US-EUROPE: The power of partnerships

"Around the world, institutions are facing intensified competition at home and abroad, more insistent public demands for accountability, pressures to both widen access and contribute to economic development through research, stagnating public funding and a growing role of the market. In this environment, 'going it alone' may not be useful as a dominant strategy," argues The Power of Partnerships: A transatlantic dialogue, an essay recently published by the American Council on Education, based on the outcomes of the 11th Transatlantic Dialogue of 28 university leaders from North America and Europe.

The Dialogue was held in Vancouver, the latest in an ongoing initiative of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the European University Association and the American Council on Education. It focused on the role partnerships in meeting the challenges of a fast-changing environment, according to the executive summary of The Power of Partnerships:

"Looking back on a previous meeting held in the summer of 2001 just before the watershed events of September 11, the group considered how quickly the global environment can shift and how institutional leadership must be adept at navigating this ever-changing landscape. In an eerie parallel, this most recent dialogue took place just before dramatic economic downturns began to unfold."

The essay, the summary states, starts by exploring the climate for partnerships. In today's competitive and demanding world, universities "are recognising the need to partner with one another, at home and abroad, and with corporations, non-governmental organisations and community groups to better serve students, enhance research and meet public needs. Such alliances help institutions undertake new activities or extend their current ones by combining resources. Cooperation can help institutions compete, enabling them to accomplish with others what they could not do alone. The examples of partnerships brought to the table illustrated creative responses to issues both global and idiosyncratic. The partners ranged from private businesses, to state agencies, to other educational organisations."

The Power of Partnerships explores five key issues, according to the summary: "The motivation to initiate and maintain partnerships; the economics of cooperation; conflicts inherent in cooperation; the role of government; and issues related to the special case of partnerships with the private sector."

The report provides hands-on advice on how to develop, negotiate and implement joint ventures with other higher education institutions, governments and companies, and describes the leadership qualities and institutional characteristics needed to establish and maintain successful partnerships. The summary continues:

"The participants noted that as change is inevitable, higher education leaders cannot prepare for an unpredictable future partnership climate but must instead be flexible and creative.

"When working with partners outside the academic realm or outside one's country, it is important to have strong cross-cultural skills and understand the challenges associated with the culture of the academic institution. A new partnership must resonate with the school's mission, and leaders must be able to persuade stakeholders, faculty members and staff that the partnership is necessary and harmonious with the goals of the institution. Partnerships, however, cannot be sustained by rationale alone; they must also be financially sound and realistic, based on the institution's human and financial resources.

"Just as September 11, 2001, reshaped our geopolitical environment, the recent economic crisis will bring new challenges to the higher education community. The art of leadership is preparing for an unknown future."