Optimising international collaboration and partnerships in the post-pandemic Higher Education landscape

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought global disruption to the Higher Education sector, severely impacting the functioning of international partnerships. Restrictions on movement and lockdown uncertainties have hampered the mobility of both international and home students, as well as staff.

In such uncertain times, how can institutions plan effective international collaborations for the post-pandemic world? The answer lies in the effectiveness of the institution’s internationalisation strategy. An evidence-based approach to improving internationalisation can improve global reputation and strengthen international partnerships.

Here we explore the impact of the pandemic on international collaboration, and steps to strengthen partnerships in the post-pandemic world.


Take stock of Covid-19 disruptions

Institutions have gone through a period of rapid reaction and change. With travel restrictions and lockdowns, Higher Education has changed for both home and international students. In many cases, parts of this shift will become the ‘new normal’ in the post-pandemic world.

For this reason, it’s important to reflect objectively on the major disruptions your institution has overcome during the pandemic. The disruptions will naturally have highlighted any gaps in how your institution’s international partnerships function. By taking stock of the disruptions and solutions, you can understand the areas in need of resources and optimisation.

A key example would be the area of communication within an institution’s international partnership programme. With ever-changing travel restrictions and lockdowns across different international communities, keeping international students updated and informed has been a key challenge for Higher Education institutions. The lessons and methods in communication developed during the pandemic will become best-practice processes in the post-pandemic world.

Want to know more? Join University of Warwick’s Helen Spencer-Oatey on our latest Internationalisation webinar, Optimising international collaboration and partnerships in the post-pandemic HE landscape

Virtual international collaboration

Because of public health closures and travel restrictions, the pandemic has led to institutions moving programmes online. Although in many cases this will be short term, it is likely to be the new normal for at least the next academic year.

However, despite living in a ‘digital world’, starting a new international collaboration virtually can be more challenging due to cultural differences and the need to navigate these online. Traditionally, working relationships tend to start in a ‘face-to-face’ environment, where individuals get to know one another in person. Meeting people in person helps minimise misunderstandings that can stem from different language and communication patterns and helps build trust through the opportunity to spend time talking and socialising together. Understanding the local context, and communicating with that in mind, plays a big part in relationship building and decision-making and can sometimes get lost in a virtual environment. Ensuring that staff have the right technology, knowledge and insights as to how best to build relationships, communicate and share information with others from different cultures and institutions will be key to tackling this challenge and building successful relationships for the future.

Getting global collaboration right is important for many reasons, not only will it allow institutions and networks the opportunity to develop and provide high quality online programmes and curriculum, it can have far-reaching benefits in terms of diversity, commerciality and adaptability. The pandemic is a global problem, so a solution is a worldwide collaboration across the Higher Education sector.

As such, institutions should be investing in and strengthening existing virtual partnerships, while also further developing virtual exchange schemes and programmes that take into account cultural differences and learning practices. Further investment in programmes for both students and staff could expand the scope of the development of the Higher Education sector globally.


Online internationalisation

Most institutions will have an internationalisation at home strategy in place with the aim to create graduates with global knowledge and skills. The pandemic means it’s vital for institutions to develop their internationalisation strategies to strengthen and reflect online programmes.

An internationalisation strategy should help to socially and academically integrate diverse student communities. This will need to be refined and adapted to reflect the reality of an online programme. The social aspect of remote learning is a unique challenge and informs wider considerations around student well-being. A strong internationalisation strategy that takes into account the institution’s capacity to support social and academic integration, will be crucial in ensuring online programmes maintain high standards of student satisfaction.

Institutions can take this opportunity to develop a holistic strategy for internationalisation, which covers all departments and both online and offline learning. A renewed focus on internationalisation is a good way to improve the student experience in the post-pandemic Higher Education sector. This will help the institution continue to be attractive to international students, helping their ongoing sustainability.

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Preparing for international growth

Institutions can take a new approach to internationalisation, to drive intercultural progression and international collaboration. The University of Warwick has created a tool for analysing and improving internationalisation across institutions and networks. The Global Education Profiler (GEP) collects survey data from both students and staff on all areas of internationalisation. It allows institutions to set benchmarks on different components, each one important to sustainably improving international partnerships.

The GEP allows institutions to make evidence-based decisions to improve both international reputation and collaboration. With students, it helps to measure both social and academic integration between diverse communities. By taking into account data-driven insights from the profiler, institutions can make meaningful changes to strategy development. It allows for a more personalised approach by utilising feedback can help identify ways of further encouraging a nurturing environment for both students, academic staff and wider stakeholders.

The student version of the GEP also measures students’ foreign language and communication skills, and the opportunities to develop them. This allows institutions to prioritise resources to strengthen these base skills. In addition, it probes the students’ global opportunities from an employability perspective. This is vital information for ensuring the development of global skills in programmes.

The staff version of the GEP collects input from both academic and professional services staff, on a range of factors relevant to internationalisation. Institutions can gain insights on staff’s knowledge of international collaboration, support for global skills, and levels of student engagement. These elements provide insight into the quality and delivery of global skills by institutions.

The GEP can provide the baseline evidence to monitor and improve staff wellbeing. Ensuring international engagement in digital teaching environments can be difficult, as staff can't ‘read the room’ as in a normal setting. A digital model can also lead to an increased workload, with staff getting to grips with the new normal. The GEP can help institutions understand how staff are adapting to these challenges, identifying areas where extra support is needed. Institutions can use these measurements to drive continuous improvements to internationalisation.

The benefits of moving towards community internationalisation

Improvements to internationalisation can help to boost the institution’s global ranking position, making it more attractive to international students. This will be a key factor in maintaining sustainability in the post-pandemic world.

The benefits of strengthening internationalisation include:

  • Understanding where to develop staff skills for the maximum benefit to internationalisation and collaboration.
  • Providing graduates with global skills recognised across the world.
  • Improving the global reputation of the institution, and its global ranking position.
  • Ensuring social and academic integration so the institution is attractive to students from diverse cultures.
  • Strengthening staff and student engagement and satisfaction.
  • Developing more effective international partnerships.
  • Measurements for key benchmarks to achieve sustainable improvements. 

Optimising International Collaboration Webinar: Register here

The ISB helps institutions make informed decisions to enhance the international student experience and drive successful recruitment and marketing strategies.

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