During its existence, the EMPA pendulum has swung frequently between 'keeping the status quo' and 'more enhanced cooperation'. Especially, in the mid-90's there were intensive discussions to use the exchange programme and the joint certification as a step further towards a joint degree program. Even a format for the establishment of such a common degree was developed, outlining common standards on (amongst others) entry and recruitment; course content; number of courses and lectures; target group; course work requirements; student supervision; examinations; periods of attendance, etc.
Yet, the procedural and institutional organization of such a joint degree proved finally impossible, not at least because of legal impediments, hindering the issuing of an official joint diploma. Additional problems were linked to the unequal balancing of costs and benefits over the partners; complicated by the different tuition fee traditions prevailing in the different participating countries. Given these hindrances, it was hence considered more appropriate to proceed with the existing scheme of joint certification (Brans & Pelgrims, 2002).
Up until 1995-1996, the semester abroad was a mandatory part of the program. In 1996-1997, it was decided to abandon the compulsory nature of the semester exchange, and keep it as an option. Two factors had induced this decision.
First, European funding for student exchange had become scarce, and students' willingness to participate in exchanges was hampered by financial considerations. Second, several EMPA consortium members, including the Leuven program, increasingly attracted international students beyond European borders. Students from other continents seemed less willing to take a second semester abroad, after having familiarized with the institutions and countries of a host university. Forcing upon them a second semester in still another country became a disincentive for students to register for the program.
Financial impediments further led to the necessary abandoning of the principle of joint dissertation defenses. But this did not affect the idea of joint dissertation evaluation: a student will not be awarded the EMPA certificate, without a positive co-evaluation of his/her thesis by the EMPA partner on the basis of the EMPA dissertation guidelines. The latter specify standards on the content and analytical maturity of the EMPA dissertations.
Despite these structural changes, the main objectives of the EMPA cooperation have not altered. The EMPA partners proceeded to work on the basis of commonly agreed standards (the so-called "Basic Charter"), which all new joining partners are requested to accept. As such, the EMPA Network has always been a major external stakeholder in monitoring the quality of the different partner universities. In this regard the European Association for Public Administration Accreditation (EAPAA) is about to play a dominant role in the quality assessment of the different EMPA institutions, as well as in the selection of interested candidate universities. A substantial number of EMPA partners is currently already been given the EAPAA quality label.
Besides student exchanges, the EMPA network also still serves as an important arena for staff mobility, either in short term or in longer term format. Faculty of Leiden, Budapest, and Tartu have taught in Leuven, and faculty of Leuven have taught at the Universities of Budapest, Tartu and Speyer, either through the provision of a taught course, or the delivery of guest lectures.