Success of overseas partnerships relies on ‘academic champions’

Internationalisation expert says universities should only proceed with new collaborations if there is backing from scholars 

March 19, 2018
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International university partnerships will fail unless they are led by “academic champions”, an internationalisation expert has claimed.

Christopher Cripps, director of international affairs at Paris Sciences et Lettres – PSL Research University Paris, said that while “there is nothing better than a great relationship between the presidents of partners” – “the better their relationship is, the more they will be willing to promote the institutionalisation of the partnership as it moves forward at the highest level of the university” – if there is not a “faculty champion”, the collaboration “won’t work”.

Speaking at the Times Higher Education MENA Universities Summit in Jeddah, he said: “We are approached by universities on a weekly basis that would love to be partners. And some of them are top-ranked in their country. But when we go back to the academics and say, ‘will you support this?’…if the answer is not very positive we don’t start the pathway to partnership.”

During a panel discussion on how to forge successful international collaborations, he added that his institution assigns “academic champions” to its partnerships, which usually include one scholar from social sciences and humanities and one from science, so administrators are not guiding collaborations.

Commenting during the same panel discussion, Michael Arthur, president and provost of UCL, agreed that partnerships must be “bottom-up” but said that UCL tends to think about “four tiers” of international relationships, beginning with the most straightforward academic-to-academic collaborations and moving to highly successful institution-wide partnerships that include collaboration on about 10-12 different activities.

“You can’t start at the top, you have to move up the scale over time,” he said.

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