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We've provided this page as a guide to forging and maintaining US-UK university partnerships and hope you find this useful as you explore and develop these opportunities.
In the 2012-2013 academic year, over 280,000 US students studied abroad for academic credit (a record high) with STEM, Social Sciences, and Business fields being the most popular fields of study . With most bachelor’s degrees at US institutions taking 4 years, US students study abroad during any point in their college career although most do so in their third year. 2012-2013 alone saw more than 36,000 students take advantage of studying in the UK, the number one destination choice of all US study abroad students.
UK students normally complete their undergraduate degree in three years (please note in Scotland, a degree is generally four years), thus UK students with a desire to study abroad do so by planning well in advance. Nonetheless, in the 2013-2014 academic year, more than 22,000 UK student took advantage of study abroad programmes with Social Sciences and Business fields being the most popular fields of study. Of these 22,000, more than 2,600 of these students chose the US as their destination, the number three destination choice of UK students, and the first choice outside of Europe. In terms of full undergraduate study outside of the UK, the US is still the number one choice for UK students.
Now that you’ve decided to create an institutional partnership, where do you begin? Partnerships just don’t come out of thin air, they are developed over time, but like all things they require a starting point. Traditionally, there are three avenues to do so:
1. Partners of Partners – As the simplest and most efficient way, enquiring about the partners of your current partners can be an excellent way to get a foot in the door and land already facing the right direction. This avenue enables an instant bond of trust and reciprocation that is unparalleled in other strategies. If direct introductions are not available, it is also beneficial to consider the types of institutions that your peer institutions are currently partnering with.
2. Professional Organisations/Networking – Organisations such as NAFSA, BUTEX and EAIE are excellent resources for connecting partners interested in international exchanges. These organisations provide exceptional opportunities for university staff to come together and meet in virtual and/or face-face interactions. Universities that have an American Studies (BAAS) programme may also have students with strong interest in US study and be more open to exchange partnerships.
3. Letters of Interest – Sending letters of interest and/or emails to prospective institutions can be an additional way to enquire about interest in creating exchanges. By starting with a simple letter, followed by a more in-depth letter concerning the goals of the exchange, institutions can gauge interest and begin the process of partnership-building.
Once you’ve established a relationship, implementing the partnership takes time, commitment, energy and resources. If untended, a new relationship can easily amount to nothing over time. Here are a few tips to avoid this:
1. Trust and Constant Communication – Trust isn’t born overnight. Show signs of goodwill towards the university, especially if the relationship has no roots. Develop a basis of understanding between the two institutions and over-communicate. Share constantly and be clear about the roles of each party.
2. Just Having “Good Intentions” Does Not Lead to Tangible Results – Clarify your goals. Both parties need to clarify what they are looking to get out of the exchange programme and what they expect from the other. Following the goals process, parties need to ensure that there is a point person on both sides to handle the workload and ensure the programme does not stagnate or dwindle.
3. Respect Institutional Autonomy – US and UK institutions of higher education can have different ways of approaching problems, curriculums and teaching. Respect of institutional autonomy is essential to successful collaboration.
4. Establishing Institutional Buy-In – All great partnerships require the support of institutional leaders in order to begin, survive and thrive. Get leaders, including deans and department heads, involved early and often in order to ensure institutional support and to encourage student participation. One great way to do so is orchestrating opportunities for institutional leaders to participate in site visits.
It can be very easy to get distracted by the budgeting, logistics and nuances of educational exchanges, but university exchange programmes can never succeed without support from the student body. These programmes need to be advantageous to the student in order to ensure their continued participation and thus the continued existence and evolution of the exchange.
1. Short-Term or Long-Term? – Short-term programmes are currently trending for US students as students may not be mentally ready or financially prepared for long-term programmes. Considering that in 2014, 60% of American study abroad students participated in short-term programmes (summer or eight weeks or less) compared to only 3% who participated in academic year study abroad programmes. For UK students however, the opposite is true. Although there is a rise in short-term programmes, for the 2013-2014 academic year, 73% of UK study abroad students did so on semester or longer programmes, compared with only 27% who opted for short-term programmes.
2. Financial Awareness – Financial means can be a large deterrent for students with limited financial resources. It is important to understand and communicate the financial burdens for students, but also the financial opportunities as well. While there may be loans and grants available in all four countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), each will have differing levels of financial support. US students have the ability to apply and receive FAFSA funds and loans for a semester and academic year abroad. Offering financial aid, scholarships and/or grants can further enable a larger and more diverse pool of students to take advantage of the exchange programme. Many exchange partnerships agree to create a fee-neutral agreement where the receiving institution does not charge the student and all fees would be through the student’s home institution.
3. Academic Credit – While creating partnerships, it is important to ensure that students will receive academic credit at their home institution for taking part in an exchange. The top academic driver for study abroad for UK students was the ability to gain credits for their field of study. Thus, it is important when setting up a partnership that the credit a student earns at the host institution will transfer and be recognised by the home institution.
4. Student Support – Providing student support services assists the student in their transition and development throughout the programme, ensuring that the student gets the most out of the experience as possible. Student support services for exchange students are also a great means of exemplifying goodwill toward the reciprocal institution.
5. Non-Degree Seeking - While traditional partnerships are still popular, some students are also seeking exchanges beyond pre-set exchanges. Under these arrangements, students may be able to complete degree-level coursework and have access to university and department facilities, similar to that of degree-seeking students. In short, these arrangements are often more leg-work for the student (as they need to ensure the academic credit they earn will transfer back to their home university), but may be a great fit for them depending upon their circumstances.
For more information, we’ve compiled a small list of a few key organisations and professional associations. Although this is by no means a comprehensive list, it can be a good starting point.