Bachelor na Bachelor Internationale Samenwerking Noord Zuid (ICoNS)

Advanced Bachelor International Cooperation for North South Relations (ICoNS)

Published by Klaas Vansteenhuyse op Monday 9 July
© 2019

The Advanced Bachelor International Cooperation for North South Relations (ICoNS) is a one-year programme (60 ECTS credits) in which students are prepared and guided through an intensive study period in a country in the South. Students do not train their professional competences since they are expected to function already as a professional in their field. ICoNS does, however, intensify their international competences. Students receive an intensive preparatory programme. They are assigned a placement and academic counsellor with whom they cooperate intensively. A final integrated assessment and the presentation of a paper conclude the programme.


Within a multicultural society and a global world, each society needs professionals with competences and skills to address issues such as intercultural communication, diversity, capacity building and international cooperation. A second observation is that there is an undeniable trend in which young people (16-30y) are increasingly eager to spend time abroad, often in the ‘South’. A study revealed that already within the framework of higher education programmes probably up to 1700 students travel to the South in Flanders. That is more than a quarter of the number of Flemish students who take part in an official “Erasmus” exchange. Outside the framework of higher education, the demand rises for so-called gap years, international experiences, intercultural tourism, volunteering in the South,… These short-term and often one-shot experiences are not always preceded by a preparatory trajectory, leave along with mentoring during and after the experience itself.
Clearly, internationalisation and the multicultural society are both major trends in the current and future society. Higher education explicitly recognises this role as was evidenced in the Leuven-Louvain-la-Neuve communiqué of the Bologna conference in 2009. The result was an increased focus and a higher target of international mobility wherein at least 20% of the students must experience an international mobility by 2020.
Leuven University College anticipates this trend towards higher mobility as well as the demand for better prepared mobility to the South with the organisation of the Advanced bachelor International Cooperation North South. The Advanced bachelor programme aspires to be an in-depth and a long-term experience encapsulated in a vision and an accredited programme. It provides a way to emerge oneself into the mechanisms of globalisation by experiencing its effects on communities in the South, to cooperate with them and to learn from it for future use in the North. The programme thus finds itself at the crossroad of economy, societal task of education, interest in sustainability and international cooperation.
The goal of the programme is to give students more understanding of the process of globalisation on local communities in the South and on those in Flanders (or Western Europe). The programme does not train development aid workers but delivers engaged professionals such as teachers, social workers, nurses etc.
The programme grew out of the experience that the traditional work placements for students in the South by definition focus on the professional competences of the student. In those traditional work placements there is too often not enough room for the broader context, preparation and mentoring.
The programme has formulated the following learning outcomes. The student must be able to
• Employ critical insights in the economic and political aspects of globalisation in order to contextualise North-South themes at a micro, meso and macro level.
• Formulate actively points of attention in relation to the projects engaged in from the perspective of North South project management, taking the local context and the phase of development of the project into account.
• Deliver a recognisable contribution to capacity building projects, using personal capacity in the empowerment of others, within sectoral contexts such as education, business, health care and social work.
• Formulate critical reflections on the personal growth and be aware of the personal values in relation to the norms, values and codes of conduct of others.
• Formulate specific elements of attention for intercultural communication at the relational level.
• Deliver an active contribution to handling complex issues of interculturality at an active level in actual professional situations.
• Grow via a respectful attitude (presence) into skilful intervention and cooperation with target groups and aid workers in a multicultural context.
• Use international literature and collect, analyse and interpret primary sources in order to conduct practice-oriented research, in English or in the common used language of the environment of the work placement.
• Communicate in English and/or the common used language of the environment of the work placement, with attention for local aspects of verbal and non-verbal communication.
• Appropriate reaction and anticipation to a multitude of risks and conflicts within the context of a non-familiar environment.

The programme consists out of three major building blocks.
1) A first block is the preparation. Courses are “Culture and Religion” (4 ECTS credits), “Language” (5 ECTS credits), “Methods of International North-South Cooperation” (4 ECTS credits), “Project Management North South” (3 ECTS credits) and “Globalisation: Economy and Politics” (4 ECTS credits). In these preparatory modules the programme provides students with contextual information on the South and also on how to function in the South.
Students have already been assigned a work placement with a South partner of the programme before the start of the academic year. Also, they have been coupled with a fellow student and with a counsellor. The role of the counsellor is crucial. The counsellor combines several roles. He or she is in the first place a mentor with first-hand experience of the country and partner of destination. The student cooperates with the counsellor on a personal development plan. The counsellor will visit the student about two months after his departure from Flanders. Before his departure, the student will also select a topic for a paper in cooperation with the counsellor.
2) A second block is formed by the work placement itself (30 ECTS credits). A carefully selected South partner cooperates with Leuven University College in the provision of a matching placement for the student. While the professional competences of the student are taken into account where possible those are not the first concern of the choice of the placement. The goal is to immerse the student fully in the process of the host organisation and the local community. Possible changes are discussed with the counsellor and the South partner during a visit of the first to the placement. The placement generally lasts about 22 weeks.
3) A third block is the presentation of a bachelor paper (10 ECTS credits). It consists of an evidence-based work which may vary between a classic paper or a product or service. Integral part of the assessment of the bachelor paper forms the presentation of a showcase. Bachelor papers are to have an impact on the partner organisation or to contribute to the knowledge of the general topic.

Favourable and demonstrable effect on the quality of education

ICoNS has an impact on the educational process in five ways.
First of all, it has developed a methodology for personal counselling and for training on a distance. This involves the coupling of each student to an academic/personal counsellor. Together they draft a personal development plan as well as a proposal for an evidence-based paper. The counsellor follows the student via regular ‘barometer mails’ and via a visit to the South. Such intensive mentoring is often impossible due to financial and practical restraints in the more classic mobility experiences such as Erasmus.
Secondly, ICoNS has developed a set of tools to complement this guidance on a distance with digital tools. Within the Toledo programme a set of instruments were designed which allow students to engage with their counsellor and lecturers from a distance.
Thirdly, ICoNS inevitably developed a vision and a comprehensive methodology to involve the South partner in the educational process of the programme. Given the fact that the student resides more than half of the programme with the South partner there has to be a relevant input of this partner on the guidance of the student. The careful selection of the South partner as well as the yearly visit ensure that the South partner is fully up to date with the vision of ICoNS and can select placements in this view. However, continuous and more specialised training of the South partners remains essential.
Fourth, the programme fully embraces the idea that mobility to the South should not be compared or equalled to the mobility within Europe. It requires a more intensive and extensive preparation.
Fifth, but not least, ICoNS trains its students to the full in the international competence, which consists of four sub-competences: intercultural competence, language competence, personal growth and the civic competence. All four take up a central role in the competency matrix of the Advanced bachelor programme.

Constraints or limitations and unique features

The Advanced Bachelor ICoNS has been recognised at its inception by the relevant commission as a unique programme in the Low Countries. Its focus on the preparation and mentoring of the student in the light of his placement in the South with the aim of gaining transferable competences for the professional context in the North may be unique in Europe as well.
The most important limitations of ICoNS are:
• To find, train and communicate on an equal basis with relevant South partners. Apart from multinational NGO’s which are not addressed by ICoNS, there are often few local organisations which are capable of hosting, mentoring and integrating foreign students within their processes.
• The resources of the programme organiser against the goal to allow each counsellor to visit each student in the South, while keeping the tuition fees within the national and socially accepted limits.
• ICoNS places stress on the planning of the traditional academic year. Lecturers are taken by the programme both at the very start and very end. The counsellors have to free themselves for three to four weeks in order to travel abroad.
Additionally, the learning element of ICoNS, being the Advanced Bachelor programme, has allowed us to create a knowledge network as well. This network will support the vision and methodology of the programme by undertaking evidence-based research into mobility of young people to the South.

Exchange characteristics & opportunities

ICoNS has put a big focus on the preparation and mentoring of students in the South. As such, it may not be easily transferable as a whole. However, the elements of a more intensive preparation which goes beyond the classic presentation of safety measures can certainly be adopted. It may even be integrated within the existing study programme with topics such “languages” or “project management”. The idea of personal counsellors plus a personal development plan which both go beyond the traditional focus on acquiring professional competences during a work placement may be envisaged for work placements in the South.
ICoNS also aspires to become an example in which a learning an knowledge network can be constructed around a (bachelor) programme. Both elements of the network can strengthen each other.

Links and supporting documents

09 JUL


Level: Bachelor
Orientation: Professional

Standard: Learning Outcomes
Assessment Result:

Type: The programme was NOT assessed against the NVAO framework "BKInt"

Contact information

Contact: Klaas Vansteenhuyse
Contact e-mail: klaas.vansteenhuyse(plaats the 'at' sign hier)
Institution: Leuven University College (ICoNS)
Country: Flanders


ICoNS is a bachelor programme partially funded by the Flemish Government. It currently attracts 60 students. Within this budget lecturers are paid accordingly to the regulations in Flemish higher education. A main concern is the budget for the travels of the counsellors to the respective students in the South.
The programme is relatively cheap for students since they pay the normal tuition fees and experience low subsistence costs in the South (beside their flight ticket).