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University partnerships: priorities will “change over time”

It is imperative that people must keep checking in and assessing HE partnerships as priorities for both institutions will “change over time”, stakeholders heard as veteran partnerships professionals shared their insights during The PIE Live North America.

The PIE's CEO Amy Baker moderated the panel delving in to the world of student mobility. Photo: The PIE News

Discussing each other’s strategic priorities is a vital building block

On the conference’s Student Mobility and Partnerships panel, Humber College’s associate dean of global partnerships and education, Rebecca Fitzgerald, said that discussing each other’s strategic priorities is a vital building block.

She counselled that multiple benefits out of one wider partnership between two institutions is a clear route to maximum benefit: virtual mobility, summer schools, faculty exchange as well as joint recognition for 2+1, 3+1 programs.

“I think a critical mistake that can happen is to have that first date, have a great conversation and not follow up with an action plan,” Fitzgerald told delegates.

“It’s about making sure you have that plan, checking in, having ongoing assessment, reporting outcomes and then with that, also knowing where our priorities may change over time.

“Recently, the pandemic threw a wrench in many of our clients, but we were able to pivot and identify new projects,” she continued.

Fitzgerald insists a monthly face-to-face meeting is best, but at the very least, once a year – she also pointed out that a good idea is to centre those meetings around conferences, to bring together the most senior and key stakeholders within both institutions.

“I have monthly meetings with all of our partners and so we’re able to check in. And sometimes that meeting is short, sometimes longer; sometimes we’re bringing in other stakeholders – but it is an ongoing, fluid conversation,” Fitzgerald pointed out.

“It is an ongoing, fluid conversation”

Bobby Mehta, associate pro-VC of global engagement at the University of Portsmouth, spoke about his university’s dual degree program with Edith Cowan University in Australia, and how the now “flagship” partnership for the institution was set up – again, examining broad priorities and important characteristics in a close partnership.

“When we were encouraging students to become more mobile and take more opportunities, we encouraged them to go to developing countries and non-English speaking countries, but this was challenging – so what we then prioritised was a partnership in an English speaking country,” he explained.

For Gabriela Geron, things stand a little differently. As a director for international partnerships at the University of Miami, and as part of the Hemispheric University Consortium Secretariat, she has ample experience that comes with language barriers – especially between Spanish and English – in partnerships.

She gave the audience a fascinating glimpse of other ways to forge partnerships that enhance mobility.

Virtual mobility has become a successful experience across her network in the US and South America – with simultaneous translation enabling students previously unable or unwilling to consider such an opportunity to do so.

“In some of our meetings we work with interpreters and offer simultaneous translation, because it is the way to make things happen; and for the students, they don’t even realise they’re doing it,” Geron explained.

“We get results, and the engagement, the feedback, is incredible.”

“In some of our meetings we work with interpreters and offer simultaneous translation”

Western University – in London, Ontario, where Vicky Muzi Li is director of international recruitment and partnership – has “hundreds” of active partnerships, but those with dual degrees and joint academic programs number about 50 – a large number to keep afloat all at once.

Despite a difficult few years for the liberal arts, Muzi Li recalled how Western almost changed its priorities – and arguably, international priorities – by choosing to focus on programs in the humanities in place of sciences.

“We wanted to, in an innovative way, build partnerships for music, for arts and humanities, for subjects that are at the edge. It’s not in STEM programs, not engineering, not the ones that most of our partners want – but because we’ve been very successful in building these joint degree programs in music, music education theory, liberal arts… it’s actually been successful across the board,” Muzi Li recalled.

In terms of what could be learned from partnerships that perhaps went awry, Mehta warned that having one purpose and one only could mean that you will not get what you want out of a partnership.

“Institutions will often go in with the misconception that this will make money; ‘we’ll get a profit from this’ – but if you go in with that as the sole purpose, you can sometimes be disappointed because that is not necessarily the reality,” Mehta said.

“So actually being quite honest and looking at what the partnership is – what’s being asked for, what the cost of engaging in this is, what are the opportunities? What is possible and what is not possible? Those are really important questions that need to be asked up front,” he counselled.

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