University partnerships + new research uncovering challenges

There is a relatively new initiative by USAID that has the same name as this blog. Well, almost the same name. Higher Education for Development (HED) is a joint initiative of USAID and the US Department of State to manage “innovative partnerships that join U.S. colleges and universities with institutions of higher learning in developing nations. In this way, [HED] support and facilitate the engagement of U.S. higher education in global development.”

The HED model:

This graphic is taken directly from the HED website. Poke around the site for examples of specific partnerships. In 2011, HED funded 58 U.S. institutions from 31 states to collaborate with 81 overseas universities, and projects included the “usual suspects” of international development:  agriculture, environment, business development, etc.

I adore the idea of this initiative. (Of course I do or I wouldn’t have this blog.) As a current PhD student, I am overwhelmed at the resources available at my American university and daily wonder how they could best be shared; I also constantly fret that my own work may not be relevant to those outside the university. Increasing the flow of knowledge – in both directions – between those who research international development and those who could benefit from the research has great potential.

Yet I must keep my enthusiasm in check. I read some research this week that raises concerns about cross-border higher education partnerships for development.

Elisabeth Anne Wilson, a student who came before me at the University of Minnesota, researched 37 partnerships held by Makerere University in Uganda. In her dissertation, she found that cross-border partnerships held four significant factors: certain “faculty are motivated by individual benefits; internal challenges at the university that hinder partnership development and impact; informal faculty mentorship that happens during partnerships; and reinforcement of dependence on external funding.” In sum, cross-borders collaborations face serious challenges to execute partnerships in the ways intended, although there are positive outcomes in terms of faculty mentorship within the same institutions (my apologies to Dr. Wilson for the coarse summary of her good work).

It is also significant to note that Dr. Wilson set out to examine both externally and internally funded partnerships, yet she found only externally funded ones. “In this study…the faculty members who were interviewed provided no examples of successful, internally funded partnerships. Implications that the university participates in only externally funded partnerships may indicate that the partnership strategy does not hold promise for future sustainability.”

Hmph, my enthusiasm has deflated a bit. Perhaps it is unfair of me to extrapolate Dr. Wilson’s research to all cross-border partnerships for development, especially as HED is funding links between the US and many parts of the world. Each institutional partnership must have its own strengths and weaknesses. Clearly, there is still much to consider in university partnerships for international development and improving existing partnerships. With that motivation, I turn back to my books.

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One Response to University partnerships + new research uncovering challenges

  1. This week USAID released their “Fall Semester” program, which encourages university students to be involved with USAID activities. More here: http://www.usaid.gov/fallsemester.

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