• August 10th, 2020

Higher education partnerships at risk

In the execution of their duties and mandates, higher education institutions forge different kinds of partnerships with other institutions in their countries and internationally or externally.

 Partnerships can be in the form of student and staff mobility; such partnerships are often referred to as exchanges of students and staff between universities or higher education institutions.  Students from universities in Africa are often hosted by universities in Europe, for instance, where they spend periods ranging from a semester to a year taking courses offered by host institutions.

 Students from European universities also take courses from African universities for the same period or for different periods depending on the dictates of their home institutions. Likewise, there are similar staff exchanges ranging from teaching and research assignments between European and African countries.
 These partnerships are not only limited to higher education institutions in Africa and Europe. There are many students from the United States of America who are in Africa, Asia and Europe. Also higher education students from Africa, Europe and United States of America send their students to China and Asia. Chinese and Asian higher education institutions also send their students and staff to American, European and African higher education institutions.  Academics from Africa spend some teaching stints in European and American higher education institutions. 

The whole business of partnerships or collaborations of higher education has become so multidimensional since the time of Erasmus and his itinerary scholars that it has poised some challenges or risks which should be addressed by participating higher education institutions in order to smoothly execute the practice.

 Last week delegates to the Global Academy of Liberal Arts sixth conference deliberated on some of the risks threatening global partnerships or collaborations in higher education institutions. The conference, which was attended by only three universities from Africa, was held at Claremont Graduate University in California, United States of America.

Lack of funding was identified as a major obstacle to the extensions or continuance of partnerships among higher education institutions. Fellowships, grants and scholarships that used to fund higher education partnerships are becoming less and less annually. This has left some higher education institutions in a quagmire; they have since stopped their outbound and inbound mobility, programmes leaving students and staff stranded. It was noted that although most of the affected programmes related to staff and students from higher education institutions in developing countries, the funding problem also affects institutions from all over the world. 

There is need to continuously engage present and former funders of these programmes, and also to look elsewhere in a bid to open more chances of funding. Institutions were encouraged to share the limited resources that are still available. For instance, in an outbound programme that used to cater for ten students, it would make sense to cut the number to four or five. 
Reduction of numbers of students and staff has worked well for some universities who gave testimonies of their successes at the conference. Engaging industry more vigorously is likely to ameliorate the financial problem.

Another conundrum which was discussed was the conversion of credits earned from courses students take from host higher education institutions. With a whole range of different credit systems in institutions across the world, some students suffer when their home institutions fail or categorically refuse to give them credits they earned from institutions from abroad. This is compounded by some academic staff members who do not see the value of internationalisation of education.

 A solution to this challenge is to harmonise education systems of partner institution in such a way that makes credit transfer an easy process. Surely students should have courses studied abroad reflecting credits on the degree transcripts as this enhances their employability internationally. University management was tasked with the role of conscientizing all academics on the benefits of partnerships or internationalisation of education for both students and the institution. The emphasis must be placed on the fact that partnerships assist in producing global citizens in students. Partnerships with other institutions result in the internationalisation of curricula which goes a long way in shaping the future of students. It was considered unethical and unfair to keep students longer at their institutions because institutions are failing to credit exchange students for the courses they took abroad.

The issue of values also came under introspection. Higher education institutions must share the same values for partnerships to thrive. It was emphasised that sharing the same values does not mean that some institutions should impose their values on others. While the independence of institutions is of paramount importance, partnering institutions should strike some common understanding in the whole process. Without shared values and understanding, it would be difficult for institutions to collaborate and cooperate. This is why there is need to sign memorandums of understanding (MoUs) before partnerships begin. MoUs are scrutinised by the legal departments of partnering institutions before collaborations commence. While the legal process is vital, it has often been criticised for delaying the internationalisation of education; yet institutions cannot do without it.

Despite the above and other challenges, the GALA delegates upheld the many benefits of higher education partnerships as espoused by the International Association of Universities (IAU).

*Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. E-mail address: kjairos@gmail.com

Staff Reporter
2019-09-20 08:15:58 | 10 months ago

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