Leadership and management of international partnerships
31 March 2011, by Prof Robin Middlehurst
Author: Prof Robin Middlehurst is Professor of Higher Education, Kingston University & Director, Strategy, Research and International at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, UK.
The nature and number of ‘international partnerships’ has become a matter of strategic concern to institutions as they seek to develop comprehensive internationalisation strategies or to follow a trajectory towards recognised ‘world-class’ status. The search for sound partners and sustainable forms of partnership are significant and difficult issues for institutional leaders, managers and governing boards, particularly in an international context which is increasingly complex and volatile.
In 2009, the Leadership Foundation in the UK and the LH Martin Institute jointly funded research to shed light on the leadership, management and governance capabilities and capacities needed to build and maintain successful international partnerships and collaborative ventures. The report, published in January 2011, is based on six case studies of international partnerships involving institution-to-institution collaborations and government-institution partnerships between the UK, Australia, Malaysia and China. The cases cover partnerships at different stages of development, including one study of disengagement.
The Australia-UK researchers identified five areas where institutional leaders needed to play a key role for partnerships to succeed: ensuring that the international partnership strategy was aligned with the broader institutional strategy; appointing able champions to develop and operate the partnership, ensuring that central pump-priming funds were available; gaining wide institutional support for the initiative through active communication and managing timely engagement with the governing body. Leadership skills and competencies associated with these activities included vision, consultation, selecting key staff, business capability and focus, cultural sensitivity and relationship-building. However, the balance and relative importance of these skills varies at different stages of partnership development.
From a governance perspective, there were at least three reasons for governors to be involved in discussing and approving international partnership development and monitoring sustainability: to address potential reputational risks at institutional or national levels arising from the link, to guard against financial losses and to consider the strategic fit of any new or extended partnerships with an agreed internationalisation strategy. In practice, however, the involvement of governors varied widely by institution. Management arrangements were equally varied, depending on the scale of the international operation, institutional cultures and structures and the type of partnership involved. Establishing an off-shore campus clearly requires a different management structure and scale of support than a series of inter-faculty links. Finally, under the heading of ‘effective management’, the report briefly addresses human resource management issues (1), research and information requirements and cross-cultural challenges that may need to be overcome.
The Australia-UK study complements the ‘good practice’ literature on international partnerships produced by the IEAA (2), the EAIE (3) and ACE (4) and institutional guidance published by quality assurance and international agencies such as OECD and UNESCO. Ideally, it should stimulate debate about different institutional strategies and promote wider professional development for ‘internationalisation’.
1. A new UK report from the International and Europe Unit and Leadership Foundation, Guide to offshore staffing strategies for UK universities, will be published in April 2011 and provides more detail on HRM issues.
2. International Education Association of Australia
3. European Association for International Education
4. American Council on Education
- Appeared in the LH Martin Institute March 2011 e-Newsletter
* Prof Middlehurst will be presenting seminars across Australia in May on The Rise of Private Tertiary Education Providers: Challenges and Opportunities.
* The Leadership and Management of International Partnerships report referred to in this article will be explored further at the Institute's Executive Leadership & Management in International Education program, commencing 9 May 2011 in Melbourne.