Comprehensive Internationalization: Collaboration and Partnerships


Establishing and managing successful collaborations and partnerships abroad is a key aspect of internationalization for many institutions. Such relationships can provide international experiences for students and faculty, enhance the curriculum, generate revenue, and raise the visibility of institutions at home and around the world. 

ACE recommends a four-step approach for creating and managing international partnerships:

Step 1:  Strategic Planning

Like all aspects of campus internationalization, partnerships and collaborations should be based on a careful planning process that clarifies international goals and objectives, particularly with respect to student learning outcomes.  International collaborations should align with overall institutional mission and priorities, and should take into account availability of financial and personnel resources.

Step 2:  Review Possible Structures

International collaboration can take many forms, and institutions should become familiar with a variety of options before talking to potential partners. Some modes of engagement will likely emerge as a better institutional fit than others; some may be rejected outright, and others may only be appropriate for partners that meet certain criteria. Even when an institution focuses on simple modes of collaboration, these relationships often evolve into more complex structures over time. 

Dr. Susan Sutton, Senior Advisor for International Initiatives at Bryn Mawr College, makes a distinction between transactional relationships, which are based on a single activity that can be clearly defined and measured, and strategic partnerships, which are complex and multifaceted. Click here to read more.

Step 3:  Identify Potential Partners

Many institutions – both in the U.S. and abroad – struggle with the challenge of finding good international partners. Some cost-effective strategies include:

  • Analyze national environments. Understanding the higher education context in target countries, including policies, priorities, structure, and operations, will help institutions make informed decisions about where and how to pursue partnerships. A careful analysis can eliminate certain types of institutions as potential partners and make others a higher priority. There may also be policies and funding opportunities that promote certain types of partnerships. 
  • Talk to peer institutions. Many institutions publicly list their existing partners, and will often offer a frank, private assessment of partners' strengths and weaknesses. In some cases, U.S. institutions have formed consortia for the purpose of facilitating the exchange of information on international partners.
  • Attend domestic conferences. Foreign institutions increasingly participate in academic meetings held in the United States, using these occasions to meet with potential partners. Many attend the annual meeting of the Association of International Education Administrators, for example.
Step 4:  On-Going Management

Once partnerships have been established, managing them successfully requires on-going attention and commitment.  Common management challenges and strategies for addressing them include the following:

  • Too many partners. Over time, institutions may find themselves with too many MOU’s – often of varying scope and effectiveness. One response is to centralize the management of partnerships, typically in the office of the senior international officer; another is to develop written policies for selecting and approving agreements.
  • Partnerships based on a personal connection. While a personal connection can open many doors, the ensuing partnership is only as strong as the personal relationship that supports it. One common response is to broaden support for the partnership through the involvement of more faculty and campus leaders.
  • Too many transactional partners. While partnerships that are focused on short-term, measurable goals are the best option in some situations, many institutions want to see these evolve into a smaller, deeper set of strategic partnerships.