10 rules for a successful long-distance relationship

Academics and administrators from nine nations back research guidelines. Sarah Cunnane reports

August 12, 2010

A list of 10 rules for effective international research collaboration has been produced in a bid to tackle the dearth of guidance on the issue.

The guidelines have been signed by senior academics and administrators from nine countries and published by the US-based Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).

Julia Kent, CGS programme manager, said they reflected the fact that "international collaboration has the potential to be a great money earner, but is also a venture that can include a lot of risk". As a result, she said, senior managers had been calling for more research into best practice in order to manage the risks effectively.

"It has fallen on universities and their leaders to organise in a very strategic way the decision-making around international collaborations," Ms Kent said.

Debra Stewart, president of the CGS, said that the different structures of higher education worldwide had made agreement on the final principles challenging. "It wasn't easy to find common ground - it's never easy," she said.

The guidelines, published in Global Perspectives on Graduate International Collaborations: Proceedings of the 2009 Strategic Leaders Global Summit on Graduate Education (2010), advise that institutions should develop a variety of international collaborations, but that these should always focus on the needs of faculty or students.

They say it is vital to establish the responsibilities of each party before embarking on a project and also suggest that a record or database be kept by each institution documenting the course of the collaboration.

Attention is also given to the different social and academic cultures that may exist in partner institutions, and the guidelines advise collaborators to reach "clear agreement" on the areas where they will and will not compromise as well as on a definition of the "ethical standards" they expect to be upheld.

Meanwhile, a separate report published by the CGS, Joint Degrees, Dual Degrees, and International Research Collaborations, suggests that the growing importance of joint work has led to a significant change in the role of senior institutional leaders.

Managers who were once simply "administrative overseers" of individual departments have had to evolve into "strategic collaborators", working with internal and external partners as they forge joint ventures and alliances.

Dr Kent said that 81 per cent of the respondents to a survey carried out for the report cite "faculty interest" as a primary driver for collaborations.

However, she added that there was a "new and sharp" awareness in the US of the economic importance of international collaborations, as well as the role they could play in improving the quality of US research in general.

"University leaders understand that research is global," she said. "We can't really, in the US, afford to imagine that 21st-century research is not a global enterprise"


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