Collaborations & Partnerships Abroad Subcommittee Report

Successful collaborations and partnerships are the foundation of institutional outreach, the basis for extending the scope and impact of the university's research and teaching missions. Such relationships can provide international and intercultural experiences for students and faculty, enhance the curriculum, generate revenue, and raise the visibility of institutions at home and around the world. 

Charges & Key Questions 

Charge 1: Review and assess international collaborations and partnerships at KU 

  • What is the profile of current partnerships with institutions and organizations abroad? 

  • Are departments and faculty aware of the resources to assist them in establishing partnerships? 

  • What has been KU’s strategy for developing strategic international partnerships?  What are the strengths/weaknesses of this approach?    

  • How are partnerships funded, and how do funding models contribute to the sustainability of partnerships? 

Charge 2: Assess the meaning of “strategic partnerships” at KU 

  • How are “strategic partnerships” understood and integrated into institutional activity? 

  • To what extent are partnerships aligned with institutional priorities? 

  • Do faculty and departments see partnerships as a strategy for achieving their teaching and research goals? 

  • What are examples of current strategic partnerships?  

Charge 3: Benchmark KU’s infrastructure for international agreements 

  • What is the process by which KU adds new partners and removes ineffective partners?  

  • How can this infrastructure be improved or strengthened? 

  • Are departments and faculty aware of the resources on campus to assist them in establishing partnerships? 

Subcommittee Membership  

Alice Bean, Distinguished Professor, Physics & Astronomy 

Melissa Birch, Director of Global Business Studies and Associate Professor, School of Business 

Tamara Falicov, Associate Dean for Research in the Arts & Humanities, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences 

Jie Han, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering 

Scott McBride Smith, Professor of Piano Pedagogy, School of Music 

Joe Potts, Assistant Vice Provost, KUIA (Co-Chair) 

Rachel Sherman Johnson, Director of Internationalization & Partnerships, KUIA 

Belinda Sturm, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor of Civil Engineering (Co-Chair) 

Findings/Observations to Date 

Charge 1: Review and assess international collaborations and partnerships at KU 

Six primary types of collaborative activity were identified. The committee interviewed faculty representatives from each of these six collaboration types (see Appendix for individual summaries). From these interviews and the institutional survey, the following general observations were made. 

Major Types of International Collaborations and Partnerships 

  1. International research collaborations 
  2. In-bound, non-reciprocal mobility (international students enrolling at KU) 
  3. International Teaching Collaborations 
  4. Degree Program Articulations 
  5. Outbound Student Mobility 
  6. Non-degree short program 
  • KU can boast a wide variety of strong international collaborations, but this activity is often driven by the passion of individuals for this work rather than by institutional or school-level strategic priorities. 

  • KU lacks organizational structures within departments/schools to assist faculty with the coordination and management of international endeavors.  

  • Institutional resources, guidance, and assistance relative to international collaborative activity (e.g., large-scale grants) needs to be strengthened. Specifically, faculty often must work across many administrative units to conduct activities, and there is no coordination across units. This places a tremendous burden on individual faculty and departments. 

  • Schools, departments, and faculty are not recognized or incentivized to pursue international collaborations.  

  • Faculty and researchers are confused, discouraged, and dis-incentivized by export control restrictions and international security-related regulations and procedures, and by the related complexities of administering international grants and travel. Our committee could not find readily available training for faculty in these areas. 

  • Many faculty are unaware of KU’s infrastructure, policies, and requirements for supporting partnership development and/or international short program development. 

  • Funding at KU designated for international travel in support of international partnerships and the development of collaborative international projects is insufficient. 

Charge 2: Assess the meaning and place of “strategic partnerships” at KU 

The following key findings were compiled from our discussions with General Counsel, International Programs, our interviews, and the institutional survey. 

  • Excepting the University’s diminishing engagement with Shorelight, the concept of “strategic partnership” has not been a prominent or routine consideration at the institutional level. KU has not sought to define the concept or integrate it into the University’s broad strategic thinking. International enrollments and activities are encouraged in a somewhat inconsistent, ad hoc manner, but an emphasis on strategic international partnerships and collaborations has not been institutionalized. 

  • Outside of areas that are defined by their international character (e.g., the Division of International Affairs, foreign language departments, the area studies centers), international engagement at KU is not prominent in the strategic mission and is not incentivized. As a result, such activities often depend upon the passion and initiative of individuals who believe in its importance. For example, faculty are not incentivized in promotion or annual review processes to develop partnerships abroad or to develop a faculty-led study abroad program because such activities are not rewarded in the promotion process.  

  • Because international engagement is not seen as a key aspect of strategic planning, academic areas do not routinely monitor, reward, or provide targeted support for faculty and staff who pursue international initiatives. International engagement is not a component in the evaluation of deans by the Provost or of chairs and faculty by deans.  

  • KU has several international collaborations that are strong candidates for consideration as “strategic”, but they have not been formally designated as such to date. In our preliminary recommendations section, we propose a definition for “strategic partnership” and how such a designation can be used to encourage and recognize such activities.  

Charge 3: Benchmark KU’s infrastructure for international agreements 

In January 2021, Provost Bichelmeyer asked KU International Affairs (KUIA) to review the procedures used to accept, process, and finalize requests from faculty members and campus units for international collaboration agreements. The purpose of the review was to benchmark best practices from peer institutions and consider how KU’s processes might be streamlined and improved for efficiency, clarity, and functionality. 

  • An intake form is needed to allow KUIA to capture essential information about a proposed relationship. This will enable maintenance of records about KU’s official partnerships, including their provenance, in a space outside the email files of the Director of Partnerships. 

  • Security and export controls concerns should be included in the process, but there needs to be transparency and training for how to pursue collaborations in compliance with all policies. Currently, our committee observed that there is fear and uncertainty surrounding international security and foreign influence concerns, to the point that some academic units and faculty feel discouraged to pursue international partnerships.  

  • Dean’s office personnel should be included early in the process of establishing partnerships to ensure school/college leadership is aware of new relationships and can support units and faculty members accordingly. 

  • An “Agreement Champion” should be designated to ensure that each international partnership has a central point of contact at KU who is invested in the success of the particular relationship, and who has experience with the type of collaboration. 

  • A formal renewal process is needed to ensure continuity of services and programming for both KU and our international partners. 

Data or Information Needed 

Additional Fall 2021 data needed as the Steering Committee determines Lab recommendations 

  • Survey of PI’s satisfaction with institutional mechanisms grant support. 

  • Review and analysis of GOS interactions with faculty and researchers in regard to orientation, training, operational guidance, and web resources. A survey of stakeholders is needed, as is benchmarking of best practices with leaders in this area (Purdue and Indiana are suggested). 

  • Review and analysis of policy development, promulgation, and enforcement relative to international collaborations. 

Opportunities and Challenges Revealed  

Key opportunities identified 

  • Context. KU has a unique and rich institutional character relative to internationalization that has been many decades in the making. Very significant investments over the years have made this unique character into being. It ranks highly among public institutions with respect to the number of languages it teaches, its number of area studies centers and their longevity at KU, and its deep experience with student mobility. This context is rich with potential for new and highly impactful collaborations and partnerships abroad, if that potential can be actualized.  

  • Workable solutions. The subcommittee sees great opportunity for KU to more fully unlock the potential of international collaborations and realize the benefits of our investment over the years through relatively low-cost solutions. At each level of the institution, there is opportunity to routinize conversations, build awareness of resources and programs, and incentivize involvement through recognition and assistance if leadership at each level desires to do so. The University needs to recognize and leverage the unique assets it possesses. The investments required to do so at this point are not large, but leadership and intention are essential.   

Key challenges identified 

  • Funding. To avail ourselves of the opportunities and leverage our strong position in this area to attain greater prominence, some additional financial support will be required.  Seed funding for the development of new programs, the strengthening of existing ones, and broader participation (especially from students, staff and untenured faculty) in international endeavors is especially needed.  

  • Infrastructure. Individuals need to be designated and mechanisms created at the institution, school, and departmental level to encourage, assist, recognize and support international collaborations.  

  • Compliance & communication. Faculty and researchers repeatedly express frustration and exasperation relative to compliance with export controls and security measures. Yet they recognize that the work of GOS is essential. The challenge is to bridge that gap with good communication in all forms and improve training and other resources.

Preliminary Recommendations and Key Action Steps 

Charge 1: Review and assess international collaborations and partnerships at KU 

  • Strengthen KU’s accounting and compliance infrastructure in support of PI’s and departments that engage in international research collaborations 

  • Orient support staff in the Office of Research and Award Management Services (previously the SSCs) toward positive support of large international projects, with leadership from deans and central administration to develop a facilitative attitude toward international research support. 

  • Develop policy that provides appropriate titles and incentives for faculty willing to make the investment of time and energy required to create and maintain meaningful international partnerships 

  • Establish school-level teams to annually identify and pursue funding and international program opportunities  

  • Establish support in the form of school and/or department level designees to collect information on international activities, recognize successes, help locate institutional resources when needed, serve as liaisons to KUIA, and offer suggestions and assistance. 

  • Thoroughly review, assess, coordinate, clarify and streamline all University websites, training resources and orientations related to export control and international security compliance, benchmarking this system of information against peer leaders in this area.  

Charge 2: Assess the meaning and place of “strategic partnerships” at KU 

Steps are available to the University that would not require large amounts of new funding, yet could greatly change the University’s identity vis-a-vis international engagement. These steps could stimulate the university to more broadly and intentionally benefit from international opportunities and establish international collaboration as a routinized element in institutional conversations, activities and planning. 

  • Define the concept. “Strategic international partnerships” could potentially be defined as formal, level-specific international collaborations that help a department, a school, or the institution achieve critical goals in a specified area, such as teaching and learning, research, internationalization, or enrollment growth. 

  • Implement the concept. Specify the “critical goals” at each level -- institution, school, and department 

    • Strategic planning should identify critical goals for the institution 

    • The Provost should establish one or more critical international goals for deans 

    • Deans should establish one or more critical international goals for chairs 

  • Formally recognize and encourage “strategic partnerships” at each level. Existing activities at all three levels could be seen as strong initial candidates for such recognition and examples for other nominations for this designation: 

    • Institutional level:  KU’s long-standing partnership with the University of Costa Rica. Long-standing, multi-disciplinary relationship comprising student and faculty exchanges and numerous research collaborations.

    • School level:  SOEHS’s developing collaboration with Zhejiang Normal Univ. will deliver five degrees (4 graduate, 1 undergraduate) in several majors in China using a joint institute model if implemented.

    • Department level: Physics’ collaboration with CERN. Large-scale, multimillion dollar, multi-institutional international collaboration involving KU faculty, research scientists, visiting scholars, and GR/UG students. 
  • Incentivize strategic engagement. The steps outlined above will in themselves have the effect of encouraging the pursuit of strategic partnerships. In the context of the steps above, however, a university-wide representative working group should be convened to produce a shortlist of ideas for creating or strengthening concrete incentives to present to leadership for consideration. 

Charge 3: Benchmark KU’s infrastructure for international agreements A process map is in development after a review of the international partnerships websites of several peer and aspirational institutions and includes suggestions from colleagues in the field of international higher education. Interviews with KU staff and faculty conducted by the ACE Internationalization Lab Sub-committee on Collaborations and Partnerships Abroad, as well as input from sub-committee members themselves, also informed the suggestions outlined therein.   

The proposed changes formalize KU’s procedures with respect to requesting an institution-level agreement in several key areas: 

  • Use of an intake form to establish records in a space outside the email files of the Director of Partnerships. 

  • Security concerns are included but not foregrounded in the process. 

  • Dean’s office personnel are included early in the process.  

  • An “Agreement Champion” is designated to serve as an invested, central point of contact.  

  • A formal renewal process is established. 

 Suggestions for policies that would support the new procedures will be outlined in a process map that will be published soon. 

Questions, Thoughts and Considerations for other Lab Subcommittees 

  • Is there potential in beginning to see the area studies centers as “strategic partnerships” that are internal to KU and encourage the centers to seek ways of using their expertise and other resources to stimulate development of new external partnerships and collaborations?  

  • Can the set of institutions that comprise KU’s/SAGE’s mobility partnerships be designated as a “strategic partnership network” or a set of a particular type of “strategic partnerships”? As such, they would then be recognized as belonging to the special group of partnerships, and supported as such.