Soft skills and interdisciplinary expertise are in demand and gaining in importance – not only while studying but also later on the jobs market. Furthermore, very specific intercultural competencies are needed for cross-border teamwork. What these are and how universities recognize them, including cross-border, is the object of the European Cross-Border Skills project, or ECBS for short. Partners in the project are the universities of Pau, Savoy Mont Blanc, Aosta Valley, the Basque Country, Zaragoza and the Saarland, as well as the associations University of the Greater Region and Eucor – The European Campus. Funded by the European Union as part of Erasmus+, the project launched on 1 September 2017 and concluded on 10 December 2020 with a digital event.
At the event, Emilie Desconet and Christian Paroissin from the University of Pau and the Adour Region presented the four central results of the project: in an online catalog the project partners set out the existing opportunities for students to gain cross-border expertise. A common ‘European Cross-Border Skills Framework’ defined fifteen skills which can be developed by cross-border studies. These range from Intercultural Sensitivity through Critical Thinking to Service Orientation. Based on these, a certificate was created enabling recognition for the cross-border skills developed by students at the partner institutions. Last but not least, application for the certificates and their award take place via a specially-built easy-to-use platform, which is openly accessible and also available as an app.
The introductory speech at the concluding digital event was given by Laurence Farreng, a French delegate to the European Parliament who is currently involved in negotiations for the new Erasmus+ framework program for 2021 to 2027. She acknowledged the work on the ECBS project, “At the time, when we are trying at the European level to build the true European education area, projects like yours are of the upmost importance! You are building bridges between students, teachers and universities.” At the same time, she sketched out the recently-approved new Erasmus+ framework program, “The program will be more inclusive. It will also be greener.” This will benefit universities and associations that cooperate across borders.
Next, Klara Engels-Perenyi, Policy Officer for the European Commission’s Directorate General for Youth, Education and Erasmus+ presented the ‘Micro Credentials’ approach. This is evidence of educational achievements that can easily be acquired after just a brief period of learning. This approach is especially interesting with regard to the recognition of intercultural skills, as Ms Engels-Perenyi said of several examples of Micro Credentials at the new ‘European universities’. Conceived of within the framework of the ECBS project three years ago, the certificates have integrated well with the micro credentials that are now a focus of the European Commission.
The second half of the closing event for the ECBS project looked at real-life examples of Best Practice at the partner institutions: the UE libre at the University of Upper Alsace within the framework of Eucor – The European Campus, the Erasmus+ project Language Centres of the Greater Region (LCGR) at the University of the Greater Region, the French-Italian Interreg project FEAST and the French-Spanish doctoral training with the Cotutelle de thèse.
As multifaceted as the different skills and best practices already are, intercultural expertise will continue to gain in importance and with it its recognition and certification. Partner institutions that are cooperating across borders in the European Cross-Border Skills project have real-life opportunities to acknowledge and certify these skills. In doing so they also take on a pioneering role in this emerging area.