Academic journal article Peer Review

Collaborative Learning through International Partnerships

Academic journal article Peer Review

Collaborative Learning through International Partnerships

Article excerpt

The twenty-first century is witnessing a flourishing of international partnerships in higher education, with a boom in the range of colleges, universities, and disciplines pursuing such connections. There is also a florescence in how these affiliations are conceived and what they are being asked to do. Such partnerships are emerging as an important, perhaps central, element of global learning for all. These partnerships create a path toward a collaborative approach to global learning-an approach that engages new faculty, students, and institutions; reflects a commitment to globally constructed knowledge and practice; threads global learning through a student's entire trajectory of development; unites theory, reflection, and application; and institutionally models the global competencies wanted for students.

However, taking this path requires revisiting how we think about international partnerships and exploring new modalities for what they might do. The key is building on what has gone before to unlock the full potential of these connections. Fortunately, there is a growing list of innovative ideas and strategies to guide us.


The Institute of International Education offers the framing definition for this discussion (IIE, n.d.). International partnerships (IPs) are formal connections among institutions representing different countries, with at least one being a higher education institution (HEI). Such affiliations most often link colleges and universities, but also sometimes connect HEIs to NGOs, businesses, governmental agencies, neighborhoods, or community organizations. They also often link entities located in different countries, but sometimes connect to immigrant and international advocacy organizations in the same country as the HEI.

In this usage, IPs are institutional affiliations rather than informal, one-on-one links among faculty (although these are also important, share characteristics with the partnerships discussed here, and can expand into larger international partnerships over time). While faculty or staff relationships are key to all partnerships, my concern in this article is with alliances that link multiple individuals and testify to institutional commitment through formal agreements. These broader affiliations carry a particular value for global learning for all.

Within this general frame, this discussion focuses on IPs tasked with student learning. Such partnerships connect HEIs to sources of international instruction, knowledge, perspectives, experience, and activity beyond themselves. The discussion further focuses on the partnership journeys of US institutions, fully acknowledging that those in other countries may be on different pathways and that the story of each is worth telling.


For US institutions, partnerships focused on learning go back at least to the University of Delaware's 1923 alliance with the Sorbonne to create the first Junior Year Abroad program. In the aftermath of World War I, this development was aimed at refocusing the global engagement of US students from a Grand Tour approach to one of direct instruction and contact with HEIs overseas, a move some felt would build relationships that might prevent future conflicts (Contreras 2015).

This shift was quickly embraced and emulated, especially by selective universities and liberal arts colleges. After World War II, such education abroad connections underwent further expansion: spreading to more institutions, welcoming students beyond language majors, exploring destinations outside Europe, and sometimes evolving into two-way student exchanges (Hoffa 2007; Hoffa and DePaul 2010). The positive impact of these partnerships on the students who participated has been profound.

Still, the reach of such programs has been small. While growing, barely 10 percent of US undergraduates now study abroad, heavily concentrated among certain types of students in certain disciplines at certain institutions (HE 2017). …

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