Educate and cultivate skilled workers

Broad-based efforts to promote cross-border student exchanges at undergraduate level have had mixed results. Examples show that they have been hindered by education credential differences, student financing opportunities, student preferences, academic requirements and visa issues. For example, student mobility between Ireland and Northern Ireland, despite the proximity and absence of language barriers, remains very low. There is a different organisation of studies in the two jurisdictions, including a different number of years of study. Technological institutes are poorly valorised in the UK context and thus students are not encouraged to attend, even if there is one just a few kilometres across the border. Differences in funding schemes for studies also drive student choices that work against cross-border enrolment. Student preferences for more distant locations, as opposed to the neighbour, likely explain the low level of student mobility between HEIs in the Bothnian Arc area. A comprehensive proposal for a Bothnian Academy did not receive funding and enthusiasm waned for a grand crossborder initiative. The Oresund Academy was initially funded for several years. It ceased as a formal programme when one partner pulled out, resulting in a domino effect of funding withdrawals. Student financing issues, semester calendars and grading differences were among the many challenges.

Graduate students and academic researchers often choose the visiting institution on the basis of excellence in research rather than geographical proximity. It has been highlighted in several cases that students and researchers prefer to connect with researchers farther away in order to benefit from a higher degree of diversity in research networks and for better opportunities throughout their academic career.

Joint university or other higher education programmes often hindered by national frameworks for education

Table 3.13. Joint university or other higher education programmes: Benefits and barriers

Benefits and barriers



  • - capitalise on proximity, complementarity of competences and education programmes across higher education institutions
  • - critical mass of students, can jointly develop more specialised programmes
  • - creation of networks of students and professors (as well as professionals in the case of lifelong learning initiatives) over multiple countries
  • - cross-border education can facilitate cross-border labour markets


  • - competition among universities for attracting students
  • - national funding schemes give negative incentives for working cross-border
  • - language barriers
  • - national regulation of secondary and tertiary education systems creating obstacles to the mobility of students (i.e. eligibility for grants, length of university programmes, different grading systems, visas, etc.)
  • - student decisions based on global excellence rather than geographical proximity
  • - Transnational University Limburg in the TTR-ELAt
  • - Nordic Mining School in the Bothnian Arc
  • - Joint entrepreneurship courses at Ireland-Northern Ireland (HEIs) and in the TTR-ELAt (lifelong learning courses) and in the Bothnian Arc (Innopreneurship, targeting HEI teachers)

Joint university and higher education programmes have shown successes and disappointments in cross-border areas. The same challenges listed above for student mobility are also true for joint university programmes. In addition, systems that allocate national funding resources to universities in a given country generate incentives for competition rather than co-operation, particularly for attracting students, albeit the crossborder area can also be a new market for some. Nevertheless, joint higher education programmes can promote cross-border networks of skilled workers as well as a more integrated labour market. They can also be helpful in reaching the critical mass to open specific education programmes of interest for the cross-border innovation actors, such as programmes related to a specific workforce demand by firms.

Several lasting examples of joint university programmes exist. On example is in the Upper Rhine Trinational Metropolitan Region (across France, Germany and Switzerland). In this area, more than 30 bi- and trinational higher education programmes give students the opportunity to get a diploma from universities belonging to at least two countries, with a single programme of study. The main universities of the area also created the EUCOR network to facilitate joint programmes and activities (Box 3.15). The joint Nordic Mining School in the Bothnian Arc and the Transnational University in the TTR- ELAt are good examples of a cross-border partnership, as they combine scientific competences in universities to meet the training and research needs of industry in both locations (Boxes 3.16 and 3.17). The CEER in Galicia (Spain) and North of Portugal is another example of a university network promoting student exchange (prior Box 3.3)

Box 3.15. Eucor, the Upper Rhine University

Eucor is a network of leading universities founded in 1989 in the Upper Rhine area across France, Germany and Switzerland, including the University of Freiburg (Germany), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany), the University of Strasbourg, the University of Haute-Alsace (France) and the University of Basel (Switzerland).

The Rectors of the five universities and the President of Eucor meet twice per year to define strategic priorities for the network of institutions. The presidency of Eucor is assigned to a different university every year. In addition, Eucor has a management team composed of a member of each of the five universities that meets four/five times per year to promote information sharing related to the establishment of new projects, current project advancement and to take common decisions. The Eucor network has also established a co-ordination office with the responsibility to organise thematic bi- or trinational meetings around cross-border issues like language university policies, doctoral studies, extension to students of Eucor universities to cultural events and inter-university transport. Since 2009, Eucor established a cross-border university Student Council, with the aim to promote Eucor mobility programmes among students.

Eucor promotes and creates thematic networks and projects of researchers and students, focusing on similar topics in the five universities of the cross-border region. Eucor shares collections and resources of the five universities’ libraries, providing digital and physical access to all students and researchers affiliated to Eucor’s universities.


Box 3.16. Transnational University Limburg in the TTR-ELAt

The Maastricht University (UM) in Dutch Limburg was established in 1976, and is the youngest of the 13 public universities in the Netherlands. With approximately 16 000 students (2012) and, together with UMC+, about 9 000 staff members and a turnover of about EUR 800 million, it is a major driving force for the region. The university’s profile consists of three unique elements: i) problem-based learning (PBL) and innovation in education; ii) an international orientation based on firm roots in the Netherlands, Limburg and the Euroregion; and iii) an integrated, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach to research and education with a focus on three themes: a) quality of life; b) Europe and a globalising world; and c) learning and innovation.

The Hasselt University in Belgian Limburg is also a young university established in 1971 that organises undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in the fields of medicine, dentistry, sciences, law and applied economics.

In 2001, the Flemish and Dutch Ministers of Education signed an international treaty which founded the Transnational University Limburg. Academic staff from Hasselt University (Flanders) and nearby Maastricht University (in the Dutch Province of Limburg) now jointly undertake research and offer degree programmes in the life sciences and computer sciences.

Sources: Nauwelaers, C., K. Maguire and G. Ajmone Marsan (2013), “The case of the Top Technology Region/Eindhoven-Leuven-Aachen Triangle (TTR-ELAt) - Regions and Innovation: Collaborating Across Borders”, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, No. 2013/22, OECD Publishing, Paris,; TTR-ELAt (2013), “Background report to OECD study: Cross-border regional innovation policies, TTR-ELAt”, March.

Many other examples of joint programmes are found to support the cross-border area priorities. The Automotive Cluster Centrope, several joint study programmes in specific areas have been developed: a transnational master programme (“Professional MBA Automotive Industry” at the Technical University Vienna and Technical University Bratislava) and a qualification platform (Automotive Academy). The Automotive Cluster Centrope II aims at extending the collaboration to Hungary and to establish a joint degree programme in the field of e-mobility. Another example of a cross-border higher education programme has been recently implemented across Belgium and France (involving the regions of Nord-Pas de Calais, Flanders and Wallonia), launched in 2011. The programme involves several universities and higher education schools (grandes ecoles) in the three regions. The programme fosters the mobility of students and research staff and creates common internships and bi-national diploma opportunities. The programme is not open to all students, but it selects 30 to 40 students per year on the basis of excellence. The selected students follow classes in the three regions and need to develop multilingual skills. The programme is funded by EU Structural Funds (50%) as well as by the funding bodies for HEIs located in the regions.

Box 3.17. The Nordic Mining School:

Complementarity and critical mass in education and research

The University of Oulu and the Lulea University of Technology have jointly established the Nordic Mining School (NMS). The NMS offers a new degree programme in the field of mining industry. The aims of the NMS are to:

  • • bring the students at masters level in both universities together to reach critical mass
  • • build the best graduate school in mining-related education in Europe
  • • strengthen the research co-operation in mining, exploration and environmental engineering, mineral processing, metallurgy and process engineering.

The initiative, which received funding by the European Union Interreg IVA Nord programme in the period 2008-11, offers students master’s degrees in both universities. Students enrol in a relevant master’s programme at either of the universities and spend at least six months of their studies at the other university and qualify for a double degree from the Nordic Mining School. The course offering includes geology, mineral technology, mining technology and metallurgy. A joint professorship in “mineral entrepreneurship” was established to give students knowledge of the economics to start and run businesses in the mining and exploration industry.

Sources: Launonen, M., K. Launonen, H. Sundvall and M. Lindqvist (2013), “Background report for OECD study on cross-border regional innovation policies: Bothnian Arc”, Bothnian Arc, January;

Cross-border entrepreneurship classes are another joint opportunity to support innovation. The TTR-ELAt has developed a cross-border lifelong learning programme to foster entrepreneurship in the region, the ELAt Master Classes. The programme consists of an intense three-day master class in high-tech entrepreneurship.7 During the master programme, a team from each of the three regions in the TTR-ELAt shares ideas and experiences and receives feedback from experts in high-tech fields. Participants also attend lectures and seminars from leading entrepreneurs and meet seed and early stage venture capital investors and legal coaches as well as managers of university spin-off programmes. In Ireland-Northern Ireland (UK), the Innovation Academy is a joint initiative of Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast to provide doctoral researchers with the skills for a wider range of professional opportunities beyond teaching upon graduation. Working across three universities helps to ensure a critical mass of students for each session as well as access to complementary expertise housed in each university.

Cross-border labour market measures and other talent schemes bring benefits of a bigger labour market

Table 3.14. Cross-border talent and labour market measures: Benefits and barriers

Benefits and barriers



  • - critical mass for better international visibility/attractiveness for workers and firms
  • - better match between demand and offer in the labour market
  • - “brain” circulation favouring innovation Barriers:
  • - highly skilled workers are also mobile and may prefer other global locations
  • - labour markets subject to many related regulations/programmes (pension schemes, medical insurance, taxes, etc.)
  • - need to co-ordinate at national (supra-national) level to solve labour market issues

- Information services for cross-border workers in Helsinki-Tallinn, the Oresund and the Upper Rhine

An integrated cross-border labour market is an essential component of a functional innovation cross-border area, but often the main challenges can only be addressed at the national level. Skilled workers are attracted by access to a wider pool of possible jobs. However, if the barriers in place to working across the border are not addressed, the region loses this critical advantage for building on possible cross-border strengths. When geographic distance and accessibility are not a barrier, other barriers may discourage cross-border job-seeking (differences in national tax systems, pension portability schemes, social security and medical insurance). However, the solutions to issues related to national regulations go beyond the responsibilities of regional and local authorities that need to lobby for a resolution of such problems with the relevant national authorities.

Regional and local authorities can, however, provide information services to help cross-border workers. They should provide clear information on labour market regulations both to employees and to companies as well as guidance on how to solve the most common practical issues related to the barriers mentioned above. In the Oresund Region, for example, public authorities have created an Internet site containing all of the relevant practical information to work on both sides of the border. There are also one-stop shops (one in Copenhagen and one in Malmo) where companies and workers can seek further information and clarifications. Similar information points have been established in the Upper Rhine Trinational Metropolitan Region (France, Germany and Switzerland) as well as on Internet portals (Infobest),8 providing cross-border workers with relevant information concerning different labour legislations in the three countries. In the Helsinki-Tallinn area, information sessions for cross-border workers are advertised on the ferry connecting the two cities. The sessions seek to help workers with information on their rights and responsibilities, notably with respect to work contracts and taxation. Other actions promoting and facilitating the creation of a cross-border labour market include activities aiming to brand and advertise the region both internally and externally, by publishing job openings in magazines and newspapers on both sides of the border.

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