International Relations Office (IRO) at International Burch University (IBU) plays a key role in establishing and maintaining relationships with international higher education institutions, which implies good and strong coordination of student and employee exchange, careful and detailed selection of potential partners and institutions, maintenance of international scholarship programs etc. Regarding the work and importance of this office, we talked with the head of International Relations Office, Emina Mekic, who, through management studies in the field of management, has already shown great interest in establishing cooperation in the political, economic and educational field.
In the following interview, Emina has revealed to us how dynamic this service is and how important it is for IBU.
Why is the process of internationalization important for the universities?
The process of internationalization is one of the key for each higher education institution, and for one university it implies all the activities carried out in the context of international/regional co-operation and the participation of representatives of universities, staff and students in various projects, exchanges and other activities belonging to the scientific-research domain, all in order to learn and adopt the best practices and knowledge on the international plan and implement them at the home institution. Based on this, IBU develops an internationalization strategy for the period 2018-2023 which has three primary goals: to activate IBU in international research projects, to enhance international co-operation on education and to include IBU in international scientific research networks. Needless to say, the European Union, which now has 28 members and in which our country has the status of a potential candidate, sets out enormous resources for education, science, research and innovation, as confirmed by the Lisbon Strategy, wanting to build so-called “knowledge-based economy, which is one of the ways for society to progress.
In which international projects is IBU active?
Participation in projects is one of the processes that we as a University pay particular attention to. We actively participate in Erasmus + Key Action 1 (KA1) projects related to the exchange of students and staff between EU member states and non-member countries, but in the Erasmus + Program they have the status of a program country such as: Liechtenstein, Norway, Turkey, and Serbia recently, and the countries that are either on the road to the EU or are strategically important to the EU (divided by regions and are not necessarily on the European continent). All activities related to KA1 projects are carried out by International Relations Office at IBU. I can proudly point out that in the period of 3 years we realized 300 exchange students and staff where our students had the opportunity to study at the prominent European universities and our staff to spend a week or more at one of the partner institutions and through lectures, trainings and other activities enrich their professional profile. A significant number of foreign students and staff are coming to IBU through the Erasmus + program so we have had the opportunity to host students and staff from the universities from Germany, Austria, Holland, Spain, Romania, Sweden, Lithuania, Greece, Czech Republic and other states. In addition, IBU is active in Key Action 2 projects related to cooperation in the field of innovation and exchange of good practices. These projects are more complex, require a large number of partners and we can proudly point out that at this moment our Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering implements the “ELEMEND” project of this kind. In addition, our staff is actively involved in COST projects, Fullbright, Horizon 2020, ministry-funded projects, etc. The preparation of such projects and assistance in their realization is supported by a significant administrative unit of our university, a Project Office.
How many partners do we have in Erasmus+, are we in negotiations with some other partners, and can we point out a partner that is particularly significant?
When we talk about KA1 projects, within the Erasmus + program we have 25 active partners with whom we have achieved successful cooperation from the very implementation of the Erasmus + program in our country. Geographically speaking, our partners are members of the European Union from all parts of Europe, so we cooperate with universities from Germany, Austria, Spain, Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, the Netherlands and other countries. The benefits of this cooperation are reflected in the successful internationalization of IBU staff and students, where our students return with international experience, broader horizons, more independent and more determined to make positive changes in their environment. The best example justifying the Erasmus + program goal is the rich experience of our student, Hata Kurjakovic, who has completed a semester in Sweden and who is currently working with colleagues on the project preparing the first movie for hearing-impaired people about the beauties of our Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is impossible to single out only one partner, because everyone has their values in some segments recognized by our students and staff. Our partner list within the Erasmus + program grows year after year, and from the next academic year we will have an exchange program under the Erasmus + program with the Catholic University of Lille, France, the University of Valladolid, Spain, one of the oldest universities in the world founded in 13th century and Malardalen University from Sweden, joined by new Dutch partners, Tilburg University and Leiden University. The best indicator that our international standpoint is at the enviable level is that more renowned higher education institutions are initially contacting us by suggesting co-operation as a result of the recommendations received from the universities we have previously worked with. This gives us the motivation to present our University, and our country in the best light.
What is the role of the National Erasmus + office in the Erasmus + program?
The National Erasmus + office plays a very important role in the realization of the Erasmus + program. We have had successful cooperation with NEO so far, and many times have received guidance, advice and support for the realization of this program. NEO is actively working to raise awareness of the importance and benefits of Erasmus + program, and through sessions, seminars, workshops provide all necessary information to interested parties as well as monitoring projects approved for funding. The IBU International Relations Office is actively responding to seminars and workshops organized by the National Office and, as a rule, the outcome of these meetings are the new partnerships that we as the University set up in case of contact seminars and with clear guidelines for each application for Erasmus + projects.
Is there another way of cooperation among universities besides the Erasmus + program?
Certainly, IRO also covers a significant number of contracts representing agreements on cooperation with various institutions, primarily universities, but also other organizations with the aim of improving the education process, exchange of experiences, various types of support in the implementation of activities, and the like. Accordingly, the University has agreements on cooperation with laboratories, companies and other higher education institutions, which are, as a rule, the predecessors of joint applications to some major projects.
Do we still have some specific forms of international cooperation in which IBU is active?
In addition to all of the above, IBU is active in the preparation and implementation of dual and joint programs with universities in Europe. One such example is a joint program that we have at the Department of International Relations and European Studies, where together with partners from Croatia and Austria we are conducting undergraduate studies. As a department dealing with international relation issues, EU accession processes, foreign policy, the realization of such a program with two universities coming from the member states of the European Union is of great importance. In addition, we also have a joint program at the Doctoral study with the University of Applied Sciences Burgenland from Austria, which is realized by the staff of the Faculty of Education and Humanities. We can conclude that such programs are really important, and that there is an intention to implement a significant number of them in the future, which is in accordance with the already mentioned strategy of internationalization.