this programme generation in 2023, Key Action 171 is enjoying increased demand again at German universities. While 114 applications with a budget totalling some 28 million euros were approved in 2022, 127 applications with a budget of around 31 million euros have been approved in 2023. Requests for over 100 million euros, around three times the available budget, were submitted in the two application years (see diagram). After initial reluctance, universities are also making increased use of the opportunities offered by the «KA131 International» programme in which only outgoing students and university staff can receive funding for worldwide mobilities.

We know from German universities that the worldwide outgoing mobility programme is used in a variety of ways in traditional Erasmus projects. For example, universities are looking for ways to continue or maintain post-Brexit collaborations with the United Kingdom. KA171 International makes this option possible. Individual departments are also using the key action to develop collaborations with certain countries. For example, there are projects on wine culture in Georgia and on infectious diseases with universities in African countries.

National exchanges and international networks

At national level, the biannual meetings of the KA171 working group – most recently in August 2023 at the Europa-Universität Flensburg – are a good opportunity to network and discuss current operational topics relating to the implementation of mobility projects with partner countries. The working group was set up in 2015 to launch the new KA107 programme and is made up of project coordinators from various universities.

Internationally, the NA DAAD organised a Training and Cooperation Activity (TCA) in September 2023 in partnership with the National Agencies from Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and North Macedonia titled «A New Vision for European Cooperation». The event focused on forging links with the countries of Southeastern Europe and on developing collaborations. At the instigation of the NA, participation rules were extended so that colleagues from third countries not associated with the programme – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro – also took part in the TCA for the first time. 

The University of Regensburg, which was predestined to host the event thanks to its close and wide-ranging contacts with the Balkans, welcomed one hundred university representatives from Germany and various Balkan countries. The seminar enabled participants to network, get to know potential new partners, learn from each other and develop strategies to increase mobilities. One prime example of the added value of collaborations with the Balkans is Ludwigshafen University of Business and Society (HWG).

Michaela Lanaro
EU02 – Learning Mobility of Individuals

Number of requested projects per region

The chart shows the number of projects applied for per region in ascending order from 2022 to 2023:  13 projects were requested for Region 11 Caribbean in 2023 and 8 in 2022. An increase of 5 projects. For Region 7 Middle East, 18 projects were applied for in 2023 and 15 in 2022. An increase of 3 projects. 26 projects were requested for Region 8 Pacific in 2023 and 19 in 2022. An increase of 7 projects. 38 projects were requested for Region 12 USA & Canada in 2023 and 33 in 2022. An increase of 5 projects. 37 projects were requested for Region 6 Central Asia in 2023 and 33 in 2022. An increase of 4 projects. 5 projects were requested for Region 4 Russian Federation in 2023 and 52 in 2022. A minus of 47 projects due to the war in Ukraine. 62 projects were requested for Region 1 Western Balkans in 2023 and 59 in 2022. An increase of 3 projects. 105 projects were requested for Region 10 Latin America in 2023 and 85 in 2022. An increase of 20 projects. 110 projects were requested for Region 2 Neighbourhood East in 2023 and 104 in 2022. An increase of 6 projects. 146 projects were requested for Region 3 South-Mediterranean countries in 2023 and 106 in 2022. An increase of 40 projects. 162 projects were requested for Region 5 Asia in 2023 and 117 in 2022. An increase of 45 projects. 163 projects were requested for Region 9 Sub-Saharan Africa in 2023 and 153 in 2022. An increase of 10 projects.

KA171 – Mobilities and Budget Western Balkans

Number of projects per country in Western Balkans region in 2022 and 2023

The chart shows the number of projects in the Western Balkans region broken down by country in a comparison of 2023 and 2022  In Albania, 18 projects were applied for in 2023 and 19 in 2022, i.e. one less. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 10 projects were applied for in 2023 and 18 in 2022, i.e. one more. In Kosovo, only 14 projects were applied for in 2023 instead of 18 in 2022, i.e. 4 fewer. In Montenegro, 7 projects were applied for in both 2023 and 2022. In total, 58 projects were applied for in the region in 2023 compared to 62 in 2022, i.e. slightly fewer.

The strategic benefits of Balkan collaborations

The example of HWG Ludwigshafen

Internationalisation is essential for an innovative, future-oriented university since it has an educational mission to prepare young people for a globalised labour market and to equip them with the skills they need for a successful career. HWG Ludwigshafen’s clear focus on business and health programmes would be obsolete without international components – not least of all its cooperation with the Balkan states. 

Growing focus on the Balkans

During EU enlargement in 2004, Ludwigshafen University of Business and Society already started to look eastwards in close dialogue with large and medium-sized businesses based in the Rhine-Neckar region. The numerous university partnerships in Southeastern Europe were the result of consistently positive and reliable collaborations, successful exchanges at scientific and student level and the demand from cooperating companies for graduates with expertise in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.

The KA107 programme («Mobility with Partner Countries», also known as International Credit Mobility, ICM), which was introduced in 2015 in the previous Erasmus+ programme generation (2014–2020), created the opportunity to integrate non-EU countries in the Western Balkans into the programme, promote mobilities, intensify existing cooperations and attract new partners. Without Erasmus+ funding, a study period in Germany would not be (or have been) affordable for most students from the Western Balkans.

More intensive collaboration thanks to Erasmus+

For HWG Ludwigshafen, this expansion of the Erasmus+ programme proved to be a real stroke of luck. The region had already been identified as an important location in the early 2000s, promising benefits and potential for both sides. After the conflict-ridden years, which also brought many refugees to the Rhine-Neckar region, developing a dense network of bilateral collaborations and diverse joint activities based on intensive historical ties and clear points of contact seemed a logical step. The geographical proximity facilitated and continues to facilitate a large number of mobilities, creating a familiarity and reinforcing a common perspective.

The university partnerships are reinforced by HWG Ludwigshafen’s cooperation with branches of the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) in Sarajevo, Pristina and Podgorica as well as with the German Industry and Trade Association in Albania. Their aim is to increase mobilities for internships in businesses, organisations and NGOs for HWG students of business and health science subjects. In return, students at partner universities in the Western Balkans can benefit from HWG Ludwigshafen’s extensive network of contacts with companies in the region in their search for internships or jobs.

Exchange on all levels

Many former exchange students already improved their chances of finding a job by spending a semester at HWG Ludwigshafen and acquiring a basic knowledge of German in their home countries. A large number of students from countries of the Western Balkans returned to HWG Ludwigshafen after graduation to start a Master’s degree. Successful double-degree programmes at Master’s level were established with the European University in Tirana (Albania), the International University Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Universum College in Pristina (Kosovo), enhancing graduates’ career prospects both in their home country and in Germany, especially given that the number of German companies and institutions is growing steadily in the Western Balkans.

A professor of finance from the University of Banja Luka (Bosnia and Herzegovina) has also been teaching as a guest lecturer at HWG every semester since 2018. Three professors from the Universum College Pristina (Kosovo) attended the graduation ceremony for the International Business Management programme at the School of Business and Society in October 2023 in recognition of the students’ having successfully completed the double degree. In addition to the traditional student, lecturer and staff mobilities, a partner network meeting at HWG Ludwigshafen and a multiday trip with students to Sarajevo and Tirana are planned in the near future.

A plea for the Balkans

Accession negotiations with the EU and prospects of EU membership have proven to be an important driver of reform processes, which are also reflected in educational policy developments. Reservations about the Balkan countries still so firmly impressed on Western European minds and existing doubts about the quality of the education systems there can only be dispelled through constant exchange and visible cooperation. And only in this way can we make this underestimated, diverse, meaningful and culturally rich region more visible within Europe. Europe does not end at the edge of the European Union.


Kerstin Gallenstein

Porträtfoto Kerstin Gallenstein
© privat

Kerstin Gallenstein is Head of International Affairs at Ludwigshafen University of Business and Society


Ein zunehmender Fokus auf den Balkan

Bereits im Zuge der EU-Erweiterung 2004 gab die Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Ludwigshafen in engem Dialog mit den im Rhein-Neckar-Raum ansässigen großen und mittelständischen Unternehmen den Blick nach Osten vor. Die zahlreichen Hochschulkooperationen in Südosteuropa waren die Folge durchgängig positiver und verlässlicher Zusammenarbeit, eines erfolgreichen Austauschs auf wissenschaftlicher und studentischer Ebene und der Nachfrage von kooperierenden Unternehmen nach Absolvent*innen mit Ost- und Südosteuropa-Kompetenzen. 

Die 2015 – in der vorangegangenen Programmgeneration von Erasmus+ (2014–2020) – eingeführte Programmlinie KA107 («Mobilität mit Partnerländern», bekannt auch als International Credit Mobility, ICM) schaffte die Option, nun auch die Nicht-EU-Länder des Westlichen Balkans in das Programm zu integrieren, Mobilitäten zu fördern, bestehende Kooperationen zu intensivieren und neue Partner zu gewinnen. Ohne die Förderung durch Erasmus+ wäre für die meisten der Studierenden aus der Region des Westlichen Balkans ein Studienaufenthalt in Deutschland nicht finanzierbar (gewesen).

Luftbild vom Campus der Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Ludwigshafen mit Rhein im Hintergrund
© Melcher/Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Ludwigshafen

At Ludwigshafen University of Business and Society, around 4,400 students were enrolled in the winter semester 2022/2023. Of the total student population, 51.9 percent were women and 12.1 percent were of international origin, coming from 76 different nations.

Michaela Lanaro, NA DAAD EU02 – Learning Mobility of Individuals