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MaRIHE Master thesis reader e-book 2016

Turkish-German Joint Degree Programs: Institutional Perspectives on Sustainability

Hacer Tercanli 


This thesis study seeks to identify factors that might have influence on the performance and sustainability of the Turkish-German Joint and Double Degree Programs (JDDPs) through the lenses of Joint Degree Program Sustainability Framework. The ultimate purpose of the study is to provide a guideline to the Turkish and German HEIs for a sustainable JDDP development.

This particular research topic was chosen for investigation after a preliminary research on the status of the Turkish-German JDDPs registered in the Turkish Council of Higher Education (YOK) database . The findings revealed that 16 out of 27 joint programs accredited by YOK between the years 2007-2015 have ended their activities. The first question came to mind was: ‘What caused 16 programs to end their activities immediately, or after a few years of implementation?’ The second question followed: ‘What features of the active programs distinguished them from those of the discontinued programs?’ Given the fact that establishment of JDDPs is not an easy task, especially when the amount of time, finances, and human resources invested in such cooperations are considered, the research was set to target sustainability and performance dimension of selected joint programs.

The following research question is formulated to guide the study: How can the sustainability of Turkish-German joint degree programs be ensured? This main research question is subdivided by 6 questions:

Q1. What collaborative higher education programs are offered by joint German and Turkish partners and how do these programs look like?

Q2. What are the German and Turkish partner perspectives on their collaborative JDDP establishment context and rationales?

Q3. What are the German and Turkish partner perspectives on their active collaborative JDDP benefits and success factors?

Q4. What are the factors that pose challenge during the implementation of the JDDP program? What kind of mechanisms are in place to address these challenges? 

Q5. What are the perspectives of German and Turkish partners in regards to sustainability of their collaborative JDDP?

Q6. What are the German and Turkish partner perspectives on the major factors that led to termination of their collaborative JDDP?

Each research question is linked to address five dimensions of the Joint Degree Program Sustainability Framework: Compatibility, Complementarity, Coping Mechanisms, Finances, and Institutionalization. The first sub-question serves to outline an overall profile of currently active Turkish- German JDDPs selected for the study. The findings will aim to provide information on seventeen JDDP features, including length of mobility, scholarships, mode of partner selection, language of instruction, student selection, recruitment strategies, and accreditation. The following five sub-questions, Q2 to Q6, seek to present an in-depth understanding on the possible factors that might have influence on the sustainability of Turkish-German JDDPs. Answers to the research questions are sought utilizing the qualitative method of interviews with the active and discontinued program coordinators, supported with the information accessed through document analysis.

The hypothesis is that there exists certain common features shared by the active Turkish-German JDDPs that influence the performance of program activities. During implementation compatibility is ensured, complementarity of the resources are maintained, challenges are addressed by coping mechanisms, financial support is secured, and program activities are embedded into the institutional structures, in other words, values and practices are adopted towards institutionalization. If the institutional practices associated with these five lenses of the framework are known, conclusions can be drawn on the factors that might influence JDDP performance and sustainability. To support this hypothesis, interview data will be collected from active and discontinued program coordinators in the Turkish and German HEIs. Interview data will be further supported by document analysis obtained from program websites, brochures, and other relevant digital resources.

Significance of the study primarily lies in its attempt to develop a better understanding of the JDDP implementation in the Turkish and German higher education context. Shared first-hand experiences of the program coordinators might provide input for the improvement of institutional practices for the sustainable development of JDDPs. As it is argued by one of the recent survey reports, implementation of JDDPs are complex in comparison to the traditional degrees due to the number of stakeholders involved in two different cultural and legal, and administrative contexts (Kuder&Obst, 2009). In this regard, the findings might serve as a point of reference for Turkish and German professionals who intend to embark on long-lasting joint study projects in the future. Last but not the least, the findings might contribute to the body of research in the literature, as well as leading to further studies on the sustainability of the Turkish-German joint degree programs.

While there is plethora of reports and regional surveys investigating the implementation of JDDPs – with the most comprehensive ones published by European University Association (EUA), Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), Institute of International Education (IIE), Freie Universität Berlin, Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst , (DAAD), EP Nuffic, Joint Degree Management and Administration Network (JOIMAN) - empirical research on the performance and sustainability of these programs are rather limited in the national context. One empirical study by the German Institute for International Education Research (DIPF) was conducted in 2012, in the context of sustainability of JDDPs with German participance. The findings have shown that commitment, trust and financial security were the most influential elements of the JDDP sustainability (Tarazona, 2013). From an alternative perspective, the survey report by the American Council of Education (ACE) shed light to the difficulties American institutions experience in their joint program cooperations with Turkish and German institutions (Helms, 2014). According to the findings, low commitment level of the partners, rigid regulations for the preparations of program proposals, and language barrier are the factors that influence American JDDP cooperations with Turkey. On the other hand, the same programs with German partners overall reported low challenge rates. Existing issues were reported to be administrative, commitment, and funding related.


The research employs a qualitative research method to gain an “in-depth and interpreted understanding of the experiences” of the research participants (Ritchie et al., 2003, p.3). The choice of the research approach was made based on the interpretive nature of the research questions, each aiming at exploring the perceptions and experiences of the JDDP program coordinators in their own country context. This empirical study adopts a post-positivist approach in its knowledge inquiry, in which the researcher starts with a set of ideas or a theory to test, collects data that either supports or refutes the theory, and after analysis of data verifies or refines the ideas posed at the beginning (Creswell, 2003). Perspectives of the participants categorized in five dimensions is defined as the unit of analysis. Despite the fact that the research collects data on ten joint programs, it doesn’t analyze them as individual programs, but rather aggregates the input from interview participants to test the potential factors. To address the research questions the study utilizes two sources of evidence; semi structured interviews and document analysis. Semi-structured interview is the primary instrument, supported by the document analysis conducted to answer the first research question, as well as to fill in information gaps while answering the remaining research questions.

Participant selection for the study was administered in two steps. First, joint programs were selected that served as case programs, and second, within each case program individual respondents were identified. Programs selected for the study are five active and five inactive Turkish-German JDDPs. Sampling of the cases was purposeful, in that three criteria were aimed to be met for the variety of case units: the level of JDDP study programs (Masters vs. Bachelor), the type of Turkish partner institution (Public vs. Foundation), and geographical representation of JDDP host institutions. As for the inactive programs, selections were made on the basis of the participant willingness to collaborate in this research. Participants are identified as program coordinators, directors, and administrative assistants of partner universities who are involved in the JDDP establishment and implementation. The sampling of the participants was purposeful; key informants with special expertise were invited to provide insight on the topic of investigation.

Four face to face interviews were recorded via data recorder which later were transcribed for analysis. Remaining interviews were recorded through note-taking, and after the input was transferred to the Excel database where the transcribed interviews were stored. Active program interviewees were contacted via e-mail or phone a month prior to the suggested interview date to introduce the study and the content of the interview. Majority of the participants were shared with the Consent Form (Appendix C) and Interview Questions (Appendix A) before the meetings.

Eleven participants from the Turkish institutions represented nine universities. The interviews with the group were conducted between December 2015 and May 2016. Nine participants from the German institutions represented seven universities. The interviews took place during the months April and May 2016. Of nine meetings, one interview took place via e-mail, two via Skype, three via phone, and one in person with a program director who administer two joint programs in two different Turkish HEIs. Two sets of interview questions were designed. One set targeted the participants representing active programs (Set A), and the other the participants of inactive programs (Set B). Both sets were prepared in Turkish and English languages for Turkish and German participants, respectively. Set A included a total of 24 interview questions addressing five dimensions of the conceptual framework through the interview themes of context and motives, benefits and challenges, coping mechanisms, and institutional integration of the JDDPs. Set B contained six questions, mainly covering the areas of the nature of initial JDDP establishment, the challenges leading to termination, and future perspectives of the participants in regards to the re-establishment of their inactive programs. Qualitative data analysis took place in two cycles. First, Structural Coding method was applied since this method allows organizing data around the interview and research questions. This step was followed by Elaborate Coding. Structural Coding means to apply content-based phrases that represent the topic of inquiry to the part of interview data that relates to the research question (Saldana, 2009). In the data analysis stage of this study, structural coding resulted in large segments of codes on broad topics, grouped in accordance with each interview question that stood as a “theme”. In addition, each research question that guided the set of interview questions were referred as “structural codes”. To identify the major trends, the codes as “topics” were counted to create a frequency report (See Appendix E). To further analyze and reorganize data, Elaborate Coding method was applied in order to build on previous research and investigations (Saldana, 2009). This method fit the purpose of this research, in the sense it aimed at modifying or strengthening the proposed framework upon the findings of the data analysis.

Key Findings

When asked about the objectives of their JDDP establishment, respondents from Turkish and German institutions shared two common goals: (1) offering students a rich educational experience and (2) contributing to the development of relationships between the two countries. Majority of participants agreed that the specialized JDDP training prepares students for an international work environment by equipping them with the necessary skills and competences. Pointing out to the increasing number of economic investments and the cultural exchange among the Turkish and German population, respondents suggested that the outcomes of the JDDP programs would contribute to a better understanding between the two cultures and facilitate further collaborations.

Inactive programs: In line with the responses provided by the active program coordinators, discontinued program representatives listed their goals and objectives in starting a JDDP with their partners. Coordinators in Turkish institutions emphasized their goals as (1) responding to particular market demands - addressing the employment needs of Turkish students in Germany, training experts that could facilitate Turkish accession into EU, (2) offering students a rich educational experience, (3) advancing internationalization by attracting students from Central Asian countries, and (4) adopting the educational model of the German partner university. Important characteristics participants from Turkey and Germany valued in each other were rich institutional resources; for the Turkish partners this meant industry links to the German institutions, while for the German partner it was the laboratory and academic field strengths of the Turkish institutions, except for one coordinator emphasized the diverse student source they would access through their Turkish partner.

There was a consensus among most participants in response to the question how the resources they offer for the JDDP complement the resources provided by their partner institution. Acknowledging the contextual strengths each institution possess, such as course subjects, facilities, and networks, the respondents stated they have equal resources they invest in the JDDP with their partners.

As the participant of A5 from Germany put it: “Rather than complementarity, there is duplication of resources. Therefore we are able provide students closer attention, and provide better services.” Similarly, the course director of A1 from Turkey explained “Both institutions channel their resources to the joint program. We believe we have equal resources. Human resources is equal, so as academic quality and structure.” In the same direction, the director of A1 from Germany added, “Professors are qualified in both institutions, same quality in their own context. We might have a bigger library, but for the success of the program this does not matter.”

Upon the question whether they perceive any challenges exist, respondents from both groups referred to four major obstacles: (1) Turkish HE regulations, (2) student recruitment, (3) the lack of finances to recruit JDDP staff, and (4) incompatible academic structures. Concerning the measures taken for the obstacles, responses revealed that from the very start of their JDDP establishment partners have employed a number of coping mechanisms to improve their performance: (1) organizing regular meetings, (2) making adjustments in the course structures, (3) agreeing on mutual exemption of tuition fees, (4) preparing student orientations, (5) developing a transparent program administration framework, and (6) lobbying to overcome regulatory constraints.

In regards to the resources required for sustainability, majority of participants cited financial resources as one of the requisites for the sustainable development of their JDDP. These resources were suggested to be spent in the recruitment of JDDP administrative staff, scholarships for more number of students, and hiring academics who can teach growing number of students. On the other hand, two respondents from German institutions emphasized that the sustainability of their JDDP is not under any risk of due to the embedded nature of the program in their regular course curriculum.

Nine coordinators from 5 discontinued JDDPs were asked about the challenges that led to the termination of their programs. It should be noted that three out of the five programs ended their activities within their first year, in the pre-implementation phase. The answers varied across institutions, however, (1) lack of student interest, (2) lack of institutional ownership, and (3) lack of financial support were cited by both Turkish and German partners as the most common reasons for JDDP termination.

Overall, findings included the perceived impact of contextual factors, such as political and economic developments, and the add-on nature of the programs to the long-term sustainability of Turkish-German JDDPs. Four factors posing threat to the sustainable development of the programs were found to be linked to the challenges with financial support, student recruitment, national regulations, and institutional ownership. The features facilitated cooperation emerged as trust, motivation, and common and regionally motivated goals. The type of measures taken as coping mechanisms considerably reduced the risk of program termination, as well as the financial support of national funding bodies, such as DAAD. Finally, the results showed marketing and alumni network aspects of the cooperations need special attention, along with the anchoring of the programs into the institutional strategy documents for the start.


Policy Level

  • In the German context recent strategies introduced by HRK (2013) aim for improvements in the regulatory fields to dismantle legal obstacles against JDDP establishment. As a corresponding measure, higher education internationalization policies in Turkey needs similar reforms to allow more room for sustainable JDDP development. 
  • A Turkish government funding scheme is necessary for the expansion of this internationalization strategy in the Turkish universities. Despite the existing national strategies that foster internationalization of higher education, industrial productivity, and social development, incentive mechanisms are not in place that could steer the institutions. 

Institutional Level

  • In the establishment preparation phase, external factors - political, economic, and social circumstances of the partner country - should be well evaluated, and demand for the particular degree should be well explored. 
  • Before the launch of joint programs initiating partners should thoroughly evaluate legal environment in the host country and identify genuine interest of stakeholders. Institutional support and commitment is of utmost importance for the sustainable development of JDDPs, considering the fact that termination of the most joint programs was directly linked to the absence of these two components. German partners should be prepared for the fragmented higher education policy environment in Turkey. 
  • Turkish and German HEIs expanding their joint or double degree program portfolios or making their first foray into the world of collaborative study programs should create a clear and comprehensive strategy and guidelines for the development of such programs. Among others, this guideline should include standards and procedures regarding marketing and recruitment strategies. Partners should also lobby for the explicit mention of the JDDPs in their university policy and strategies. 

Practical Level

  • Stakeholders of the GDDPs, including Turkish-German joint programs, should organize workshops, trainings, or conferences to share best practices and explore solutions to common challenges. Such bottom-up organization of activities could be led by DAAD, Goethe Institute, YOK, or any other institution involved in international education. Such platforms would be useful to the current practitioners as well as those who intend to start new collaborative programs with international partners.


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