I read with interest the article entitled American Colleges’ Missteps Raise Questions About Overseas Partnerships in the February 19, 2012 on-line edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education which sites several important examples of where American institutions of higher education had suffered badly from failed international partnerships. As the article focuses exclusively on failed relationships, it is not surprising that it does not mention any of the potential benefits that can be derived from partnerships that have been thoroughly thought through and done well.
As in any circumstance where an institution considers entering into a new venture an objective analysis of risks and potential benefits must be conducted. All too often, an opportunity presents itself to the leadership of an institution, and steps in the risk benefit analysis and risk mitigation strategies are overlooked in the enthusiasm of the day.
Ideally, an international strategy should be considered well before an opportunity presents itself. It begins with an examination and determination of whether international expansion is compatible and consistent with the organization’s articulated mission, vision and values. Next it is important to understand what programs, products and services are potentially exportable to another location, and what programmatic, financial or other institutional benefits can be derived compared to the cost and potential risks associated with international expansion. Identifying the right partner who shares your goals, mission vision and values is critical as well.
Costs must include not only the actual costs associated with setting up an appropriate infrastructure to deliver internationally, it also includes an assessment of the opportunity cost of conducting this program versus what might be done at the home institution. Similarly, an analysis of risk must include that associated with an organization’s reputation as well as the financial risk related to the undertaking.
As is well known – risk and reward are often related; increased potential risk as well as reward is generally associated with higher levels of international program involvement and complexity, for example being responsible for the actual delivery of care and education in a foreign environment. We recommend that initial strategies be used to build relationships from which all participants can learn using products and services that are well within the capacity of the organization. When sufficient experience is gained in a given environment new assessments can be made.
Whether home or abroad, risk is inherent in any new venture – risk identification and putting in place proper risk mitigation strategies is where many institutions fail to devote sufficient attention. First and foremost is the risk of failure for whatever reason, so addressing this unfortunate prospect right up front contractually and with exit strategies is necessary. The most common reason for failure is associated with mismatched expectations between the parties aptly described in the Houston Community College in Doha example in the Chronicle article. The second most common reason for failure is insufficient attention paid to communication between all key constituencies related to the success and sustainability of the program, at all levels of the organization.
I am a strong believer in initiatives that lead to improved healthcare and educational quality and accessibility for citizens around the world. Multi-national partnerships are an important contributor to improving the standards of care worldwide. With careful selection of the right partner, adequate planning, innovative and cost-effective programs, adequate human and financial resources, a robust delivery infrastructure at each site, strong institutional will and leadership, and adequate communication and risk mitigation strategies, international partnerships can add real value at home and abroad.
Robert K. Crone, MD
President & CEO
Strategy Implemented, Inc.