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.
This weeks ACE reading touches on partnerships. One of the common themes is transparency and quality assurance. When establishing an off shore partnership, the host campus, faculty and students must have transparency of what is expected of them. There also needs to be clarification on how similarly the partnership will run compared to the host campus. To ensure they are equivalent the faculty hired should be of the same caliber as one that would be hired in the home country. They also mention ways on making the faculty feel important such as helping them start new programs at a successful off shore campus. They also mention allowing faculty to engage in study abroad without having to commit to being at the off shore campus for long term. Though these ideas may attract faculty, from a students perspective this may be negative because I would want the interaction with a professor teaching the course for more than the first 3 weeks. The idea is similar to an online class but not every student learns in this manner and students could be inclined to look at other institutions that have the faculty there for a longer portion of the semester. Along with transparency, language is an important factor as making sure all partners understand what is expected of them and the mission and goals that are in place. Informing students of what language courses will be taught in and what requirements they will need to enter the program are crucial when high enrollment is the goal.
Institutional strategy plays a large role in deciding weather a partnership is of value. When deciding on expanding the campus, financial factors come in to play. There has to be a plan of action to create revenue from the partnership or supporting the partnership will be costly for the home campus. Not just financially, the partnership must also be in line with the mission and goals of the home institution. When starting partnerships the establishing of programs could be difficult and institutional leaders are key roles in the process. A successful establishment of a partnership will set precedent for more to come which is why institutional leaders are needed to ensure the process is smooth and successful. Institutional leaders should be aware of the cultural context that the partnership will be entering and the faculty and home institution should be supportive of this. Accepting the cultural differences will have an effect on weather the partnership is successful.
In this week’s ACE report, it states in the beginning that a one-size fits all type of policy or solution to internationalizing higher education in the United States is not possible. The report says that this kinds of unitary over-arching solution will not “adequately address the nuances and realities of international partnership development in the US”( p.3).Partnerships in many cases are very unique to the institution, so having a one-size fits all solution in maintaining a partnership would not be very effective. However, the ACE’s survey and report on best practices is very helpful for administrators and institutions that are looking to establish a partnership with an institution abroad. These suggestions should not be limited to just international partnerships, but to all international higher education programs.
As a higher education administrator, I found what they said about transparency and accountability very important because having transparency and a common understanding will help with the buy-in from staff and faculty. The report suggests that the institution should make a strong effort to inform everyone at the institution about the partnership program, even during the beginning planning stages. Having everyone informed and educated about the program will allow everyone to have common understanding about it which will make them feel included and more likely to buy-in. Memorandums regarding the “nuts and bolts” of the program to how this will affect governance in the institution should be well communicated. Senior administrators who are heading these initiatives should be sure to include the entire institution when communicating with them because everyone has a stake in sustaining the program. If no one but the staff and faculty who are directly involved only know the details, then how will the word about these amazing opportunities spread among students. As an academic advisor, I would be less inclined to suggest or promote a program to a student if I did not know all the promises and details about the program. As a result, low participation rate becomes an issue for sustainability. Not only is inclusion of staff and faculty important after implementation, but it should be an essential from the beginning.
At a large institution like Baruch College could be difficult, however, it can and should be done. Of course communicating the details to students is the most important thing; but, those leading these initiatives should not forget about the administrators who can help to guide students towards these opportunities. Staff and faculty participation and buy-in is hard to achieve, and that might be the reason why many programs and partnership initiatives lose its momentum. However, transparency and accountability throughout the development of these partnerships is a good practice that all should utilize.