The ACE Report this week, International Higher Education Partnerships: A Global Review of Standards and Practices, focuses again on nuts and bolts of internationalization with a focus on global international partnerships between higher education institutions in different countries. The report lays out best practices in how to achieve successful global partnerships and also warns against practices that stunt implementation efforts for these partnerships. The second reading, IIE’s Report entitled A Process for Screening and Authorizing Joint and Double Degree Programs, provides a very useful guide on how to vet and implement the growing trend of these two types of programs so that they are effective and not prone to phenomenon such as double counting of credits.
The ACE Report attacks the subject of international partnerships through bifurcation of the types of issues that come up. First, the report discusses the Program Administration and Management components of international partnerships analyzing them through four themes: transparency and accountability; faculty and staff engagement; quality assurance; and strategic planning and the role of institutional leadership. Second, the report discusses Cultural and Contextual Issues in international partnerships analyzing them through four themes as well: cultural awareness; access and equity; institutional and human capacity building; and ethical dilemmas and “negotiated space.”
For me, theme 1 of the first framework was the most interesting this week, that being the role of legal requirements, documentation and policies and procedures in the transparency and accountability in the successful implementation of international partnerships. Given my role as General Counsel at a college, I understand the importance of good structure and memorialization of relationships. Without these fundamental building blocks, there is bound to be inefficiency and a lack of productive paths forward. It was nice to see the ACE report give such importance to this phase of the process. For example, in addition to strong mission statements, memorandum’s of understanding (MOUs) are a key component of the “how to” portion of the parameters set forth in the ACE report. MOUs memorialize the understanding of the parties in terms of the goals of the partnership as well as the operational details necessary to carry out the goals. A well written MOU can make the difference between a successful relationship that is guided by a strong foundational written agreement between the parties or the breakdown of communications because there is no clear documentation of the parties intent. Legal input in the drafting of MOUs can also help vet unclear language and help anticipate future liability issues that are bound to arise, particularly in the international context.
The report gives two revealing examples of the role of legal documents and MOUs in partnerships between global higher education institutions. The first is the Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) review of hundreds of MOU’s it had with institutions abroad that were inactive or outdated (p.20). A review of the MOUs allowed VCU to vert which partnerships were worth pursuing because they had the parameters documented. The memorialization of partnerships allowed VCU to target fifteen institutions for strategic collaborations that would yield real results. This exercise of the review of unusable MOUs is also seen in the example of the relationship between Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Kenya’s Moi University (p.34).
The second is Wellesley College’s task to create templates for partnership agreements to mitigate against issues of academic freedom controversies it encountered during a partnership with a Chinese institution (p.33). (see http://www.wellesley.edu/news/2013/01/node/32424). To protect against the type of controversy it faced with China, Wellesley now has an institutional-level MOU and an “international activity agreement” which is for individual departments or faculty and counterparts abroad. According to the report, “both include language in the preamble—modeled on a statement used by Cornell University (NY) in its partnership agreements—stating that all parties agree to adhere to commonly observed standards for academic freedom in all educational and research activities entailed in the agreement (p.33).” Wellesley has been able to implement these agreements through its International Study Committee (see http://www.wellesley.edu/news/2013/01/node/32424) formed to monitor and facilitate international partnerships. The committee reviews all of the MOUs or agreements before they are signed and feels that “it is much better to have the conversation about them in advance of the program than after the fact (p.33). For a lawyer, it is gratifying to see the effective of use of legal structures and documents to pave the way for stronger global international partnerships, both transactional and transformational, to contribute to the growth of internationalization.