Inspiring experiences from HEI

Part five: Inspiring experiences from HEI’s


“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve,

The fear to failure.”

(Paulo Coelho)


5.1 Institutional University Cooperation (IUC)  

Fast facts:

  • Name HEI: IUC – KU Leuven
  • Location: Leuven (Belgium)
  • Degree: PhD
  • Faculty: different faculties

About IUC:

The example below is evidence of a good experience and can be used as an example of good practice: Travel grants for Flemish students in the framework of the IUC programme with Mekelle University, Ethiopia.

Other IUC programmes, coordinated by KU Leuven, go to following destinations: Tanzania, Ecuador, Peru, Congo and Suriname.


Travel Grants for European students travelling to the Global South

“European students intending to do part of their study programme (thesis research, practical training) in a developing country, may apply for Travel Grants of 1,000 euro. Travel Grants provide an excellent opportunity for young people to experience an intercultural experience of  life in the South, during  6 weeks.

A local organization will welcome the student and guide them during their stay. This could be a university, an NGO, a government institution or a hospital. In addition, a KU Leuven promoter or supervisor will support the project abroad.”

The experience  has an option form part of the research for a masters thesis or for an internship. The output; a research paper or report is then  evaluated and graded as part of the their university programme. translated into points/grades.



An Institutional University Cooperation (IUC) programme is a long-term cooperation programme between Flemish universities and a single partner university in the South. It consists of several smaller projects that are co-ordinated by both a local and a Flemish project leader.

The mobility was organized in the framework of long term institutional projects with partner universities in the South, financed by VLIR-UOS (Vlaamse Universitaire raad-Universitaire ontwikkelingssamenwerking).

With IUC, VLIR-UOS facilitates a 12-year partnership between a university in the Global South and Flemish universities and university colleges. The programme supports the partner university in its triple function as provider of educational, research-related, and societal services. It aims to empower the local university fulfil its role as development actor in society. 


Focus on partnership:

Main features of the IUC Programme:

  • Long term collaboration - overall on average 12 years-geared towards institutional development
  • Financing and facilitating cooperation (partnership)
  • Match between the priorities of the partner university and the interest and expertise offered by Flemish counterparts
  • Coherent set of interventions/synergetic projects guided by the strategic plan of the partner university
  • Building capacity

Some guiding principles within an IUC

  • Spirit of partnership, dialogue and mutual respect;
  • Participation of high level academic leadership is crucial (decision making structures in the university)
  • Incorporation into local structures and systems (university, regional/national)
  • Development Relevance => focus on changing lives (university and society=> interaction with government, local development actors, society in general)
  • Content based on match between the priorities of the partner university and the interest and expertise offered by Flemish counterparts
  • Programme logic => grouping a coherent set of interventions/synergetic projects guided by the strategic plan of the partner university => interdisciplinary approach with focus on 1 or more expertise areas


The programme:

Cooperation between several Flemish universities within several separate sub projects in the South

Within the IUC programme, depending on the needs of the Southern partner, and the budget available, several projects are identified at the beginning of the partnership. Each project has general and specific objectives to achieve. For each project, a project leader in the Global North and project leader in theGlobal South is appointed. The project leader in the North can be an academic from another Flemish university. The coordinating university is in this example always KU Leuven. This kind of approach stimulates interuniversity contacts and cooperation.

In the framework of most of the projects within the IUC, Flemish students from several Flemish universities were sent to Mekelle University for thesis research. Sometimes, two students from different disciplines had to study the same topic, but from a different point of view. Interdisciplinary approaches were therefore stimulated. Exchange of information and communication between the 7 research projects is stimulated:

  • Land management – fighting desertification
  • Geo-hydrology – water harvesting
  • More crop per drop – enhancing water use efficiency
  • Aquatic ecology – water quality in water reservoirs
  • Terrestrial ecology – biodiversity conservation and restoration
  • Farm technology – ploughing from poverty to productivity
  • Socio-economics – livelihood and conservation


Interaction between Flemish master students, Ethiopian PhD and master students

Within every project, capacity building was an objective, and a few Phd scholarships were financed by the IUC-programme. PhD-students, also staff members of Mekelle University, received a scholarship in sandwich system (max 18 months in Belgium during a total period of 4 years).

The topics of the master thesis of the Flemish students were chosen according to the topics of the Ethiopian PhD researchers. The supervisor of the Flemish masters student was also promoter of the Ethiopian PhD student. In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian PhD student acts as local supervisor.

Sometimes also local masters students were added to the team. They used the research theme for their own master thesis, receive a small amount from the budget of IUC, and could act as translators in the field for the Flemish students.

Using this process academic support is guaranteed at several levels.


Administrative and logistical support

The local support unit of the IUC-programme facilitated the stay and research of the Belgian masters students .


Preparation of the students before departure

Flemish PhD students were involved in this process as they also played a role, with a different point of view than the Ethiopian students. This is very important for the preparation of the Flemish masters students before departure, and sometimes also they could act as mediator in Ethiopia.

If the Ethiopian PhD student/supervisor was in Belgium, he was involved in the preparation of the Flemish student.

Additional and specific information sessions for the students were organized alternatively in Gent and Leuven, for all students going to Mekelle.


Advantages of the model:

  • Intercultural exchanges between the students: Flemish and Ethiopian masters students, Flemish student and local supervisor & PhD student.
  • The contact and preparation can be carried out in advance when the PhD students are in Belgium
  • Good academic supervision, because we create a win-win situation
  • Possibility for the Flemish students to have a publication as co-author
  • Logistial support thanks to the IUC administration and facilities (cars, research equipment)

5.2 UCD Volunteers Overseas (UCDVO)

Fast facts

  • Name HEI: UCDVO
  • Location: Dublin (Ireland)
  • Decree: bachelor and master
  • Faculty: open to all UCD (University college Dublin) student, staff and alumni



The UCDVO Programme runs over a period of 12 months. Applications open in September each year and, following an interview process, places are offered to successful candidates by mid-November. Volunteers take part in a series of mandatory training and team-building events while also carrying out their own individual fundraising activities throughout the year. Each volunteer has a fundraising target of €2,500 which must be raised before departure in June. Overseas placements are for four weeks and normally take place from mid/end of June to mid/end of July. On return from overseas, volunteers take part in a debriefing course and engage in awareness raising activities to share their experiences working in developing countries.

As part of the annual Volunteer Programme, UCDVO organises short-term placements in India, Haiti, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Uganda. These placements are for one month and involve a variety of activities such as construction, teaching, physiotherapy, setting up computer labs and running sports camps for children. Volunteers have a unique opportunity to experience life in another part of the world while contributing their time, energy and skills to the efforts of host NGOs in implementing community development projects. Proposals are received from partner NGOs in each of the countries where UCDVO sends volunteers and projects are carefully planned in collaboration with the local community. UCDVO returns to the same areas each year and has built up strong relationships in each of the communities where volunteers work.

Volunteering with UCDVO is an excellent opportunity to learn about key development issues, to contribute time and energy to projects which are carefully planned in partnership with local communities, and to work within a team of enthusiastic and motivated young people.


The programme: why UCDVO is an example of Good Practice


  • Collaboration with local Irish NGO’s.
  • Relationships with Partners: Relationships have been built with volunteers returning to the same place.
  • Evaluations: Monitoring and evaluation takes place in a formal structure.
  • Memorandums of Understanding are in Place with the partner organisations.

“All aspects are important but some of the most important aspect include having a formal structure in place, with clear agreements between partners and with space for open communication”.



  • Interviews


Pre- departure Preparation

  • 7 month preparation
  • Mandatory Training
  • Team building
  • Pre-departure workshop
  • Fundraising


Support during Programme

  • Learning Journal
  • Partnerships with Southern HEI’s

“UCDVO sees a lot of benefits arising from such a partnership: more efficiency in the communications and the work carried out by both partners, more opportunities for high quality and successful learning exchange, greater capacity to support local communities in the long term, greater integration of Irish students into the system and culture overseas”


On Return

  • Focus on Development Education: “One of the main goal of the organization is to engage participants in development education activities and support them to learn about development and global issues in an interactive, learner centered and engaging way. In addition to the development education training workshops UCDVO also organize other activities to foster participant engagement before and after their overseas programme and raise awareness of development issues”.
  • Learning Ambassadors: “UCDVO also fosters student’s engagement through the activities of the UCDVO Society and by empowering past participants as leaders and ambassadors”


Critical Remarks

After using the LEMONOC scan UCDVO have identified that joint adoption of a monitoring and evaluation system, for example, reflects an area where UCDVO could develop and focus on in the future.

5.3 Community Development and Service Learning (CDSL)

Fast facts:

  • Name HEI: UC Limburg
  • Location: Hasselt (Belgium)
  • Degree: bachelor (professional)
  • Faculty: teacher education, social work and health care

 About UCLL: Mutual beneficial partnership

UC Limburg is an active member of different educational networks and has many partners abroad. Our students get the opportunity to follow courses or do a traineeship in e.g. Peru, South-Africa, Suriname, etc. UC Limburg has already a long-standing experience with North-South cooperation. What first started as a small niche, has now grown into a system that inspires and develops our teaching, research and commitment to the community.

For our cooperation with our Southern partners, UC Limburg chooses for a specific educational concept: CDSL - Community Development through Service Learning. CDSL is a philosophy from South Africa based on the social responsibility of HEIs. Through dialogue with local partners we create a win-win situation for students (personal growth and professionalization), local partners (broadening of expertise) and institution (increasing expertise and knowledge on south-cooperation). We want to develop and sustain an empowering environment where, through teaching, learning, research and scholarship our students and staff, in partnership with the community and industry, are able to create and apply knowledge that contributes to development.

Students receive close follow-up and monitoring before, during and after their stay in the South. They use their professional input in a transdisciplinary team to strengthen the community and started each time from local needs and solutions to guarantee added value for our Southern partners. Through this process we are working on a sustainable partnership with South partners. Keywords during this partnership are mutual trust and respect.

Focus on the learning process

Students are prepared and monitored to actively participate in the development of various communities in the South. They have four major tasks:

  • a professional input,
  • implementation of a prepared project,
  • participation in community-building activities
  • needs analysis of the local community.

We try to achieve following learning outcomes:

  • research skills: the student analyses a local need, broaden his expertise and designs a implementation project.
  • Critically reflection on their experiences during the preparation phase, the programme abroad and afterwards.
  • Personal growth: e.g. self-assurance
  • Intercultural competences: global engagement – global citizenship
  • Language skills
  • International disciplinary learning: awareness of cultural differences to the profession and discipline.

 A programme abroad is possible to following destinations: South Africa, Suriname, Bolivia, Marocco and Congo. Students work around different themes in these countries: e.g. remedial teaching, care of street children, wellbeing of children, early stimulation, learning problems, etc. Each year students produce new materials, tools, … based on the work of previous students. Together with local partners they implement their project. Students work on the same theme during different years to guarantee sustainability.

The programme


During the first semester students follow a preparation project (4 months). Each week, students from different faculties come together, monitored by a mentor from the institution and based on feedback/information of the local institution. They work out a prepared project in team. Goal is to start from a request, a need for a local community. Students start from their own expertise (as a teacher or as a social worker) and combine their (research) competences to look for a solution, design materials or procedures, etc. 

The preparation period ends with a written project proposal that describes what (and how) they want to achieve during the programme abroad.

Beside preparing the project, the preparation also includes intercultural skills, language skills, teambuilding, knowledge on the destination context and knowledge on cultural differences and adaptation. 

Programme abroad:

The students implement the prepared project during a period of four months. They participate in community-building activities. It’s important they work together with the local community and broaden their expertise. Also the students get the chance to learn from another perspective, build up his expertise and has an unique experience.

During the period abroad they collect new needs and requests from the local community. The needs analysis of the local community is an important starting point for future candidates. By returning to the same place every year, we were able to realize a sustainable partnership with Southern partners and guarantee the added value.

Students receive close follow-up and monitoring during the programme abroad through a visit, a blog, skype, etc. Students also have a local supervisor.  

On Return:

Students write a report about their work abroad. They present their work in front of a jury.

Students prepare a presentation about their experiences and share the local needs with future candidates for a programme abroad. 

All the work of previous students (reports, materials, procedures, …) is collected and made available to new students. We also share a tool with practical information about the country with future candidates based on experiences of students.