The Role of international higher education partnerships in contributing to the sustainable development goals report – published by the British Council and The Association of Commonwealth Universities – highlights that there is a “complementary relationship” between the strategies and plans of international higher education partnerships and the SDGs.

International higher education partnerships “contribute significantly” to the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda and its 17 SDGs, the report reminded.

“Partnerships are relevant for all SDGs, although we have seen outcomes linked to SDG 4, which is the educational goal and SDG 17, which is the goal around partnerships, more often than links to the other goals,” said Adam Krcal, principal consultant at Technopolis Group and author of the report.

“Our consultations have confirmed that the SDGs are interlinked. It is very important to look at the SDGs as a set of 17 goals rather than single goals, and one SPG cannot be achieved without the other,” Krcal explained.

“And this also means that higher education partnerships can address the wider societal issues better than single organisations.

The report also measured the impact of Covid-19 on international partnerships, finding that while partnerships set up before the pandemic tend to be continuing, new ones “may find it more difficult to form due to reduced opportunities to make contacts”.

It predicted that fewer new partnerships in the “months and years” ahead are likely to be formed.

“I think the effect of the Covid pandemic, especially on mobility of both students and academics, is probably the major challenge right now,” Krcal highlighted.

“And just to stress also the volatility of funding and the short term nature of some of those external grants, we have seen partnerships where the commitment to working together has been much more important than securing external funding, and these partnerships tend to cope much better in this volatile environment.

“Also monitoring and measuring the contribution to the SDGs remains a big issue across the globe and not just at the partnership level.”

“Northern partners tend to come to partnerships from a stronger negotiation position than Southern partners”

The report also detailed equity in partnerships with higher education institutions in the Global North often still seen as “more credible” with funders than those in the Global South.

“Northern partners tend to come to partnerships from a stronger negotiation position than Southern partners,” the report noted, with the perceived credibility issue linked to how funding arrangements influence equity.

“Taking a lead role remains challenging for Southern partners because funders often prefer (and sometimes even require) Northern partners to lead due to accountability and audit rules,” the paper noted.

“When we interviewed universities and other stakeholders in the Global South, it was mentioned several times that universities in the Global South don’t tend to have strong, well-established relationships with each other, and partnerships provide opportunities for strengthening these relationships and for sustained interactions between them,” Krcal added.

The research also suggested that benefits of partnerships for Southern partners are “much better defined and documented than for Northern partners”.

Rankings also play an important role in international cooperations, Krcal continued, while international collaboration, mobility, international projects and internationalisation in general are becoming important “indicators used in higher education funding formulas”.

“That’s obviously one of the motivations for universities to look for international partners and to think about creating and establishing international partnerships,” he said.

“Indeed, we came across this as one of the drivers that seem to be playing a larger role than before.”

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