Institutional partnerships: Developing shared interests with enabling structures

This week, I attended Asia Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) annual conference in Bangkok. I co-presented on the topic of “Developing and Sustaining Institutional Partnerships.”

I suggested that building sustainable partnerships requires very strong goal alignment between two partners. For example, in a joint/double-degree collaboration, if one partner’s goal is reputation building (which comes from high selectivity of students; restricting expansion) while another partner’s goal is revenue enhancement (which comes from lower selectivity; increasing expansion) then the partnership is clearly set for a disaster.

This also extends into identifying a match between right segments of the partners.  For example, if you are Harvard and seeking a partner in Malaysia then you need to identify Harvard of Malaysia; not University of Phoenix of Malaysia, as it would be a huge mismatch of not only goals but also approaches to achieve those goals.

In other words, partners should be able to develop a coherent set of shared interests or goals. From game theory (prisoner’s dilemma), we know that creating win-win situation requires an interaction where shared interest override individual interests.

Yiyun Jie (2010) in International partnerships: A game theory perspective, states that “The key issue to address for a collaboration game is the cooperation between partners to work towards shared interests over their self-interests. Such cooperation requires a great amount of trust.”

But how do you build trust among partners?

Jie notes “The lack of a formal and sustainable organizational structure of the collaborative program is one of the emerging issues challenging mutual trust building.”

Quite often, international partners are at different developmental stages and hence have huge divergence in professional practices which become even more complex with cultural nuances. For example, higher education systems in most developing Asian countries do not have formal structures and practices to systematically enable partnerships. At the same time, they are in growth mode where reputation is seen as function of size (enrollments) not necessarily quality. This poses significant challenge for many quality-conscious institutions from developed systems of higher education in terms of finding partners and successfully taking them to next level.

To sum up, shared interests and trust are critical to build sustainable partnerships, however, they do not develop in vacuum; they need an enabling structure to thrive.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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