Dynamic time for international partnerships

This is a dynamic moment for international academic partnerships, a time of renewed vitality and broadened scope. For many colleges and universities, such partnerships are no longer simply one tactic of internationalisation among many, but rather a core, driving philosophy.

Institutions are rethinking their reasons for pursuing international partnerships and the processes by which they form them. The result is a fascinating, constantly changing landscape of new partnership forms, policies and procedures.

The forces impelling this embrace of international partnerships can be grouped into two overarching themes: 1) growing recognition that academic internationalisation is as much a process of outward engagement as internal restructuring; and 2) the increasing need for academic institutions to position themselves within emerging global systems of higher education.

Our recently published volume, Developing Strategic International Partnerships: Models for initiating and sustaining innovative institutional linkages, addresses both of these themes in an attempt to capture the current dynamism and range of what is happening with international partnership development among colleges and universities.

In the book, experts and practitioners from a wide range of higher education institutions and organisations illustrate the myriad ways in which international partnerships enhance those that participate in them.

A key conclusion that emerges from our book is that international academic partnerships are being asked to do more than has been the case in the past. The partnerships documented in this volume pursue goals as varied as:

  • • Student learning, as global citizens and as future members of a global workforce.
  • • Curriculum building and course enhancement.
  • • Providing international learning experiences even for students who do not study abroad and even in disciplines that have historically had few such opportunities.
  • • Developing the international capacity of faculty and staff.
  • • Advancing research by connecting institutions and scholars with those who have similar strengths and interests.
  • • Supporting and enhancing the international ties and interests of the surrounding community.
  • • Tackling pressing global issues of health, education, economic development, environment, energy, conflict, inequality, human rights and social justice.
  • • Promoting the overall mission of the institution, and enhancing its international positioning and reputation.
  • • Generating revenue through tuition fees and grants.
  • • Pursuit of public diplomacy and other national priorities.

    The desire to form more strategic international partnerships has led many colleges and universities to develop overall partnership plans and policies. These documents guide the establishment of new partnerships and reposition partnerships within institutional goals and missions.

    The chapters in our book make clear that developing an institutional partnership programme is a multi-pronged, long-term project encompassing at least the following elements:

  • • Taking stock of existing affiliations.
  • • Establishing a partnership approval process.
  • • Articulating overall partnership goals and strategies.
  • • Spreading a culture of partnership.
  • • Developing policies, procedures and organisational structures for managing partnerships.
  • • Providing baseline financial and other support.
  • • Developing effective practices for initiating partnerships.
  • • Drafting well-crafted memoranda of understanding and implementation plans.
  • • Pursuing effective practices for sustaining partnerships over time.
  • • Establishing procedures for reviewing, revising and-or terminating partnerships.

    No matter how good the plans or policies may be, however, international partnership work is not without its challenges.

    Our book found that many of these challenges derive from the relative newness of such collaborations. Administrators, fiscal officers and faculty need to be convinced of the value of this new form, avenues of support must be identified, and procedural and structural roadblocks that limit what can be done overseas must be addressed.

    International work has to earn its place alongside other priorities with regard to institutional mission. Policies that come from older, more inward-looking administrative forms need to be rethought.

    Other challenges reflect the turbulent changes occurring in higher education in general: from funding difficulties to online delivery of degrees, branch campuses, the possible rise of a small set of dominant global universities, significant differences in educational resources across nations and political unrest both within and among nations.

    These can create a tension between institutional advancement and collaborative advancement in international partnerships. Issues of brain drain and gain, of educational and economic inequalities between the Global North and Global South, can also strain partnership goals of reciprocity.

    Despite these challenges, which can be overcome with extra work and strategic direction, international academic partnerships are presently experiencing tremendous growth and elaboration, what might even be called a flowering. The forms are many and the goals ambitious.

    A sense that institutions can do more together than they can do alone is taking hold, coupled with the realisation that learning, research, institution-building and community engagement are now global endeavours.

    International partnerships are playing an important role in the global systems of higher education that are now emerging, operating as bi- or multi-national nodes within these systems.

    As our book demonstrates, we have entered an era of international collaboration among colleges and universities. The partnerships thus formed enhance, even transform, the institutions that engage in them, produce enduring insights and relationships across national boundaries and are creating a globally collaborative conversation on the forms and future of higher education that is likely to continue well into the future.

    * Susan Buck Sutton is senior advisor for internationalisation in the office of the president, Bryn Mawr College. Daniel Obst is deputy vice president for international partnerships at the Institute of International Education (IIE) in New York.

    * This article is based on the authors' book, Developing Strategic International Partnerships: Models for initiating and sustaining innovative institutional linkages, published by the Institute of International Education and the AIFS Foundation in their series of Global Education Research Reports.


    While the facts in this article are quite correct ,I am concerned about its overall optimism the authors convey.

    I worked for four years as head of the international programmes office at the University of Botswana. We negotiated during that time around 75 partnerships of various kinds. Some were very successful. But many turned out to have a short surge of activity followed by in action, or little further development.

    Many of my colleagues ended up asking whether all the effort was worth it when our partners from the North moved on to other projects or other countries. Also, many of our partners lacked the necessary experience and expertise to sustain the partnership projects they launched.

    They were not prepared to do the "extra work and strategic direction" the authors say is required to meet the challenges they quite rightly identify. I get a sense that the authors are neglecting the fact that many partnerships are started because it is the thing to do in higher education and not because the partnerships flow from the experience of academic staff and university organisations involved.

    John D. Holm