Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

Mobility is shorthand for students and academics studying and working in other institutions, whether in the same country or abroad.

explanatory context

There is a disagreement about whether mobility is short-term and temporary or can include permanent movement, thus implying emigration. Olga Pushkareva, for example, wrote that her research shows that mobility is not a concept that includes emigration.

analytical review

According to AEC (2004):

Mobility involves the ability of students, teachers and professionals to move freely between institutions and countries, whether for the purpose of higher education study or employment. Improving mobility can be a tool for internationalising higher education, for acquiring intercultural skills and for preparing students for an international working environment.

Le Mouillour (2005, p.7):

a broad definition of mobility, which is considered as having three dimensions: geographic (between or within national borders), vocational/occupational (vertical and horizontal perspective) and lateral (bridging formal and non-formal learning activities).



In answer to the question ‘What is Mobility?’, UNESCO (2001) includes virtual mobility:

Academic Mobility implies a period of study, teaching and/or research in a country other than a student's or academic staff member's country of residence ('the home country'). This period is of limited duration, and it is envisaged that the student or staff member return to his or her home country upon completion of the designated period. The term 'academic mobility' is not intended to cover migration from one country to another. Academic mobility may be achieved within exchange programmes set up for this purpose, or individually ('free movers'). Academic mobility also implies virtual mobility.


An excerpt from Díospóireachtaí Parlaiminte (1986) captures the long-term ambiguity about the temporary or permanent implications of mobility:

Deputies will be also interested to know that at the same council meeting the Erasmus programme was significantly advanced in that the Commission was instructed to prepare for presentation to the December council a scheme for the organisation and implementation of Erasmus. Some of us were disappointed that Minister for Education (Mr. Cooney): Perhaps I should say that this programme [ERASMUS] envisages student mobility across Europe and reciprocal recognition of course years and course modules and when in place will be of great significance in integrating university level education throughout the Community achieving the practical aim of enabling large numbers of students to study in other parts of their Continent….

Mrs. O'Rourke: It will increase the idea of mobility among young people that they can move away, educated, from their own country ready to earn their living and absorb the influences and work ethics of other countries. They can then come back and contribute to their own country.

Mr. Kelly: What is mobility but emigration? I do not mean permanent Queenstown wake emigration but temporary emigration, where it would be left to the individual concerned to decide whether to come back.


Murphy-Lejeune (2008) provides a moredetailed account of types of mobility and summary excerpts from her paper state:

What exactly do we mean by student mobility?.... To start with, a mobile student is a double agent: s/he is considered as outgoing from her country of origin and as incoming in her chosen country of study…. Global trends show an apparent dramatic rise in the number of mobile students: from 1.750 000 in 2000 and 2.500 000 in 2005 (Unesco Institute Statistics 2005). However, these figures may be misleading. When related to the general expansion of tertiary education in the regions, … outbound student mobility follows a steady pace of growth, only slightly above the growth in student numbers…. While the popular perception might be to classify mobile students as a homogeneous group, called “foreign” or “international” students, a more detailed classification of these students shows highly marked differences between them, particularly in the way they are treated or “welcomed” by the chosen country of study, depending on the category to which they belong, but also depending on the personal circumstances which motivate their project….. In the large group of “foreign” students, a first distinction must be made between permanent residents and internationally mobile students. The first category is defined by two main criteria, location of second-level qualification and permanent residence of the parents. Among internationally mobile students in Europe, one may distinguish between Europeans and non Europeans…. Another crucial distinction must be made between institutional exchange students and free movers (“mobilité spontanée”)…. A last distinction must be drawn within intra-European institutional mobility where several types of agreements exist. (Murphy-Lejeune, 2008, pp. 17–22)

associated issues


related areas

See also


Bolongna process


Association europeenne des conservatoires [Academies de musique et musikhochschulen] (AEC), 2004, Glossary of terms used in relation to the Bologna Declaration, accessed September 2004. Not available at this address 31 January 2011.

Díospóireachtaí Parlaiminte [Parliamentary Debates] 1986, Dáil Éireann, Volume 367 , 13 June, 1986: Estimates, 1986,  Vote 31: Office of the Minister for Education (Revised Estimate), accessed 4 September 2012, page not available 3 January 2017.

Le Mouillour, I., 2005, European Approaches to Credit (transfer) Systems in VET: An assessment of the applicability of existing credit systems to a European credit (transfer) system for vocational education and training (ECVET), European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) Dossier series; 12 Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Murphy-Lejeune, E., 2008, 'The Student Experience of Mobility, A Contrasting Score' in Byram, M. and Dervin, F., (Eds.) (2008) Students, Staff and Academic Mobility in Higher Education, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, available at, accessed 4 September 2012, page not available 3 January 2017.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2001, Education: Studying Abroad, What is Mobility?, accessed 4 September 2012, still available 20 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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