International partnerships: a legal guide for universities

Greetings mid-July.  Susan and I have been travelling a lot via our respective jobs, so please excuse the slow pace of updates to GlobalHigherEd.

CoverMy return to Madison a few days ago corresponded with an embargoed (until today) press release from the UK Higher Education International Unit.  The press release relates to a new report (International Partnerships: A Legal Guide for UK Universities) that was published today.  The UK Higher Education International Unit is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland), Guild HE and Universities UK.  The press release notes:

International Partnerships: A Legal Guide for UK Universities, written by international law firm Eversheds, is designed as a practical ‘route map’ which gathers together in one place all the issues that need to be considered by a university serious about doing business abroad and getting it right from start to finish.

Key features of the guide include:

* Chapters on managing and documenting a partnership, including laying the groundwork, due diligence, troubleshooting and risk assessment with accompanying lists of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’.
* Guidance on what to do if things go wrong.
* Country-specific case studies detailing legal and higher education jurisdiction, (Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Qatar, UAE and USA)

Professor Rick Trainor, President of Universities UK, said, ‘International activities should protect and enhance a university’s brand, reputation and mission. Getting an international academic relationship right at the outset is always preferable to fixing mistakes later. It is my belief that this guide will prove to be of considerable and lasting practical use to our colleagues in the HE sector who are charged with establishing and running the full range of collaborative ventures with our counterparts abroad.’

Glynne Stanfield, partner and head of international education at Eversheds, said: ‘Having been involved in providing legal support to the International Unit at Universities UK since its inception, we are delighted to have produced a guide for the sector on international activities. We have seen a major increase in the international activities of universities over the last few years; we expect that trend to accelerate and we hope the guide assists universities to do so. As an international law firm we fully recognise the increasing importance to the UK of international activities particularly in education, one of the UK’s key export markets.’

International partnerships have, to date, been a success story for UK universities, but gone are the days when the terms of collaboration could be agreed between Vice-Chancellors on no more than a handshake. UK universities are sophisticated international collaborators and are increasingly taking account of legal issues when entering overseas partnerships.  The guide conveys the complexities of the law in an accessible and readable format.

A fuller summary of the report is available in their newsletter (International Focus: 15/07/09), which includes the ‘lifecycle’ image below.

lifecycle

The UK Higher Education International Unit has been attempting, over the last several years, to support UK universities in the “internationalization” process through a range of activities, including:

  • Assembling timely and high quality data and information about international developments and movements in higher education, and adding value to them through research and analysis designed to develop foresight about international trends and their potential impact on UK HEIs;
  • Making the results of this work readily available to UK HEIs and providing a meeting point for the sharing of information about globalisation, and the discussion of issues that arise;
  • Helping to ensure that there is joined-up thinking and appropriate co-ordination between the range of UK organisations involved in international activity related to higher education, thereby increasing its impact and helping to advance the reputation of UK higher education in overseas countries.

This institution emerged in the context of the increasing dependency of UK universities on foreign student-derived revenue, the enhanced involvement of UK universities abroad (with respect to both teaching and research), and the desire of the UK higher education sector to ensure that UK universities are strategic in the context of the emergence of the European Higher Education Area.

It is interesting to note that this detailed 196 page report can only be read by officials representing UK universities, who can access it at this password-protected site.  Following a 12 month UK uni-only phase, the report becomes available for general consumption, and is free.

The issue of general access to informative reports like this one, or reports commissioned by similar organizations in other countries, is shaped by actual and perceived needs to service stakeholders who fund the commissioning agency, the competitive impulse, and historical policy legacies regarding distribution.  Yet we have detected a broad trend towards free, immediate, and open access to these types of reports, in part because of the administrative costs of printing, charging and distributing lengthy reports, but also recognition that the global higher ed landscape is evolving so fast that everyone can benefit from enhanced understandings of how to (re)shape the development process.  International partnerships are, after all, about partnership. This is a long-winded way of suggesting that organizations like the UK Higher Education International Unit, and the American Council on Education’s Center for International Initiatives, should seriously consider adopting an open access policy for relevant reports. Such an approach would enhance the nature of the collaborative development process, and better ensure institutions in other countries understand the logics and rationales — the modi operandi — associated with UK and US partners. There might be some forgone revenue or other costs, yet the broader benefits of sharing knowledge, in a timely and open fashion, as well as the symbolic messages sent out, are well worth considering.

Kris Olds

ps: I should add that the UK Higher Education International Unit kindly sent me a copy of the report, so this is not a whinge to get a copy, but an indirect note of appreciation regarding the quality of the report. :)

Another ‘Alice in Wonderland moment’ with the further round of overseas scholarship funding cuts for UK universities?

This week I found myself experiencing another ‘Alice in Wonderland’ moment when news was circulated that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) would completely withdraw , by 2011, an important source of funding to English universities for scholarships for overseas students – the Overseas Research Students Award Scheme (ORSAS). Currently HEFCE contributes £13 million to this scheme in England, and £15 million overall (including Scotland and Wales).

This comes on top of an announcement in March of this year when UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, announced to the Parliament that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was terminating its 50 year old commitment made to the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. In essence this decision would cut funding to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan – so that scholarships would only be available to developing countries. This funding, however, would not be available for doctoral studies.

Now, the recommendations of the report published in July 2008 by the UK Higher Education International Unit (ironically funded by HEFCE and UUK), The UK’s competitive advantage: The Market for International Research Students (see Executive Summary here), were that if the UK wanted to remain a global leader:

  • UK universities must develop a clear and attractive doctoral brand with emphasis on quality and innovation;
  • Initiatives that offset the cost of fees and living in the UK must be developed; and that
  • More needed to be done to illustrate the benefits of a British doctorate to an international audience and to counter the belief that Britain is an expensive place in which to study.

The Report notes that the UK’s key competitor countries, North America, Europe and Australasia, are all developing recruitment strategies aimed at the post graduate market, contributing to a declining share for the UK.

Given this Report; given, too, that demographic changes mean that by 2020 there will be 16% fewer 18 year olds coming through the university system; and given the stepping up of initiatives in other emerging countries around the globe, [for instance this week the Korean government announced that it not only planned to attract 100,000 foreign students to the country by 2010, but that it would double the number of scholarships available to foreign students by 2012 (currently 1,500) as well as loosen visa restrictions on work], it is difficult not to feel as if this is something of an Alice in Wonderland moment – that things in the UK higher education policy sector are getting ‘curiouser and curiouser’!

Alice, of course, was watching her body extend out like a large telescope, while her feet disappeared almost from sight – a distinctly odd sensation and sight. Musing over her almost disappearing feet and how she might have to send shoes and socks as presents to them to keep them going in the direction she wanted to go, Alice remarked: “Oh dear…What nonsense I’m talking!”

Watching the equally ‘odd’ reshaping of the UK overseas scholarship funding regime in the face of advice – that we should be funding more not less overseas doctoral scholarships, contributes to the distinctly odd sensation – of a kind of ‘policy-autism’ amongst the UK higher education’s research, advice and policymaking units with the result that we seem to be seeing and talking policy nonsense!

Unless, of course, things aren’t quite what they seem!

Susan Robertson

Quantitative metrics for “research excellence” and global positioning

rgupanel.jpgIn last week’s conference on Realising the Global University, organised by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), Professor David Eastwood, Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), spoke several times about the role of funding councils in governing universities and academics to enhance England’s standing in the global higher education sphere (‘market’ is perhaps a more appropriate term given the tone of discussions). One of the interesting dimensions of Eastwood’s position was the uneasy yet dependent relationship HEFCE has on bibliometrics and globally-scaled university ranking schemes to frame the UK’s position, taking into account HEFCE’s influence over funding councils in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (which together make up the UK). Eastwood expressed satisfaction with the UK’s relative standing, yet (a) concern about emerging ‘Asian’ countries (well really just China, and to a lesser degree Singapore), (b) the need to compete with research powerhouses (esp., the US), and (c) the need to forge linkages with research powerhouses and emerging ‘contenders’ (ideally via joint UK-US and UK-China research projects, which are likely to lead to more jointly written papers; papers that are posited to generate relatively higher citation counts). These comments help us better understand the opening of a Research Councils UK (RCUK) office in China on 30 October 2007.

hefcecover.jpgIn this context, and further to our 9 November entry on bibliometrics and audit culture, it is worth noting that HEFCE launched a consultation process today about just this – bibliometrics as the core element of a new framework for assessing and funding research, especially with respect to “science-based” disciplines. HEFCE notes that “some key elements in the new framework have already been decided” (i.e., get used to the idea, and quick!), and that the consultation process is instead focused on “how they should be delivered”. Elements of the new framework include (but are not limited to):

  • Subject divisions: within an overarching framework for the assessment and funding of research, there will be distinct approaches for the science-based disciplines (in this context, the sciences, technology, engineering and medicine with the exception of mathematics and statistics) and for the other disciplines. This publication proposes where the boundary should be drawn between these two groups and proposes a subdivision of science-based disciplines into six broad subject groups for assessment and funding purposes.
  • Assessment and funding for the science-based disciplines will be driven by quantitative indicators. We will develop a new bibliometric indicator of research quality. This document builds on expert advice to set out our proposed approach to generating a quality profile using bibliometric data, and invites comments on this.
  • Assessment and funding for the other disciplines: a new light touch peer review process informed by metrics will operate for the other disciplines (the arts, humanities, social sciences and mathematics and statistics) in 2013. We have not undertaken significant development work on this to date. This publication identifies some key issues and invites preliminary views on how we should approach these.
  • Range and use of quantitative indicators: the new funding and assessment framework will also make use of indicators of research income and numbers of research students. This publication invites views on whether additional indicators should be used, for example to capture user value, and if so on what basis.
  • Role of the expert panels: panels made up of eminent UK and international practising researchers in each of the proposed subject groups, together with some research users, will be convened to advise on the selection and use of indicators within the framework for all disciplines, and to conduct the light touch peer review process in non science-based disciplines. This document invites proposals for how their role should be defined within this context.
  • Next steps: the paper identifies a number of areas for further work and sets out our proposed workplan and timetable for developing and introducing the new framework, including further consultations and a pilot exercise to help develop a method for producing bibliometric quality indicators.
  • Sector impact: a key aim in developing the framework will be to reduce the burden on researchers and higher education institutions (HEIs) created by the current arrangements. We also aim for the framework to promote equal opportunities. This publication invites comments on where we need to pay particular attention to these issues in developing the framework and what more can be done.

This process is worth following even if you are not working for a UK institution for it sheds light on the emerging role of bibliometrics as a governing tool (which is evident in more and more countries), especially with respect to the global (re)positioning of national higher education systems vis a vis a particular understandings of ‘research quality’ and ‘productivity’. Over time, of course, it will also transform some of the behaviour of many UK academics, perhaps spurring on everything from heightened competition to get into high citation impact (CIF) factor journals, greater international collaborative work (if such work indeed generates more citations), the possible creation of “citation clubs” (much more easily done, perhaps, that HEFCE realizes), less commitment to high quality teaching, and a myriad of other unknown impacts, for good and for bad, by the time the new framework is “fully driving all research funding” in 2014.

Kris Olds