Partnership Frameworks

Most international university partnerships begin with relationships between individual academics, or two or more departments. As they grow and become more centralised, a communications pipeline is established between departments and international offices.

The following case studies illustrate how some EUTOPIA partners have codified the evaluation criteria and processes for forming international partnerships. The partnership frameworks described below are intended to enable bottom-up partnership development based on departmental interests, through a fair, structured, and consistent process that is authorised by senior leadership.

Monash University
Stellenbosch University
University of Gothenburg
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Ca'Foscari University of Venice
University of Warwick

Monash University

Monash prioritises international partnerships that can contribute to multi-faceted outcomes within the following nine categories:

  1. Research and education growth within aligned strategies
  2. Complementary infrastructure and capabilities
  3. Access to talent
  4. Joint innovation
  5. Enhanced mobility experiences
  6. New teaching and learning
  7. New geographies and networks for impactful outcomes
  8. International networks across sectors
  9. Funding opportunities

They also use a framework of 26 questions in assessing prospective partnerships. These questions are in turn arranged into five categories:

      Partner selection and rationale

  1. Can the partnership scale through increasing phases of collaboration? E.g. scoping phase that will determine the type of partnership to be pursued vs. long-term evolution.
  2. Do the rationales for partnering align? E.g. institutional strategic agendas, scale of activity/investment, timeframe, education vs. research focus and prioritisation.
  3. Is there infrastructure at the other partner or knowledge-linking-platforms that we are seeking to access?
  4. Is the partner part of a network we are seeking to access? (Analysis should inform this.)
  5. What are the shared values that can be reflected in the rationale?
  6. Is this a bilateral partnership or is there a desire to link with our campuses or existing ‘partnership networks’ (e.g. Warwick, SEU, IITB, PSU, etc.)?
  7. Is talent retention and recruitment a feature of the collaboration? As an aim, it can help to prioritise development of more formal linkages between departments/centres etc. so that the joint capabilities can be built into their hiring strategies.

    Focus of activity
  8. Will the partnership span research, education, industry engagement and other areas?
  9. How established are existing links and are there clusters in the areas of desired collaboration/opportunity?
  10. What balance of top-down vs. bottom-up activity will be pursued?
  11. Are we targeting research closer to the applied end of the spectrum? This would be more appealing to industry and philanthropic funders – as well as government ODA funding.
  12. Will sharing best practice in pedagogy (i.e. through the Monash Education Academy) be a feature of the partnership? How will this be encouraged?
  13. Is there a particular focus on inclusion and diversity activities?
  14. Will collaboration between the professional services areas form part of the collaboration (e.g. MRO, Buildings & Property, Enterprise)?
  15. Will there be collaboration between our business development arms to understand the capabilities across the partnership?
  16. Is there a specific regional or external focus to the partnership? Are we seeking to jointly engage certain markets (e.g. SE Asia, Middle East, China etc.)?

    Scale of activity
  17. What is the value-add of an institution-level partnership vs. a faculty-based or limited thematic one?
  18. What is the ideal state of the partnership in five and ten years’ time? This will inform: 1) prioritisation of activities, 2) structure of support mechanisms, and 3) KPIs and management of performance expectations.
  19. What scale of coursework and student mobility are we seeking? What balance of short/long activities will make most sense?

    Enabling elements
  20. How can the support/funding and governance structures align to support the desired outcomes?
  21. Will there be a focus on Early Career academics? Are we optimising for development or outputs?
  22. Will research opportunities for students be a feature of the partnership and at what level?
  23. Will there be support for international mobility opportunities for PhDs?
  24. Are we seeking to integrate student mobility experiences into our curriculum?
  25. Do we want to co-develop or co-deliver teaching (e.g. content, units, course, online etc)?
  26. Does the partner operate any similar alliances and does it have the people at operational level to commit time to this?
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Stellenbosch University

Stellenbosch University (SU) uses a Partnership Framework to support institution-level and faculty-level partnerships. It lists types of partnership and criteria, indicating their transactional and transformational potential. The following infographic describes the structure of the framework and the metrics used for evaluation.

Stellenbosch framework
Stellenbosch framework

As in Monash’s framework, there are also guiding questions, arranged thematically:

      Historical links and geographical considerations

  1. What historic connections are there with this potential collaborator and in which category (research, mobility, consortium, etc.)?
  2. Are there other environments at SU currently collaborating with this institution according to SU International records?
  3. Which existing partnerships/programs do we have in this country or region?
  4. Should we increase our involvement in this particular area?
  5. How will this new linkage affect the viability/reciprocity of those already in existence

    Strategic / sustainability considerations
  6. Will this partnership be more transactional or more transformational in nature?
  7. What are the long-term prospects of collaborating with this institution?
  8. How will adding this new relationship aid efforts to internationalize the SU campus?
  9. Is this engagement likely to benefit local students (either abroad or through internationalisation@home)?

    Access to funding / financial considerations
  10. Do we have a national bilateral partnership (government-driven platform) with the host country that would facilitate funding applications?
  11. Is a bilateral agreement between institutions a requirement for funding applications?
  12. Does the potential partner offer any financial support for the implementation of the proposed activities?
  13. What are the financial obligations for SU in terms of the collaborations?
  14. Who is responsible for covering the costs for staff and student mobility? Here you can think of the following:
  15. Who is the responsible host for incoming staff mobility?
  16. What costs are covered by the host (housing, stipend, flights)?
  17. What costs are covered by the home institution (housing, stipend, flights)?
  18. Are the any research costs involved?
  19. Will any external funding be received?
  20. Who will cover the tuition waivers for incoming students? (Faculty/department or will it come from institutional funds?)

    Excellence and reputation
  21. Does the institution have a good international profile?
  22. Is the institution renowned in your discipline?
  23. Are there established researchers in your field at this institution?

    Similarity and complementarity
  24. Does the institution offer a similar area of research?
  25. Does the institution offer access to equipment (or other research facilities) that SU does not have?
  26. Can SU offer complementary areas to the potential partner?

    Considerations for student mobility
  27. Do the courses provided by the program/partner align with the course needs of the SU students?
  28. Is the academic calendar different?
  29. In which sessions can SU students participate? 
  30. What costs will student participants encounter?
  31. How does the total cost of participation on the program/at the partner location compare with an equivalent time period at SU?
  32. For which sorts of funding will students be able to apply?
  33. Do the combined costs and funding opportunities allow students from a broad range of socio-economic status to participate?
  34. What sort of housing assistance will SU students receive?
  35. Will summer school participation be calculated in the balance? 

The Working Group for Agreement Development (WGAD) supports this process. The following visual representation sums up the structure of the Partnership Framework:

A nine-step approval process is used for international partnerships. Variations in the process for departmental (as opposed to institutional) partnerships are indicated in brackets below:

  1. Request to WGAD (or IACI and SU International) from SU staff or prospective partner (as agreed by International@Faculty forum)
  2. WGAD sends International Cooperation Agreement request form to prospective partner (or this is filled out by the SU staff making the request)
  3. The completed form is sent to WGAD
  4. The request is evaluated at next WGAD meeting
  5. If approved, a draft agreement text is written
  6. The Programme Manager: Partnerships submits the text to Legal for approval by Senior Director SUI
  7. The Programme Manager: Partnerships facilitates the signing process
  8. One copy is retained by the partner and one by SU
  9. The Centre for Global Engagement coordinates implementation in line with the SU Partnership Framework (or the department owns and implements activities, with support from the relevant coordinator at SU International)

In 2017, SU began using a rapid evaluation profile tool to evaluate most of its institutional partnerships. The six over-arching principles of the evaluation tool are as follows:

  1. Recognise and accept the need for partnership (history and origin, achievements, barriers and enablers, policy context, degree of dependency on partner to achieve goals)
  2. Develop clarity and realism of purpose (shared vision and values, clear and realistic objectives/outcomes, transparent rationales, focus on areas of likely success)
  3. Ensure commitment and ownership (which staff support, senior commitment, widespread ownership within and outside partners, consistency, nurture skilled networkers, do not depend on a few individuals, reward and discourage accordingly)
  4. Develop and maintain trust (know each other, balance and equality, recognition, fairness of conduct & benefits, sufficient trust levels to take risks and survive problems, ensure right people/place/time)
  5. Create clear and robust partnership arrangements (transparent costs, resources, expiry dates, single/collective responsibilities, accountability, operational agreements simple and task-oriented, focus on process, outcomes, and innovation)
  6. Monitor, measure and learn (self-reflection, agreed criteria, review process for both partnership and its objectives, disseminate findings, celebrate success and root out barriers, revise partnership accordingly)

This exercise has informed much of SU’s strategic thinking. The university views the evaluation of partnerships as an ongoing process that must be adapted over time in order to remain relevant and to adjust to new policies and opportunities. This allows SU to remain agile while operating in a formal framework.

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University of Gothenburg

The University of Gothenburg is a large, decentralised university. Each department or faculty has its own dedicated staff working on international partnerships, who may also have their own connections with international colleagues and networks. In many cases, internationalisation is only a small part of these staff members’ portfolios. 

The university employs a set of procedures for forming partnerships with non-European HEIs, including provisions on:

  • Specificity about the content and form of cooperation
  • Specificity about financial commitments and duration
  • Compliance with legislation regarding academic freedom and discrimination
  • Multidisciplinarity of agreements to ensure they are applicable to multiple faculties

Departments are provided with a template indicating what information should be gathered regarding prospective partners, including the size, location, and quality of the university, prospects for exchange students, existing interest and demand, and the status of existing networks or contacts.

Faculties and departments also have their own processes and routines for selecting and working with partners, and staff and students may also engage with subject-specific networks.

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Vrije Universiteit Brussel

As well as participating in the EUTOPIA Alliance, VUB seeks to ensure that they have one Strategic International Partner (SIP) per continent. SIPs are selected at the institutional level, and must fulfil criteria relating to:

  • Reputation
  • Strategic importance for VUB
  • Existing collaboration with at least three faculties
  • Alignment with SDGs
  • Potential productivity

At the de-centralised level, there is an emphasis on supporting faculty initiatives, and most new partnerships stem from the interests of specific academics or research groups: academics have a great deal of autonomy in selecting partners and focus areas. However, all international partnerships are expected to fulfil four key conditions:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Proportionality
  3. Integrity
  4. Transparency

Partnerships are often, but not necessarily, supported by a Memorandum of Understanding. An application form for the MoU (framework agreement) is submitted to the Council for International Policy (CIP) for approval. Checks are carried out regarding the partner institution, in relation to ethical issues such as dual use of research and animal testing. Following this stage of approval, subsequent agreements can be formed to support specific activities, and these are submitted to the CIP for information.

For the renewal or extension of agreements, an evaluation form (describing recent activities) is submitted to the CIP for approval. Exchange agreements are not renewed if there has been no mobility in the past three or four years, unless there is a strong justification for renewal. Externally funded projects with a consortium of partner institutions are usually subject to mid-term evaluations, and issues raised by the funding agency are dealt with by the consortium’s promoter, in collaboration with the relevant central department.

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Ca’ Foscari University of Venice

In 2017, the International Office at Ca’ Foscari introduced new guidelines for mobility agreements, to increase mobility, support student choice, balance incoming/outgoing flows, establish minimum quality requirements, and address HR challenges (in line with legislation on effectiveness and efficiency).

Partnerships are approved with reference to the Strategic Plan (which was created in participation with the whole university and external stakeholders) and additional specific guidelines approved by the Senate (e.g. for mobilities and joint degrees), as well as in consultation with the Pro-Rector for internationalisation on specific issues.

New agreements must satisfy certain requirements according to a value grid that weights each criterion in hundredths: an agreement must get 70 points (out of 100) to be approved. Each criterion must be met at the time the evaluation is taking place.

The process works as follows:

  • Departments (at least two in the case of Overseas agreements) decide on the nature of the proposed agreement, through dialogue between the academic coordinator, the Department Council, and (where relevant) the department’s Erasmus+ Commission.
  • The academic coordinator seeks approval (based on the available guidelines) from their department and submits an application to the International Office.
  • The International Office accepts and verifies the request, provides further information, and fills in the part of the application for which it is the process owner.
  • The Vice-Rector for International Relations, who oversees the process, approves the agreement, and informs all stakeholders of the outcome and next steps.

Monitoring, evaluation, and renewal of agreements is based on the Strategic Plan and guidelines mentioned above. Mobility partnerships can be renewed if they have produced, in the last three years, a mobility equal to or greater than 25% of that expected.

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University of Warwick

Internationalisation is a key pillar in Warwick’s Excellence With Purpose strategy. The principles behind the university’s approach to international partnerships include:

  • Clear country- and region-specific objectives
  • Strategic focus on existing activity to develop collaborations in line with strategy (as well as pursuing some new opportunities)
  • Mutually beneficial partnerships in collaboration with external organisations and communities
  • Effective, data-driven, collaborative and coordinated internal systems to facilitate decision-making and maximise engagement opportunities

The evaluation of potential partners considers a range of measures, including:

  • Rankings and excellence in research/education
  • Fit with Warwick’s portfolio or potential to increase geographic diversity
  • Access to funding streams
  • Existing links or interest, both in Warwick and in international collaboration generally
  • Potential for mutual benefit in terms of funding streams, student recruitment/mobility/employability, facilities and expertise, disciplinary breadth
  • Wider opportunities and risks of engaging with partner and country
  • Synergy with relevant UK government strategies

A partnership framework is used to support strategic resource allocation. It arranges partnerships into three categories:

  • Strategic: substantial and multi-layered collaborations that are centrally resourced, such as those with Monash and EUTOPIA (and currently being extended to include partners in China, Africa, and North America)
  • Priority: partnerships with potential for growth, coordinated by multiple departments and with some central resources
  • Primary: important partnerships that are coordinated and resourced at an individual academic or department level

The categorisation of partners and the associated allocation of resources is reviewed regularly against Warwick’s objectives, milestones, and KPIs.

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