Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Presented at Polytechnic Summit 2021


Internationalisation is a significant activity of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) worldwide and is typically embedded within the aims, ambitions, vision, and strategy of the institution. It incorporates the policies and procedures required to facilitate participation within a global academic environment, and is often considered to be a transformative process that impacts practices in teaching and learning, research, and administration. With formal protocols to establish partnerships, such as memoranda of understanding and articulation agreements, the business of formally creating international partnerships is well defined. However, the motivations, corresponding metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) of successful partnerships are not as well defined. At the institute level, there are often KPIs to measure student mobility, revenue generation, and funding. But internationalisation strategies also often include social, political and academic output and can be an important source of inspiration for wider innovation and entrepreneurial activity. In Ireland, for example, objective 2 of the 2018-2020 Higher Education System Performance Framework includes the strategic goals of increasing international student numbers, increasing the foreign language provision for Irish students, and increasing the number of academic publications with international peers.

The issue facing HEIs is not that international partnerships cannot be created, it is that many such partnerships do not evolve, often fail to develop into meaningful long-term relationships, and do not adequately contribute to the underlying strategic goals of participating partners. These failures are attributed to the fact that, while support exists at a higher institute level, there is often a lack of buy-in and support at the faculty level, including language barriers, a lack of ongoing post-agreement communication, and cultural issues creating inertia in the relationship. While English is seen as the global language of science, it often puts at least one of the partners at a disadvantage if they are not natively proficient. Even when this barrier can be overcome, cultural differences can also contribute to unsustainable relationships. While faculties, and individuals within them, are ultimately the engines that drive the KPI activities of university strategic goals, research has shown that it is frequently through the building of friendships and the discovery of common interests between staff that is the key to developing sustainable partnerships. Brockington calls for a clear vision which is embraced by all stakeholders including faculty, administration and senior institution management, and that appropriate financial and international support models must be put in place to help nurture productive international partnerships.

HEIs typically create significant numbers of partnerships with other international institutions. However, many of these simply fail to become active for the reasons already outlined. The hope would seem that simply increasing the quantity of partnerships will ultimately result in the desired level of activity. However, in this paper, we argue that a more nuanced understanding of the ecosystem is required to foster successful partnerships and to increase the productivity rate of these relationships. While there may not be a single model that addresses all issues given their dynamic nature and number of stakeholders required to make a partnership successful, a set of best practices and guidelines can be extracted based on examples of key partnerships that have been successful.

In this paper we describe a successful and ongoing partnership between TU Dublin School of Computer Science and the Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT) College of Information Science and Technology. The model presented in this paper, Partner Co-hosted Model (PCM), evolved over many years and is based on a mutual desire to build meaningful and sustainable joint academic activity between the two institutions. This model has continued to evolve to sustain an ongoing cooperation and meaningful partnership and has demonstrated both its resilience and utility during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the following section, we review the context and background to the development of this model. In section three, we introduce the model and describe in detail its core features. Section four offers a summary of our conclusions and considers the possibility for further development of models of international partnerships as well as possible future research opportunities.

This paper draws on the experiences and reflections of the programme team, including TU Dublin and BUCT staff members. As this programme has undergone a real time process of change and development, the lead authors have been able to reflect on (a) the changing nature of the programme, (b) the value of the programme to individual and institutional stakeholders, (c) the strengths and limitations of the model as it has involved and (d) and the experiences of dealing with the day-today challenges of international working. What is core to this discussion, is a recognition that running international programmes and partnership is only possible through clear, direct and ongoing dialogue (as this paper will address) but also a recognition that processes and experiences are inherently nonlinear and at times, as all authors here attest, challenging and ‘messy’. All authors recognise that the development of this programme has required the involvement of a range of colleagues, both at TU Dublin and BUCT, from departments including finance, teaching excellence, marketing, international and technology learning specialists.