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Developing a Success Story: Learning from the European Master in Tourism Management (EMTM) programme

19.04.2018Comments are closed.

Dr Tanja Mihalič, Vice Dean, Full Professor, Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana (FELU) and programme chair of the European Master in Tourism Management (EMTM) programme

The European Commission nominated the 2-year joint European Master in Tourism Management (EMTM) programme as a success story. Holding 9th place among the TOP 100 in the Eduniversal ranking, the programme stands out for its influence on policy design, innovativeness and creativity, while providing inspiration for others.



Students and professors alike highly commend studying and teaching in the EMTM programme and point to its uniqueness and strong impact on their personal and professional development. So, what is the recipe for developing a programme capable of inspiring others?

Being given the chance to develop such a programme is both a great privilege and opportunity for any academic teacher and researcher. It was all about bringing academic enthusiasm, awareness and knowledge together to fully explore the concept of sustainable tourism. The concept was at a time relatively new to the industry and academia. Three teachers from three different universities across Europe (Prof. Jaume Guia from the University of Girona, Prof. Janne Liburd from the University of Southern Denmark and myself, from the University of Ljubljana) shared the vision to create an inspiring programme in sustainable tourism management. We envisioned a programme that would make a genuine difference and have a positive and just impact on the tourism world in practice. The inspiring content entailed the use of tourism as a powerful engine for justice and as a social and environmental good. The aim was to educate future tourism leaders to ensure a more responsible tourism industry. More explicitly, to support transition towards capitalisation on tourism potential in terms of economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, as well as cultural and environmental preservation. When the three professors started off on their Odyssey to create the EMTM programme in 2000, the academic debate on sustainable tourism development was a rising star. We have been committed to it from outset. At the same time, there was EU Erasmus Mundus which offered a framework to create a joint programme and provided financial support to develop the programme. The Erasmus Mundus scheme also offered students scholarships and global visibility. We decided to apply. After two failures, we got Erasmus Mundus status in 2009. First generation of EMTM students enrolled in 2007, first generation of Erasmus Mundus EMTM students enrolled in 2009.

Why is the EMTM programme unlike other tourism programmes?

The EMTM programme is a management programme strongly rooted in sustainability and responsibility and applied to the field of tourism. The programme is based on the Tourism Educational Future Initiative (TEFI). This unique concept was created to support education for tourism jobs faced with an ever-changing and uncertain future. TEFI values emphasise the importance of sustainability, knowledge, professionalism, mutuality and ethics in tourism education, development and business. The EMTM programme is distinct from other tourism programmes in the way it profoundly integrates these values. Further, EMTM is an Erasmus Mundus branded programme, which means high educational quality and global visibility. In practice, this means our students come from all parts of the world and there is strong competition to enrol.

The EMTM programme is carried out by the three partner universities from Denmark, Slovenia and Spain. Which obstacles emerge while managing a programme at three different universities and how can they be overcome?

Creating an inspiring academic educational programme was in fact the easiest part, even though many long meetings were required to fully develop the idea. It was all about integrating the programme within three different national environments in three different states each with very different legislation that posed the real challenge. Designing the programme content ran like a dream. Putting the programme into an actual (legislative) context, that was at some points undoable. The team, ably supported by the administrative staff of the three universities, was forced to become innovative in order to make the programme possible. On the one hand, there was the EU’s vision of an integrated higher education area and the eligibility criteria for the EU’s Erasmus Mundus. On the other hand, there were national laws that did not support such eligibility criteria imposed by the EU. These external factors partly put an end to our first and second applications for Erasmus Mundus status. Fortunately, prior to our third (successful) application certain regulations and interpretations in all three states were altered and adopted to meet the EU Erasmus Mundus requirements and eligibility criteria. For instance, according to the 2009 national standards, the signature appearing on the diploma certificate in Spain was by the King of Spain, in Slovenia the rector of the university and in Denmark the dean of the school. The EU also required that we present an example of a legally valid joint diploma certificate, signed by all three consortium partners. This document has been designed at the FELU, with a help of our layers. It was attached to our third Erasmus Mundus application. We kept our fingers crossed that we have not overlooked any of diploma certificate relevant regulation in any of three countries. Just in case we kept all three national diploma certificates, too.

Since 2010, the EMTM has been attracting some 600–800 candidate applications a year, from among whom just 35 students are selected. What makes the programme so appealing to the best and the brightest students?

We believe the Erasmus Mundus brand and the quality of the programme are what make it visible and attractive around the world. At the beginning (2009), the very good Erasmus scholarships for students provided a driver by attracting many good applicants, especially from non-EU countries. According to the Erasmus Mundus scholarship scheme’s dynamics, over the years the EMTM has lost most of these scholarships. Nevertheless, the EMTM’s reputation grew and, still associated with the quality Erasmus Mundus brand, ensures many applications are made. This allows us to every year hand pick the most motivated, top students. In their motivation letters, many students tell us they would like to do good for both the future and community by responsibly serving the tourism industry. They want to bring prosperity to their less developed countries or regions. These are ultimately selected.

The programme not only produces tourism business professionals who are highly educated but also global citizens set to bring about a more sustainable and desirable future. Which are the programme’s main values and how are they incorporated into the programme curricula?

As explained, the global citizenship through the TEFI values is a unique selling proposition and point of differentiation for the EMTM management programme.

How will insights arising from this programme affect what you do in your newly appointed role as Vice Dean for Academic Affairs?

My vision is to support the FELU’s attempts to continue to develop our double degree and joint degree programmes and to use the EMTM success story to further inform the process of internationalising education. In my new position, it is especially the administrative experience of creating the EMTM that will help me understand why in Slovenia the internationalisation of our higher education area is still in transition, particularly for public universities. Considerable effort, cooperation and lobbying on appropriate regulations is needed to enable the smooth and competitive management of such programmes. Further, the EMTM programme’s strong commitment to sustainable development values has a long tradition This commitment can further lead the processes of international education and sustainability at the FELU.

What was the highlight for you of the 2016/2017 academic year?

The highlight for us was that we gained the Erasmus Mundus status for the third time, for the period 2017–2021. Behind this success are the vast lobbying efforts of all three partners, in cooperation with national governments and the EU to retain the Erasmus Mundus brand for master programmes, otherwise planned to be done away with. We also campaigned to open the call to existing Erasmus Mundus programmes, which were originally ineligible to apply for a third time. The EC’s last-minute interpretation was that we could apply if we could prove the programme quality had been developed to a higher level. As the Consortium had already worked on programme improvements through its quality control loop, we could provide sufficient evidence of the programme’s development and quality. We therefore persuaded the European agency for another round of Erasmus Mundus branding. While we actually only fought for the EM brand, the new scheme also brings many scholarships for students. The programme has already demonstrated its sustainability and attractiveness in the commercial market. However, I am extremely happy to note that good students who are financially less well-off will also have the chance to enrol in the next 2018 EMTM generation. Even though the EC is pushing us in the direction of ensuring that educational programmes are financially sustainable, these scholarships directly benefit students and create a more just educational space in today’s world educational market.

Read more in the FELU’s Yearly Review 2016/2017.

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