International collaboration in higher education - A strengthening of quality for occupational therapy training

As part of a strategic partnership between six higher education institutions, the Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften ZHAW is taking part in an innovative project for future occupational therapists in Switzerland and Europe entitled "Cooperative Online Peer-assisted Intercultural Learning in Occupational Therapy (COPILOT)". Interview with Ms. Anja Christopher, project manager at ZHAW.

You’re in charge of “COPILOT”, a collaboration project funded by Erasmus+ and Movetia. Can you tell us something about it?

“COPILOT” stands for “Cooperative – Online – Peer-assisted – Intercultural – Learning in Occupational Therapy”. In this project, a total of six higher education institutions from six European countries have joined forces to develop an online tool that can be integrated into the training of occupational therapists. COPILOT also promotes Internationalisation@home and prepares students for their professional future in a multicultural world. Up to May 2021, the main thrust of our project is to develop online activities specific to occupational therapy, along with free learning and teaching materials, so-called Open Educational Resources. The objective is to create catalogues of topics and assignments that are easy to integrate into the curricula and facilitate international collaboration between students.

Why are funding programmes for international collaboration projects at university level important in view of the global challenges we face?

As I see it, it’s not just about preparing students for working abroad, but much more about equipping them for a working environment in Switzerland that is multicultural, and fostering their intercultural skills. In the health-care system, there are not only therapists and nursing staff from abroad, but also clients from all kinds of cultural backgrounds. To be aware of cultural differences as well as similarities, to learn to appreciate them, and to reflect on one’s own culture, are important skills that students will need in the future. Collaboration on a multicultural online project in particular presents the students with diverse challenges. It is essential for them to learn to evaluate the work process and the final product. At the moment, Internationalisation@home is an additional component, the important aspect of international cooperation that can take place from home and is both economically and ecologically significant. It is also important for lecturers to network internationally, of course, and to go through similar processes in collaboration projects as their students do.

Six institutions are participating in this project. How did the collaboration come about?

It all began with a collaboration between just a few European universities. The goal of this online activity is to enable all occupational therapy students to gain international and intercultural experience through a case comparison – even those who don’t go abroad during their studies. As time passed, the collaboration expanded and finally the idea of developing further activities and topics emerged from this project. A core group from the participating universities prepared the project. In November 2018, COPILOT was launched with funding from Erasmus+ and Movetia. It will be completed in May 2021 and all higher education institutes in Europe that train occupational therapists will be given access to the various topics and activities, so that they can also use them for new collaborations.

What benefit does the ZHAW gain from a strategic partnership?

Strategic partnerships enable universities to shape education in an innovative, sustainable and future-oriented way. Collaboration with universities abroad leads time and again to self-evaluation and therefore also to higher quality and further development in teaching. A constant intercultural and international exchange also has a positive effect on professional development – in this case occupational therapy. Changes in the field of occupational therapy can be identified much earlier and the training can be adapted or expanded accordingly. In addition, students who have already gained international experience during their studies find it easier to network internationally in areas such as research, which in turn leads to an increase in the quality of the occupational therapy they offer.

How do you rate Movetia’s support for your project?

We have always found Movetia to be very supportive, encouraging and pragmatic. This makes it so much easier if you’ve never submitted a project application before. Movetia is there for you at any time if you’re unsure about how to approach a project application and the financing. They communicate clearly and convey decisions transparently. Unfortunately, the training course for project managers was cancelled pretty much at the very beginning of the project, which would doubtless have been very helpful. The accessible, straightforward support provided by Movetia is even more meaningful, as a training course originally planned for the project management in the European collaboration team could not be carried out.

This interview is part of a series of meetings with project leaders within the framework of strategic partnerships. Find more examples of cooperation.

Movetia supports cooperation

Swiss higher education institutions are eligible to cooperate in a strategic partnership project with European institutions via the Swiss Programme for Erasmus+ Key Action 2.

Strategic partnerships are an Erasmus+ project format. They facilitate European cooperation at all levels of education. The institutions involved work together to develop innovative concepts, methods and instruments, share good practices and utilise synergies. This helps improve quality and strengthen international networks. 

Cooperation projects are generally funded through lump-sum grants for specific budget items. The subsidy amount depends on the project duration, the planned activities and the project type.

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