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Most higher education institutions have a partnership strategy that invariably includes prospects for staff exchange, student study abroad and internship programs, joint staff research projects, academic program delivery and (sometimes) collaborative design. Part of the strategy is ensuring each institution in the partnership understands the intention for the relationship, which may be based on a variety of factors such as economic imperatives, provision of access to additional services and/or products, as a means to strengthen an institution’s visibility and competitive edge, or as part of a broader internationalisation of the curriculum mission.
Compatibility to Establish a Mutually Beneficial Partnership
It’s not easy to select, establish and perhaps most especially maintain an efficacious partnership – one with the best strategic fit. It requires careful planning and comes with multiple reputational and financial risks. There may be contrary cultural customs, political contexts, institutional policies, management structures, educational standards, availability and use of technology and so forth to consider. It requires thorough assessment of the aforementioned factors along with acquisition of knowledge of institutional past performance, and current competitive positioning and capability, to determine that there is adequate requisite compatibility to establish a mutually beneficial partnership.
Cultivating collaborative, co-constructed partnerships through formal and informal receptive communications goes a long way to ensuring the sustainability of the relationship. High quality interactions with peers from each location, are vital to the building of enhanced capacity for both staff and students. They provide a chance for all participants to create connections with and compare an education context different to their own, and to examine and come to understand how others experience it. For teaching-learning partnership agreements their success and growth are particularly reliant on the development of strong social networks between the two sets of staff and students. Social connectedness of staff and students is an important aspect of appreciating how individuals function within the partnership and without it the academic aspects of engagement suffer.
Regular communication is a key element in this because the partnership will continue to evolve as it matures. Discussions, meetings and focused conversations help to develop understandings about the motivations of all players in the partnership and how each can best support the learning journey of both staff and students. Consistent communication also provides an opportunity for individuals to share concerns and ideas and learn how the other works and how they might approach their practices differently based on ‘new’ knowledge.
Although there will inevitably be times when an imbalance of influence is evidenced, reliable, respectful and amenable communication, goes a long way to mitigating the privileging of one set of practices, or the authority of one institution over the other. The key messages must be around shared obligation, a valuing of differences and a willingness to openly work together to find solutions to issues that arise to foster a mutually beneficial relationship. The partnership has to be one where all individuals feel a sense of belonging and are supported within a ‘community of practice’. After all, both sets of staff and students bring strengths to the relationship and maintaining a constructive association is a joint responsibility. Problems encountered become mutual problems and successes are mutual successes to be shared.
While it may seem obvious that to build a strong and lasting partnership, it takes time, resources and reciprocal commitment, that mutual commitment can be the most difficult aspect to successfully navigate. Creating a positive relationship from the very beginning and continuously working at it is imperative. The strength of the relationship is predicated on co-construction of the partnership experience, recognition of and respect for dissimilarities in how things are done without compromising quality and on building the social relationships between the two parties. Lack of investment in developing the social relationship can significantly compromise realisation of the partnership.
Lucubrate Magazine, May 2021
The picture on top of the article: Adobe Stock