Student mobility is a significantly under-developed opportunity in the EMT Network. With member universities in almost two dozen European countries and associates in several others (Switzerland, Lebanon, and the UK), the EMT is ideally placed to support collaborations between institutions that would allow Translation students, who have the strongest reasons to want to experience the languages and cultures of other countries, to travel as they study for their MA. Yet to date there have been few examples of such collaborations. Undoubtedly the most successful and long-standing is the METS Consortium, established in 2004 and now counting 11 members (many of them also in the EMT) across 7 countries. In this selective exchange programme, students spend Year 1 of their MA at their home university and divide their time in Year 2 between two partner programmes, normally in different countries. Feedback over the years testifies to the linguistic, cultural, and professional benefits of the METS mobility for students about to become fledgling translators. They experience different pedagogical approaches, develop peer and professional networks abroad as well as at home, and benefit from the different specialisations of the programmes they attend — to the extent that they not infrequently launch their careers in one or other of their mobility destinations.
However, setting up and maintaining a multilateral exchange such as the METS in the face of sometimes incompatible academic traditions, national and local regulations, timetables etc. has always been challenging, and its ongoing success relies on the flexibility, creativity and dedication of the organisers and local coordinators. What we aim to present here is a case study of a perhaps more readily generalisable model of bilateral collaboration, the Double MA in Specialised Translation set up over the last three years or so between Swansea University (SU) and Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA), which will welcome its first students in September 2021.
The Modern Languages departments of both universities had been building international partnership networks at Master’s level for some time, and since UGA and SU had signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement in 2012, it was natural that they should look to each other when it came to devising a first full collaborative degree. We had already worked together for many years in the EMT context and had developed research synergies. The Strategic Partnership was helpful in making travel funds available for site visits from Swansea to Grenoble in June 2018 and June 2019, the first fruits of which were the establishment of a jointly-funded PhD co-tutelle and an agreement to create a single-semester Erasmus+ MA exchange, as a prelude to a full degree. This exchange was possible because SU, uniquely in the UK, offers both Standard 1-year (90 ECTS) and Extended 2-year (120 ECTS) Translation MAs, so that students from each partner can spend their third semester studying at the other university. While this type of arrangement might be difficult for other UK universities which do not have generic 2-year MA regulations, it is not a deal-breaker for the construction of a specific collaborative MA of the kind described here — so if you are a UK-based academic, no need to stop reading here!
Having decided to work together on a collaborative MA, we drew up a list of the main questions that would need to be resolved, which we discuss in more detail below:
- Structure of the degree — would it be a joint or a double MA, would it be exchange-based or fee-paying?
- Duration — we assumed we would adopt the 2-year M1/M2 pattern prevalent in France and much of the rest of Europe, with one year spent in each place;
- Directionality — would all students start at one partner and end at the other, or could the degree work in both directions?
- Languages — native or near-native French and English were obviously required, but would a third language of study be possible?
- Fees and funding — a particularly thorny issue given the long-standing fees disparity between the UK and France, greatly exacerbated following Brexit by the reclassification of EU students in the UK (and vice versa) as International;
- Academic regulations and approval process in both institutions — admissions criteria, website and marketing, Joint Board of Studies, arrangements for mentoring, appeals, grades conversion…
- Legal nature of the collaboration agreement — in the event, the legal departments of both universities would get heavily involved, with dozens of drafts and amendments exchanged and discussed before a final Agreement was signed in January of this year by SU’s VC and UGA’s Recteur.
The regulatory and legal aspects of the proposal took some time to work out, but no less important was the fit between the two programmes in terms of curricula, and this was what determined the type of collaboration we would pursue, and the question of directionality.
Double or Joint MA?
The two main collaborative models we considered were a Joint MA, which requires the full integration of curriculum, regulations and administrative arrangements between the partners, or a Double MA, where each partner teaches its own part of the degree under its own system and makes its own award. We quickly agreed on the latter because of its greater flexibility and ease of implementation. The original idea was that students would be able to start at either university, but we realised that since Swansea’s curriculum is based on a one-year model whereas UGA has clear progression in specialisation from M1 to M2, it made sense for all students to start at Swansea and move to Grenoble in Year 2. The combined effect of these two decisions is, notionally, that UGA recognises Year 1 at Swansea as equivalent to the M1 year of its Master Langues étrangères appliquées, parcours Traduction spécialisée multilingue, while SU recognises the M2 year at UGA as equivalent to the second year of its Extended MAs in Professional Translation and Translation and Interpreting. As a result, students who pass the programme receive the degrees of both universities — hence the designation ‘Double MA’. UK universities without a 2-year programme could in principle still partner in this type of arrangement, making their own 1-year award alongside the 2-year degree from a European partner.
Both SU’s and UGA’s MAs allow students to study translation with two foreign languages, and since both Departments offer German and Spanish, the Double MA can accommodate people wishing to pursue one of them in addition to French and English, although they would, by definition, be studying translation between two foreign languages at one of the two universities. However, whereas the second foreign language is compulsory in the normal UGA programme, it is only a minority option at SU (most UK-based students now offer only one foreign language). To accommodate such applicants, UGA therefore had to create a version of its M2 curriculum for students offering only English and French that replaced courses in the second FL by relevant elements of M1.
Fees and Funding
While it would in theory be possible to construct a Double MA on an exchange basis, the unidirectional model chosen made the idea of tuition fees payable throughout the programme to a ‘home’ university unworkable. It was therefore agreed that fees would be levied at the prevailing rate by the institution at which the student studies in each year, i.e., by SU in Year 1 and UGA in Year 2. This inevitably makes Year 1 very expensive for applicants from France and elsewhere in Europe, for the reasons referred to above. On the other hand, even though UK-based students pay international fees to UGA in Year 2, the amount is much lower than the UK rate, and can even be completely offset by UGA’s generous IDEX bursaries for which non-French nationals are eligible to apply, and which SU has been unable to match for non-UK applicants. The result is that the Double MA looks significantly more financially advantageous to UK-based students, for whom it works out cheaper even than doing a one-year programme in Swansea, than it does to anyone else. Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to mitigate this disparity, which is due to factors beyond our control. Fees may well turn out to be a challenge in setting up other collaborations of this type, especially with a UK partner: if so, the issue probably needs to be addressed early on.
Regulations and Administration
The bilingual Agreement governing the Double MA was based on a template drawn up between UGA and SU for an earlier MSc in Computer Science, but the text was significantly modified in dozens of exchanges between the academic, administrative, and legal departments of the two universities (the archive contains 53 drafts (!), drafted over 11 months, with quite a few of the revisions turning on points of translation). As finally signed, the document covers the nature and scope of the collaboration, the degrees and credits involved, admissions criteria and processes, visa issues, student numbers, the provision of a Handbook, enrolment, the creation of a Joint Board of Studies, tuition fees and other costs including insurance and Social Security, awarding of the degrees, and annual review. Towards the end there is a long article defining the legal environment, which covers dispute resolution, intellectual property, liability, confidentiality, data protection, and notices and other information, and the Agreement closes with an article governing duration, amendment, and termination. Among the key points not already discussed above are:
- Joint admissions and double enrolment: it was decided that applications must be made via the online systems of both universities, so that each can create its own administrative record. Students will be enrolled throughout the degree in both places (e.g., for library access, academic mentor support), but come under the regulations in force at the partner where they are studying;
- Student numbers: the UGA and SU Departments have to work with different admissions targets, deadlines and processes, so some flexibility was required here. Annual admissions will be limited to the number of places available at UGA (currently 4, though this may be increased in future years if demand proves strong). It was also agreed that suitably qualified students would be allowed to transfer from a Swansea MA to the Double Degree in the course of Year 1 if places remain available (equally, transfer in the opposite direction is possible, for instance in case a student becomes unable to travel to France for personal reasons);
- (Virtual) Joint Board of Studies (BoS), comprising the two Programme Directors and/or their deputies, and other academics as appropriate. The BoS also sits as an admissions committee and, at the end of the session, as an assessment board, in each case with appropriate administrative support. In the latter capacity, it oversees the conversion of marks according to an institutionally agreed scale, and their transfer between the systems of the two universities. The BoS also approves Learning Agreements for all students, and placements in Year 2. Its final duty of the session is to conduct annual programme review and set in train any agreed modifications.
Crucially in a Double Degree structure, each university retains full jurisdiction over the design, approval, delivery and assessment of its part of the curriculum, while keeping the other partner closely informed of developments. While all three MAs being brought together meet the requirements of the EMT Competence Framework, they have different and complementary strengths and specialisations. Highlights include:
Year 1 (Swansea)
- In-depth training in Translation Tools through a realistic multilingual group project (Semester 1), including Trados and Memsource certification opportunities without charge; optional wide-ranging Translation Technologies module in Semester 2, with emphasis on testing and evaluation;
- Classes on the language services industry and the many professional roles within it, often delivered by external practitioners;
- Optional training in Public Service and Conference Interpreting, with opportunities to take professional DPSI qualifications;
- Terminology Management module with input with the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva (see also below);
- Simulated Translation Bureau module, in collaboration with the INSTB network. Includes training in making job applications (good preparation for working with Atlas at UGA, and the part-time placement — see below);
- Optional module in Audiovisual Adaptation (subtitling, dubbing, voiceover, audio-description), assessed by practical project.
- Optional module in Audiovisual Adaptation (subtitling, dubbing, voiceover, audio-description), assessed by practical project.
Year 2 (Grenoble)
- Specialisation in technical, legal and business translation and terminology, supported by background seminars on topics in Science and Law — extends the limited amount of technical translation covered in Swansea, where legal translation is not offered;
- Atlas student-run translation company, in which all MA students must participate as translators and/or managers and which performs real translation work for NGOs, charities, companies and other clients;
- Compulsory 3-day collaborative Translation Project (December), in the new Design Lab facility. Not directly assessed, this contributes to an overall Report on Translation Methodologies, written in Semester 2, concerning both the Translation Project and the student’s activity within Atlas;
- Partnership on terminology with WIPO. In semester 2, students write a compulsory mémoire (dissertation) that may include establishing and translating technical terminology from patents. These projects are co-assessed by WIPO staff, and student work of suitable quality may be incorporated into the WIPO Pearl terminology portal;
- 3-6 month part-time placement (from April), assessed at UGA by an Internship Report and viva (in French or English).
As we await the arrival of our first students on the Double MA later this month, we can look back over three years of effort to set it up with a certain satisfaction: we feel it’s a significant achievement in the context first of Brexit, then of Covid19. Despite the close existing relationship between our two Universities and Departments, it proved a more laborious process than anyone expected. However, we hope this will not discourage other colleagues from embarking on their own international degree collaborations and we would be very happy to make our experience available to other colleagues if that would be helpful. Now that our new degree is (almost) up and running, we expect that students will enjoy and profit from the mobility opportunities it provides:
- immersion in a working foreign language for advanced study and everyday living;
- experience of two different academic cultures and training environments;
- deepening and broadening of translation skills;
- development of new vocational specialisms;
- networking in two countries;
- extensive contacts with practitioners and professional bodies in both places.
We are confident that this Franco-British initiative, and the respected qualifications to which it leads, will provide graduates with real employability benefits, as well as an exciting and fulfilling academic and social experience. This is probably also the world’s only Translation MA to offer surfing on the doorstep in Year 1, and skiing in Year 2! Looking to the future, both Universities aim to build on this model to put mobility and international experience at the heart of their future Translation MAs, and Swansea in particular is looking to set up comparable exchanges and DDs with partners working in Spanish, German and Italian — any takers?