15 December, 2010

an ECA certificate on internationalisation

We were the first to hear of it: there are serious plans for a European certificate on internationalisation, to lift national initiatives to the EU level. It is the European Consortium for Accreditation of higher education(ECA) that will be working on this from the start of July 2011.
The news was launched today at the special NVAO seminar about assessment of internationalisation and internationalisation as a distinctive quality.
For my international readers: NVAO (in Dutch: Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie) is the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. It was established by international treaty and it ensures the quality of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders.
The certificate is seen as a specific "reward" for good and excellent forms of internationalisation and is meant only for the happy few (they called it "the Champions league"). They are not looking for mass certification, we were told by the chairman of the ECA who made the announcement, Rolf Heusser.
The rationale for an ECA certificate was that international projects need a corresponding award. Besides, there is a high demand for such an award coming from the higher education institutions themselves. All this fits well with ECA aims, know-how and philosophy, which is the mutual recognition of accreditation and quality assurance decisions. Other aims of ECA are: mutual learning and disseminating best practices in accreditation as well as providing transparent information on quality and supporting internationalisation of institutions and students.

08 December, 2010

Learning and networking

With the CEV symposium in Brussels just behind me, I’m looking back here at the experience. It was well announced as an event on “Volunteering as a means of empowerment and social inclusion”. The week before we received all the information by mail, among which a list of participants. It’s always interesting to know in advance who will be present at such an occasion. Not to my surprise, I read that I was going to be the only representative from a university , even though we are a university of applied sciences.
Learning and networking: those were my goals. Learning about the great diversity of voluntary activities within Europe and familiarising myself with the landscape of volunteer initiatives but also barriers to voluntary action. And networking in order to get acquainted to a number of European players in the field of volunteering and, secretly, hoping to find some partners to start up a small scale European project, a Grundtvig Learning Partnership.
I am happy to say that many of my expectations have turned out as I'd hoped. Enthusiastic, open and committed people I met, quite a large group from all over Europe (and a few from beyond), all with their own experiences and input. Many of them are members of the European Volunteer Centre and have known each other for quite a while, but the other half of the audience present on the first day was not, CEV director Markus Held established.
On day 1 I particularly liked the dialogue cafĂ©: a wonderful way of getting to talk to a variety of participants in a short period, with a specific question as the starting point. On day 2 it was the workshops that I enjoyed most. I listened to Anne Sophie van der Bracht who related how young people were involved in activities that support their mental, physical and ethical development in 3 years at a stretch, moving from bronze to silver to gold in the process, each year for them being more difficult than the one before. Volunteering is (only) part of that. Next to that they do sports, study and go on an annual expedition. The overall aim is to teach these 15 to 19 year olds that through dedication and commitment to tasks and by working systematically, they can exceed themselves. It’s an intensive type of youth work performed by the foyer (Jongerenwerking Brussel). As for volunteering, they hope that these youngsters (all from non-Belgian backgrounds) will maintain their voluntary work as a structural thing.
Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and the role of international partnerships was another workshop that attracted my interest. In the huge organisation that VSO is and based on the wealth of experience they have gained through the years, they have developed their theory of change and demonstrated the potential of volunteering in the improvement of the lives of people experiencing poverty and marginalisation. The Chief Youth Officer at the Kenyan Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports then illustrated their National Youth Volunteer Scheme, established together with VSO.
The final part of day 2 was dedicated to the Brussels declaration on the role of volunteering in the fight against poverty and social exclusion, making a bridge between the themes of the two consecutive European years.

Day 3 was meant as an opportunity to meet volunteers and voluntary organisations in a large tent by way of a continuing fair that will be travelling around Europe in the course of 2011, the European Year of Volunteering.

To end this post , just a few encouraging facts:
• Volunteering improves self-confidence. Over 80 % of English volunteers report that engagement in voluntary work makes them happy and improves their self-esteem.
• Research shows that the unemployed, people coming from minority ethnic groups and unskilled workers are underrepresented in the “volunteering force” of Europe.
• According to a study among job seekers in England, 81% of respondents said that volunteering gave them a chance to learn new skills.
• Almost 75 % of employers prefer to recruit candidates with volunteering in their CV.