8 Stages for Developing Institutional International Partnerships

IIE’s Center for International Partnerships in Higher Education has been working diligently in the partnerships arena for some time now. Through our flagship program, the International Academic Partnership Program (IAPP), which assists U.S. colleges and universities develop a strategy for partnering with counterparts in other countries, and other CIP program, such as the ECA-funded U.S.—Indonesia Partnership Program and the IIE Global Partnerships Service, CIP staff have acquired a depth of knowledge regarding partnership development.

We have identified the following eight stages for developing institutional international partnerships as key components of any successful partnership. For those new to the world of international partnerships, we hope this may prove to be a useful primer. For more experienced practitioners, let us know what you’re seeing on your campus and if these stages are in line with your strategy!

Stage 1: Assessment

Main elements: Gathering the necessary existing data to make an informed decision.

Key questions:

  • What are the current collaborative activities taking place on campus? Who? And with which countries?
  • What are our international student and study abroad goals?
  • Where do we currently have international partnerships? Are they active? If so, what has made them successful?
  • What are my institution’s strengths and areas of growth?

Stage 2: Developing a Strategy 

Main Elements: Identifying priority regions, disciplines, and home institutional interest.

Key questions:

  • What partnership activities are feasible for my institution? Who on campus is willing/able/needed to participate?
  • What are my top partnership goals? How would a partnership benefit our school?
  • What could my institution offer a partner?
  • What is my institution’s timeframe for initiating a partnership?

Stage 3: Identifying Potential Partners 

Main Elements: Planning a fact-finding trip, doing research, identifying faculty ties.

Key Questions:

  • What are my top criteria for a partner?
  • What type of financial commitment would this entail?
  • Does the potential partner have similar or complementary areas of strength?
  • Who from my institution should go? Who will be available at the potential partner institution?

Stage 4: Holding Face to Face Meetings

Main Elements: Gain an understanding of institutional priorities, challenges, and opportunities.

Key Questions:

  • Does the institution “fit” with yours (i.e. similar mission, infrastructure, academic calendar)? And if not, are both parties willing to work on a solution?
  • Are you able to meet  with a variety of people (i.e. administrators, faculty, students, alumni, international students on campus)? What is you general impression of the institution?
  • If possible, can the potential partner visit your school?

Stage 5: Signing an Initial MOU Or MOA

Main Elements: Articulating concrete activities, identifying who is involved, and determining desired outcomes.

Key Questions:

  • What are our potential synergies?
  • What is our timeframe?
  • How will the activities be funded? How will payments be executed?
  • What legal aspects do we need to communicate to our potential partner, and what might they need to adhere to their own legal code?

Stage 6: Engaging in Initial Collaboration

Main Elements: Executing the activities mentioned in MOU/MOA.

Key Questions:

  • How often will participants communicate? And through what medium?
  • What is each institution responsible for producing/providing?
  • Are all parties abiding by the terms laid out in the agreement?

Stage 7: Periodic Assessment

Main Elements: Ensuring that both parties continue to benefit from the partnership and improving/modifying where necessary. Where too difficult or unsatisfactory, the partnership may have to be terminated.

Key Questions:

  • How do we evaluate success?
  • What was the cost versus the benefit of initial partnership activities?
  • Do both parties have the continued support of major stakeholders? (i.e. faculty, senior leadership, students, trustees.)

Stage 8: Partnership Expansion

Main Elements: Growing partnership activities to include more disciplines, people, and activities.

Key Questions:

  • Who else would like to/is able to be involved in partnership activities?
  • How can we expand upon the current activities? (ex. Faculty-led study abroad program leads to joint faculty research; joint symposium leads to faculty exchange.)
  • How will we sustain funding?