Universities Recognize the Benefits of Strategic Partnerships

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Higher education is currently positioned at the crossroads of an unprecedented time of mass global change. The future and success of each institution will depend on the course taken now by university leaders.

Fierce Education recently hosted an online event focused Higher Education Business & Leadership: Summer Edition. One of its sessions, “If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them: Partnering Perspectives” focused on highly insightful considerations and reasons on why institutions should consider partnerships. The presentation highlighted opportunities on how strategic collaborations not only result beneficial to institutions but also to students, emphasizing aspects which support equity and student centricity. This session, as well as the other sessions from the event, are available for viewing on-demand here.

Dr. Vistasp M. Karbhari, Former President, current Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and the Department of Civil Engineering at University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) discussed how some universities are building a more equitable curriculum by partnering and sharing resources with other educational institutions or non-profits, as well as partnering with industry in order to reach the needs of their diverse students.

According to Dr. Karbhari, despite the world has been transformed over the past 30 years bringing radical change in telecommunications, e-Business, sensor technology, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Big Data to name just a few, higher education has remained relatively constant. There have been some changes in delivery but essentially none in modality, scope and extent of learning, or in leveraging of resources.

Change and student-centric education

Colleges and universities cannot deny the benefits of smart technologies any longer. Digital transformation has been at the center of every industry for decades. However, the education sector has neglected the imperative need to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies toward a more digitized education in line with industry requirements for hiring talent for the new tech jobs.

Today, it is paramount for higher education leaders to accelerate the rate of new technology adoption. This will benefit graduate students, who will be more prepared for the digital careers which require them to navigate digital and virtual environments. Now is the time when students take the center stage. After all, focusing on student centricity brings many benefits to students. And this is, of course, the ultimate goal of any institution.

It makes sense for higher education to use the same technologies and virtual environment formats that current and future students will be using in their work. It is no secret that remote work is now and will continue to be the new way of working. The classroom today needs to mirror the virtual-office environment in which today's students will work in the future. For this, there is a need for a greater change in institutions toward partnerships.

Why universities should partner

According to Dr. Karbhari, there are a variety of reasons to why universities should embrace partnerships, including:

  • Share ideas of expertise
  • Reduce duplication in non core areas
  • Use surplus capacity
  • Lower overall costs and overhead
  • Leverage investments and increase ROI
  • Increase focus on students

The benefits to institutions as well as to students must not be ignored

Teaching Institutions: They can use full capacity in courses in addition to offering more courses for in-house students. Institutions can also leverage and encourage faculty interest and expertise, generate new revenue, and increase diversity in course attendees.

Home Institutions: They can benefit from increased course offerings for students without overhear or infrastructure cost. They can see a decrease in student progress concerns and capture revenues that would, otherwise, have been lost through transfer, including performance-based funding. They can also benefit from enhanced focus on student support and success in addition to increasing student link to campus.

Students: When their university partner with others, they benefit from decreased concerns related to course availability for on-time progression:

  • Caps on enrollment
  • Timing of pre-requisites
  • Transfer based schedules
  • Catch-up due to performance and life

Students also benefit from increased choice of specializations and electives. Issues with transfer and credit towards degree are eliminated and they also experience continuity of coverage of full financial aid.

Other benefits include help with affordability because of greater choice of courses close to home or work and increase in diversity and cross-cultural engagement.

Partnerships: Thinking on aspects supporting equity

During his presentation, Dr. Karbhari mentioned how strategic partnerships result in aspects that support equity, including:

  • Increased availability of courses
  • Enhanced flexibility in schedules enabling greater focus on a balance between academic and other responsibilities
  • Access to faculty on affordability through a decreased emphasis on movement from home
  • Decreased issues with transfer (responsibility in on the partnering institutions rather than on the student)
  • Guarantee of continuity and availability of financial aid

Collaborating opens doors to new opportunities

  • Institutions could develop areas of excellence based on regional need, or faculty strength without diluting it to cover all aspects of the curriculum
  • On-campus offerings and flexibility substantially increased through online options
  • Faculty expertise could be shared across institutions
  • Reduced arms race for faculty in every area and specialty
  • Increased focus on student support and success: Including course availability and decreased barriers to completion, ease of transfer, continuity and ability to receive full financial aid, and individualization of a degree plan

For more articles from the Business & Leadership event, see: Institutions Changing Priorities, Preparing for More Digital Careers