Monday, August 26, 2019

Erasmus Mundus Double Degrees and Joint Degrees

A superset of requirements from 2 universities!
So I recently defended my Erasmus Mundus double Ph.D. degree successfully. I defended on the 1st of July for my 1st university in Portugal, and then again on the 23rd of August for my 2nd university in Belgium. There are several questions on how all these work from the public. While there is no consensus on what is the difference between the double and joint degrees, I will explain here my interpretation. Even the professors of the Erasmus Mundus consortiums have conflicting opinions. Therefore, if you have objections to my interpretation, I am fine with that. There are blurred boundaries on what constitutes a joint degree or a double degree. As an Erasmus Mundus Association Program representative for 2 programs (EMDC and EMJDC-DC) in the past, I believe I have adequate understanding to write this post.

My program EMJD-DC is supposed to be a joint degree, but in practice, it is a double degree. Let's come to the meat of the discussion. A double degree involves two universities. The student must satisfy the superset of the requirements from both universities. Plus, he/she should also satisfy some certain additional requirements from the Erasmus Mundus consortium. In EMJD-DC, the students choose 2 universities out of the 4 universities based in 4 European countries (Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, and Spain). I choose IST-ULisboa, Portugal, and UCLouvain, Belgium as my 2 universities.

A joint doctorate degree typically chooses certain sets of requirements from both universities, and the student receives a single joint diploma signed by both universities. This creates an overhead on the university administrators, on figuring out the requirements and complexities of devising such a joint degree. There is no way a student can leave with a degree from a single university in a joint degree. It is an AND clause.

On the other hand, a double degree requires the student to complete a superset of requirements from both universities. This doesn't mean double workload or a sum of the workload from each university. But usually leads to a significantly larger workload compared to the workload of either of the universities. For example, my first university IST requires coursework of 30 ECTS. UCLouvain does not require coursework. It is optional. But it requires a much larger amount of credits that must be satisfied through conference visits, coursework, or research visits. IST requires submission of a CAT document, almost like a thesis, in half-way through the PhD. There are credit transfers. But some of these additional requirements do not translate well. Therefore, leading to additional work from both universities. The research is still the same single research though.

Although the universities have international students offices that handle these mobility programs, typically it is the student's responsibility to make sure that the credits are transferred across the participating universities. Furthermore, the students will also need to make sure she/he has 2 supervisors, one each from the universities. The student must manage the supervisors pretty well, and coordinate with them effectively.

A double degree leads to 2 degree certificates/diplomas. That means, if you fail one university, you can still pass the other one. It is an OR clause here. This is like 2 lifes. If you lose your first life, you still have the second. I have successfully passed the defense of both universities. I know at least one student who failed one university - but continued with the second university. It won't be a double degree anymore. Just a single degree from the university that the student passed.

My double degree certificates stand on their own. I can easily claim I have Ph.D. from 2 universities, without mentioning that this is a double degree of the same research since the degree certificates do not mention that.

Another benefit of EU double degrees are, the interesting set of colleagues that will be in your double degree. Those who choose such programs already has a desire for traveling and a preference for uncertainties. I also traveled to several EU countries, thanks to my MSc and PhD double degrees. I hope this post clarifies some questions on Erasmus Mundus double degrees. Please let me know in comments if  you have additional questions.

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