The globally engaged institution: insights via the American Council on Education

Editor’s note: GlobalHigherEd has been inviting select universities (e.g., the University of Warwick), associations, and agencies to profile how they are attempting to understand, navigate through, and therefore help construct, the emerging global higher education landscape. We have also focused our own eyes on institutional strategy from time to time (e.g., see Lily Kong’s very popular entry on international consortia). Today’s guest entry has been kindly developed by Jill Wisniewski, Program Associate, Center for International Initiatives, American Council on Education (ACE). The entry profiles ACE’s Leadership Network on International Education, an annual forum for chief academic officers and presidents to discuss issues and trends in international higher education. The Leadership Network is hosted by the Center for International Initiatives at ACE and is open to all ACE members.
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aceii.jpgHow do institutional leaders navigate the increasingly complex world of global partnerships, joint degrees, and branch campuses? During the 2007 annual meeting of the Leadership Network on International Education, more than 130 institution presidents and provosts discussed the intricacies of partnering with institutions and organizations around the globe. The expanding international opportunities open to institutions require leaders to make sound decisions about how to have a global presence, whether or not to partner, and with whom; how to develop a strategy to pursue global connectivity; and how to ensure quality and assess potential benefits and risks. The meeting focused on the strategic decisions institutional leaders must make in developing a strategy for global engagement.

In a session on U.S. campuses and degree programs delivered abroad, panelists described their experiences and lessons learned in providing a U.S. education for students in their home countries. The remarks of John A. Elliott, dean of the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, The City University of New York; Jim Baker, vice president for research and economic development, Missouri State University; and Mark Kamlet, provost, Carnegie Mellon University (PA), illustrated that while some issues are country-specific, there are common strategic concerns. Among them are questions of alignment with mission, financial and reputation risk, and the cultural and legal intricacies of working in another country.

There was consensus among panelists that presidents and provosts must seriously consider the institution’s strategic mission before making a commitment to engage in the development of a branch campus or degree program abroad. The question, “why are we engaging in this partnership?” should be among the first asked by institutional leaders. Institutional leaders may answer the “why” question differently, but motivations that were repeated include the education of globally competent students, benefits to the sending institution and the host country, and enhancing mobility of students, faculty, and staff. Panelists stressed that branch campus agreements should not be entered into for perceived financial or reputational benefit, but rather that an institution should have a strategic mission grounded in the value added to students and society.

The speakers also described the challenges of providing degree programs abroad. The legal issues alone can create major hurdles. Balancing foreign government regulations with the demands of US laws can be challenging in unforeseen ways. Difficult questions include: What are the tax implications of working in a foreign country? Is there a financial framework in place to process tuition and other payments on the home campus? What are the capacities of US institutions to implement US regulations (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements) in a foreign country? These legal complexities arise within the context of foreign cultural practices, and seemingly simple decisions and transactions can produce unanticipated consequences. The panelists suggested that institutional leaders need to decide which policies and practices are non-negotiable, and be able to think creatively to arrive at mutually acceptable solutions.

Other issues that were discussed include quality assurance concerns, faculty participation, and board and administration support. All of the panelists agreed that in order to maintain quality control over programs, the institution must retain control over the curriculum. Indeed, many partnership arrangements have the actual curriculum spelled out and included in the agreements or Memorandum of Understandings (MOU’s) with partner organizations. Panelists also shared best practices in increasing faculty involvement. Some suggestions included:

  • Have faculty spend time on the home campus to maintain ties between the home and branch campus
  • Have research facilities abroad and incentives to conduct research there
  • Make the location and amenities appealing for faculty: provide “high end” living and cultural experiences
  • Build international experience into promotion and tenure guidelines.

One panelist described the extensive discussions with the board surrounding the decision to authorize the establishment of a branch campus. The board was quite skeptical and asked for detailed information and plans. Among the suggestions for garnering and maintaining board support were:

  • Help the board feel invested in the campus by describing in detail the potential benefits for students, faculty and staff
  • If possible, invite Board members to do a site visit to the branch campus location.

This day-long meeting only scratched the surface in describing the benefits, problems, pitfalls, and lessons learned in international engagement. The continuation of annual forums such as the Leadership Network can help advance the field in supplying information and best practices to institutional leaders looking to expand global partnerships.

Jill Wisniewski, Program Associate, Center for International Initiatives, American Council on Education. For more information on the Leadership Network, please contact <jill_wisniewski@ace.nche.edu>.

One thought on “The globally engaged institution: insights via the American Council on Education

  1. Pingback: Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes: opportunities and challenges in early 2008 « GlobalHigherEd

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