100 Years of IIE: From Student Mobility to Strategic Engagement

When IIE was founded nearly 100 years ago, one of the first actions founding Director Stephen Duggan took in establishing the new organization was to survey 250 colleges and universities in the United States to determine their capacity and interest in exchanging students and professors with foreign countries. With results of this survey in hand, Duggan visited Great Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, and Yugoslavia in the summer of 1919. He personally delivered hand written letters of introduction to authorities and university officials, prominent journalists, and distinguished scholars across Europe, paving the way for educational partnerships and exchanges between universities in the United States and Europe.

Nearly a century later, we are in the midst of a dynamic time for international academic partnerships; we are seeing exponential growth and broadened scope. The landscape of exchanges today is hardly recognizable. New forms of strategic collaboration are developed each year, involving many new components and reaching places that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago. While transatlantic partnerships continue to be strong, IIE has developed an international partnership training program for universities in Myanmar, and we have begun paving the way for partnership activities for universities who wish to establish academic ties with Cuba and Iran.

It is not only the geography that is changing. Today, IIE and its Center for International Partnerships in Higher Education are developing and executing cutting edge partnership development programs, providing consulting services, publishing research on partnership policy and good practices, and delivering training on partnership mechanisms to educators and administrators all over the world. The Center has worked with over 200 higher education institutions through our International Academic Partnership Program (IAPP), which assists American colleges and universities in developing a strategy to increase partnerships in countries such as Brazil, China, India, Myanmar, Vietnam and Norway, with a strong focus on strategic collaboration, research partnerships, and faculty engagement that go far beyond exchanging students.

Modern Motives for Collaboration

Colleges and universities around the world have been partnering with each other – intentionally or not – for decades and, in some cases, centuries. What is different today is the increasing pressure to invest in mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships. Institutions are looking to do it right and well. Long gone are the days of fruitless, inactive agreements and superficial handshakes. Today’s partners focus on strategy, intentionality, and results; often needing expert guidance in navigating this new playing field.

While many of international education’s core opportunities and challenges are similar, much has changed in the landscape of international partnerships from the time IIE was founded. IIE’s 1920 Annual Report cites the initial survey the Director sent to more than 250 American colleges and universities about their international activities, specifically student and faculty mobility. The report notes:

“During the past two years, more than 100 French girls were received into our institutions upon fellowships which included, in most cases, tuition, board and lodging. In grateful acknowledgment of that courtesy, the French government has reciprocated by receiving 20 American girls in French lycées and four in higher institutions. But the number of fellowships upon which foreign students may study here are very small compared to the demand for them. The War has aroused a great interest in the United States in every country of Europe, and large numbers of students are anxious to come here to study, but have not the funds.”

The interest in increased student and faculty mobility continues to be the driving force behind initiating higher education partnerships. However, from the time of IIE’s first mention of the exchange of French and American girls, the ways in which institutions cooperate and offer a range of exchange opportunities has grown immensely, sparking the interest of university presidents, professors, and administrators from all corners of the world.

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