A primer on international partnerships

One notable challenge for many universities is moving beyond the superficial rhetoric of internationalization. Of course every university, and its leaders, are in favor of internationalizing: the signs are everywhere, from refashioned mission statements, to the building of some institutional capacity to understand and support internationalization, to the inclusion of the rhetoric of internationalization in speech after speech by university leaders.

Yet, in the end, the process of enhancing the territorial spread of institutional networks, and sometimes architectures, is not so simple: it requires the initiation and implementation of a strategic planning process, and the subsequent bringing to life of new linkages, partnerships, programs, and projects. All of these elements, of course,  are more than technical issues. They are highly political, not just in what linkages with whom, but how they are advanced.  For some, this involves a top-down led process of almost turning the university inside out (e.g., NYU), while for others it involves the slow and steady development of an infrastructure of support to enable units within a university to go at their own speed, in their own ways, free of formal managerialism where one unit (and often person) is deemed the defacto czar of internationalization.

Regardless of approach, one of the noteworthy aspects of this phenomenon is its formalization. What I mean by this is institutions of higher education are increasingly attempting to become more strategic in a comprehensive and legible way. Audits of international teaching and research activities are being conducted, and universities are ramping up their coordination capabilities via advisory councils, task forces, ad-hoc working groups and the use of specialist consultants. The best universities build in accountability and outcome measures to see what is really happening over time. This sometimes involves more staff versus additional resources for faculty and students, for good and for bad (see, for example, the vigorous debate about the rise of ‘deanlets’ and ‘deanlings’ in ‘The Fall of the Faculty‘, Inside Higher Ed, 14 July 2011).

In any case, the effort to become more strategic, and formal, about internationalization is abundantly evident in a new report released yesterday by the UK Higher Education International and Europe Unit. This report — A Guide to UK Higher Education and Partnerships for Overseas Universities  — is designed to serve as a “starting point for overseas institutions interested in establishing collaborations with UK higher education institutions.” As noted in the report’s executive summary:

Partnerships between academic institutions have tended to be the product of working relationships between individual academics; but more recently, as the potential benefits and risks from overseas collaborations have increased, universities and colleges have begun to manage their international partnerships portfolio more effectively.

Increasing competition is affecting the way UK universities think about their aspirations and how to maintain their international competitiveness. A strategic shift is underway – away from a focus on international student recruitment (at which the UK sector has been successful) and toward a longer-term and more partnership based conceptualisation of internationalisation.

Governments around the world are increasingly encouraging their universities to embrace the international agenda and to internationalise their institution. They are doing this by supporting and facilitating their higher education sectors to engage at an institutional level with global partners through teaching and research collaboration.

The free 52 page report, which is available in PDF format in English, Arabic and Chinese, is worth reading –  for even if you are not interested in partnering with UK universities, the report helpfully sets out a series of issues worth thinking about in general at both the university level (i.e. how to frame and implement partnerships) as well as the larger system-wide scale.

For example, the report prompted me to reflect on the issue of what associations of universities could do to better communicate about, in summary form, the taken-for-granted factors shaping the national systems of higher education and research their own universities are embedded in. And if this were to happen, what language(s) should this form of communications occur in? What format should these types of ‘primers’ be available in, and at what cost (if any)? And whom should we be communicating with as we lay out some of the groundwork for the hoped for formation of partnerships? Similarly, do we, at the university scale, provide sufficient analytically-oriented information, in one place on our websites, about the history, nature of, and entry points (with respect to governance), regarding our universities that prospective overseas partners would find beneficial to read prior to visits and negotiations?

Of course partnerships, in the end, need to be brought to life at the university-to-university level, but keep it in mind that the diversity of systems out there mean that many universities need approval from ministries or government departments before they can engage in partnerships, especially if year-on-year resource expenditures are to be factored in. Given this, many government officials, ministers (or equivalents), and some unexpected others, have power to shape relationship-building outcomes even though they frequently do not have an understanding of issues, like academic freedom, quality assurance, institutional governance, research and teaching outcome expectations, etc. All the more reason for communicating about who we are, and are not.

While hardly comprehensive, or  perfect, my read of A Guide to UK Higher Education and Partnerships for Overseas Universities leads me to believe that its authors and sponsors are attempting to provide a primer of this type; one for ‘overseas universities’ as well as the other actors who will have an impact on the partnership relationship-building process. It is also a reflexive piece; one that is  reminding those guiding UK universities to think about the taken-for granted factors that shape their practices and expectations. In the end, these kinds of communications objectives cannot but be positive, for failed or unrealized partnerships (and there are many the higher education sector) generate ample opportunity costs that we can scarcely afford.

Kris Olds

The UK India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI): reflections on ‘the complexities of global partnerships in higher education

gore221This entry has been kindly prepared by Tim Gore, Director of The Centre for Indian Business, University of Greenwich, London, UK. Tim has worked closely with educationalists, institutions, companies and governments to improve bilateral and multilateral educational links in Hong Kong, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and India over a 23 year period. His most recent role was Director, Education at the British Council in India, where he was responsible for growing the knowledge partnership between India and the UK. Tim also led the establishment of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) that is profiled in this blog entry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Building sustainable global partnerships

Partnership is a word that is often used but difficult to define. Many claim to have meaningful partnerships but in reality I suspect good partnerships are rare. Partnerships between academic institutions across national and cultural frontiers are especially challenging. In the first place, the institutions themselves are complex, multi-dimensional and resistant to being led in the traditional sense. On the other hand, there is language, the subtle nuances of unspoken cultural expectations and distance! UKIERI – the UK India Education and Research Initiative – was established with the aim of rebuilding the lapsed educational relationship between the UK and India. It was to focus on building academic partnerships that were meaningful and sustainable.

India and the UK

India emerged from its colonial period according to some commentators with the newfound national pride as the growth of their economy and their nuclear and space sciences established their national credibility (see Mohan, 2006). Since the economic reforms of 1991, India had opened its doors and witnessed a dizzying growth. But to fuel this growth, education became more important and with it an interest in partnership with amongst others the UK. The UK also recognised the need of knowledge to fuel its growth and set up several institutions such as the Science and Innovation Council to achieve this. India and China were obvious partners with their rapidly growing academic and research capabilities.

ukierilogoThe UK government put the initial funds into UKIERI to start it up closely followed by industry sponsors and later as trust was built, the Indian Government. A number of consultations in India and UK gathered views from the sector about how to achieve the goals. The result was a carefully balanced funding mechanism that encouraged competitive bids across a range of academic collaborations but with similar criteria of impact, relevance, high quality standards and sustainability. The funding was mainly mobility money to break down the difficulty of distance and encourage partners to spend time together. Bids needed to demonstrate that the activities of the partnership were of strategic importance to the institutions involved and that matching funding was available.

The concept of ‘strategic alliances’ has quickly evolved over the last few decades from a position where they were little mentioned in strategy textbooks. Michael Porter, for example, in his work on market forces in the seventies and eighties was more concerned with firms as coherent entities in themselves made up of strategic business units but conceptually sealed from competing firms in the market. Since then, alliances have become crucially important to the extent that a product such as the iPod is the product of a very complex set of strategic relationships where its brand owner, Apple, does not directly produce any part of the iPod or its content.

A variety of writers have looked at alliances from different perspectives. Economic and managerial perspectives see alliances as ways of reducing risk or exerting power and influence in a market. However, social capital and network analyses are far more subtle and see alliances as ways of accessing complex tacit knowledge that is not easy to build or acquire in other ways. Here, the concept of trust plays a big role and we come back to human interaction.

Academic institutions could be concerned with market share and can definitely be concerned about costs. So an analysis such as’ resource based theory’ or ‘transaction cost analysis’ may describe their motivations for partnership well. However, such institutions are complex and exhibit complex goals.

Studies in Norway (see Frølich, 2006) have shown that academic ambition and status is the main driver for researchers seeking overseas links rather than financial or institutional inducements which are merely facilitative. In this analysis, knowledge is power. Knowledge is difficult to acquire and especially those parts of knowledge that are not easily coded and where even the questions are difficult to frame let alone the answers that are sought. Trading in knowledge of this type is done only under conditions of trust.

However, this is only part of the picture. Institutions do have a role. In studies of the success of innovation in the Cambridge innovation cluster, the success was attributed to two sorts of social capital – structural and relational. The individual researchers can easily create the relational capital at conferences and other academic encounters but the structural capital comes by virtue of institutional links such as shared governors on a board. If we can create conditions of both structural and relational capital we can expect a more robust and productive alliance. It is this that UKIERI was trying to achieve.

Buying a stake in the process

bangalore-015UKIERI insisted that institutions buy a stake in the process at the same time as encouraging academics to create their partnerships. Funding was deliberately limited so that the institution had to contribute or find extra funding from a third party. This ensured that the strategic interests of the institution were taken into account. Many universities asked all their staff with an interest in India to attend a working group and prioritise their own bids into UKIERI. At the same time, UKIERI looked for evidence of synergy within the teams and evidence that the partnership would yield more than the sum of the parts. UKIERI arranged a two stage process of peer review to look at the academic strengths followed by a panel review to look holistically at the partnership.

Trust was built at many levels in the Initiative. The Indian Government demonstrated their trust by co-funding the second year after having satisfied themselves that there was genuine mutuality. Many partnerships had to deal with trust issues especially over funding which was channelled through the UK partner in the first year according to UK audit requirements. In a few cases trust broke down and partnerships did not work out but in the overwhelming majority the partnerships are doing well and producing strong research and academic outputs. The Initiative has been favourably reviewed by a number of institutions including the UK’s National Audit Office and a Parliamentary Select Committee.

‘Good’ communication sustains partnerships

In my experience, many partnerships run into difficulties because there is not enough contact between the partners, communications are sparse and often responses are slow or do not happen at all. Universities can give the appearance of being rather fragmented in their approach to partnerships as authority for the various components lies in different parts of the university.

Additionally, very often aspects of the partnership are agreed but then need to be ratified by academic councils or other internal quality processes and this again can cause delays. Very often, the partner is not told about the reason for delays and from the outside it is hard to understand why responses are so slow. This is accentuated when we are dealing across cultures and delays can be interpreted as lack of interest or even a lack of respect. In some cultures, it is not normal to say ‘no’ and a lack of response is the way of communicating lack of interest! All these communication issues erode the trust in the relationship and can be damaging.

I would recommend that each partnership always has a clear lead person who leads on communications and keeps in touch with all the processes on both sides of the partnership. It is important to be transparent about internal mechanisms and how long processes are really likely to take as well as what the processes are. The lead person can also coordinate visits to and fro and ensure that these are fairly regular. If there is a gap, there may be a relevant academic in the area who could take an extra day visiting the partner and keeping the relationship ‘warm’.

We often forget in our efforts to be both effective managers and academics that human relationships are at the core of all our enterprise and that these relationships need nurturing. Without this basic trust effective management of a project and high quality standards will not be enough.

Additional Reading

Frølich, N. (2006) Still academic and national – internationalisation in Norwegian research and higher education, Higher Education, 52 (3), pp. 405-420.

Gore, T. (2008) Global Research Collaboration: Lessons from Practice for Sustainable International Partnerships, October, London: Observatory of Borderless Higher Education.

Heffernan, T. and Poole, D. (2005) In search of the ‘vibe’: creating effective international education partnerships, Higher Education, 50 (2), pp. 223-45.

Mohan, C.R. (2006) India and the balance of power, Foreign Affairs, 85 (4), pp. 17-32.

Muthusamy, S. K. and White, M. A. (2007). An empirical examination of the role of social exchances in alliance performance, Journal of Management Issues, 19 (1), pp. 53-75.

Myint, Y, Vyakarnam, S. et al (2005) The Effect of Social Capital in New Venture Creation: the Cambridge High Technology Cluster.

Tim Gore

UK-China partnerships and collaborations in higher education

Both China (PRC) and the Hong Kong SAR offer an expanding and highly competitive market opportunity for overseas higher education institutions (HEIs). As noted in a recent report commissioned by the British Council (UK-China-Hong Kong Transnational Education Project), a number of UK HEIs are providing hundreds of new ‘international’ degree programmes in Hong Kong and China.

According to the Hong Kong Education Bureau, in January 2008 there were over 400 degree programmes run by 36 different UK HEIs in Hong Kong. On the one hand, UK HEIs can be seen to work as independent operators, offering a number of courses to local students registered with the Hong Kong Education Bureau under the ‘Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance’. At the same time, UK HEIs have also initiated a series of collaborations between UK and Hong Kong HEIs. These collaborations are exempted from registration under the Ordinance. In January 2008 there were over 150 registered- and 400 exempted-courses run by 36 different UK HEIs in Hong Kong.

These are a relatively recent phenomenon – according to the British Council Report, more than 40% of joint initiatives in Hong Kong were begun after 2003. Overall, the UK is a significant provider of international education services in Hong Kong, providing 63% of ‘non-local’ courses (compared to 22% from Australia, 5% from the USA and 1% from Canada). These links were bolstered by the ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Education Cooperation’ signed on 11th May 2006 by Arthur Li (Secretary for Education and Manpower HK) and Bill Rammell (Minister of State for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning UK). The memorandum aims, amongst other things, to strengthen partnerships and strategic collaboration between the UK and Hong Kong.

UK HEIs’ involvement in delivering HE in China is ostensibly less well developed. However, in 2006, UK HEIs provided the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) with information on 352 individual links with 232 Chinese HE institutions or organisations. Some recent significant developments with respect to international ‘partnerships’ with Chinese institutions include Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU), located in Suzhou in China, and The University of Nottingham Ningbo, which is sponsored by the City of Ningbo, China, with cooperation from Zhejiang Wanli University. Other examples of UK-China international partnerships include: Leeds Metropolitan University and Zhejiang University of Technology; Queen Mary, University of London and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications; The Queen’s University of Belfast and Shenzhen University; and the University of Bedfordshire and the China Agricultural University.

In 2006, the QAA conducted audits of 10 selected partnerships between UK and Chinese HEIs in order to establish if and how UK institutions were maintaining academic standards within these partnerships. The main findings are that:

  • nearly half (82) of all UK higher education institutions reported that they are involved in some way in providing higher education opportunities in China;
  • there is great variety in the type of link used to deliver UK awards in China, the subjects studied and the nature of the awards;
  • in 2005-06 there were nearly 11,000 Chinese students studying in China for a UK higher education award, 3,000 of whom were on programmes that would involve them completing their studies in the UK;
  • institutions’ individual arrangements for managing the academic standards and quality of learning opportunities are generally comparable with programmes in the UK and reflect the expectations of the Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education (Code of practice), Section 2: Collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including e-learning), published by QAA.

The map profiled above was extracted from this report. A similar exercise was carried out in 2007 on partnerships between 6 UK HEIs and Hong Kong HEIs.

These practices and partnerships exemplify the international outlook of many UK HEIs, and underscore the perceived (significant) role of China in their future planning and policies. Unlike Hong Kong, China is seen as market ripe for expansion, with substantial unmet demand for higher education that will only grow into the future. China is by far the biggest ‘source’ country of international students globally, and UK institutions are increasingly recognising the possibility of taking their educational programmes to the students.

Johanna Waters