[Updated 18 February, 2010: InsideHigherEd interview with Paul Gaston, author of The Challenge of Bologna: What United States Higher Education Has to Learn from Europe, and Why It Matters That We Learn It.]
Back in November of 2009, I looked at the Bologna Process of European higher education standardization and how it might affect alumni relations in Europe. In this second and final post on the topic, I'm sharing a few more comments from Dr. Daniel Guhr and Simon Lange of Illuminate Consulting Group. Illuminate's consulting practice focuses on international strategic development in higher education.*
In this post Guhr and Lange address:
- Threats and challenges to alumni engagement under Bologna
- The prospects for alumni loyalty to a specific institution
- The most likely time frame for changes to appear
Will threats or challenges to engagement make it harder for institutions to maintain already tenuous connections with alumni?
Daniel Guhr: Yes, but this is independent of the Bologna Process. If institutions ignore alumni demand patterns, the alumni will walk away. Down the road, having effective alumni networks will be a recruiting benefit, and it already works this way for small, elite private institutions (primarily business schools). It will be more than three years before we see concrete examples emerge – once the first full cohort of Europe-wide "Bologna System" alumni leave universities.
How does this relate to traditional "study abroad" experiences?
Daniel Guhr: It will have a negative effect on intra-European mobility, as fewer students can move around. This is being hotly debated however.
Simon Lange: Dan is right. Though the process encourages mobility when obtaining your degree abroad, the reforms have significantly increased students' workloads, and introduced the element of time pressure. In the end, this discourages students from spending a desirable semester in Sevilla, or elsewhere.
Will alumni be likely to transfer their affinity or loyalty to a university, a country, an academic program or perhaps a host institution in their target country?
Daniel Guhr: I would ask this differently. What makes alumni more loyal in the European context? First, the presence of effective alumni relations to begin with. Second, the impact of the international experience on the alumnus's life. Third, the brand effect. You can create a matrix that displays these factors and put in the respective values. We'll see very different dynamics emerge. In short, we should ask, "What works for the alumni?"
Simon Lange: It is likely that the European Union's goal of fostering a European identity among future professionals will succeed. For scholarship recipients, loyalty to the donating country or organization, or to the EU, is likely to be higher. ICG recently conducted a nationwide survey of alumni from all eight universities in New Zealand, and found that non-New Zealand citizen alumni felt more closely connected to New Zealand if they received a New Zealand-sponsored scholarship. We compared their affiliation levels with those of alumni who received funding from other sources, and those who received no scholarship funds.
Based on both ICG's research and my personal experience in Europe, I'd say that students who go abroad feel a strong connection to their host institution, either for an exchange or for an entire program. For example, there are two Facebook groups for Erasmus students at the Universidad de Sevilla (Spain), each with more than 1,300 members. This is anecdotal evidence, but worth looking into more systematically.
Over what time scale will changes play out?
Daniel Guhr: Some changes are already taking place. It will be three years or more before we have early examples to use as case studies. In 5 to 10 years we'll see major initiatives that will produce good results. Some will come earlier, but will likely not be well-conceived. It will be more than ten years however before mainstream European universities will see any benefits – and only if they commit to building alumni networks.
* I serve as a volunteer member of ICG's Academic Advisory Board.