Opinion: The power of International Partnerships in higher education

By Peter Salovey

I accepted leadership of Yale University during a period of inspiring and sustained economic growth in Africa— eleven of the top twenty fastest growing economies in the world were from the continent. It was the ideal moment to build upon Yale’s partnerships in Africa and to bring related scholarship and education at the university into sharper focus. During my inauguration as the president of Yale in 2013, I announced Yale’s Africa Initiative. By working with collaborators in Ghana and other countries in Africa, I knew we could advance academic excellence at Yale and our partner institutions.

In such an interconnected world, there are many approaches for building international partnerships. At Yale, there are three distinct phases, and our work with colleagues in Africa illustrates their effectiveness in enhancing education, scholarship, and research.

The first phase is focused on our New Haven campus. To find partners, Yale invites students and faculty members from abroad to our university to enroll in our academic programs, to teach, or to conduct research. As international travel became more convenient and affordable, it became easier for us to attract talented scholars from diverse disciplines and of every career-level from hundreds and thousands of miles away.

In the last few decades, the number of foreign students and scholars coming to Yale has increased markedly. During this academic year, Yale had a record number of international student enrollments with 2,841 students from 121 countries—that represents about 22 percent of the student body. Overall, international student enrollment has increased by over 50 percent in the last decade.

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The University of Ghana and Yale, for example, participate in student exchange programs through initiatives like the Fox Fellowship Program. Fellows contribute to interdisciplinary studies that benefit society. During this academic year, one of the Fox Fellows is researching developments in commercial agriculture in northern Ghana and advances in support structures to integrate smallholder farmers into agribusiness value chains. He is investigating why farmers adapt certain agricultural strategies and how their choices affect their communities. International students and scholars like this Fox Fellow have enriched Yale’s educational environment, providing unique experiences and perspectives that enhance our academic programs.

The second phase of forming international partnerships is focused outward. For example, some U.S. universities have established physical locations in other countries. However, the development of overseas locations has challenges. They are often costly, and distance can create or exacerbate gaps in institutional oversight. Moreover, a university can only afford to build and maintain a limited number of foreign campuses. That is why Yale establishes partnerships with institutions overseas like the University of Ghana, the University of Ghana Medical School, and the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research.

Although the University of Ghana does not have a physical campus in the United States, and Yale does not have a physical presence in Ghana, our partnership is powerful. For example, research conducted through the collaboration has led to the discovery of an herbal product that can potentially be used to treat HIV infection and malaria. In addition, researchers from the University of Ghana Medical School and Yale University have identified low-cost biomarkers that can be used to monitor the efficacy of antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS in children.

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The third phase of global engagement involves creating networks—networks of students, alumni, faculty, programs, and institutions. These networks take many forms. There are social networks formed by an increasingly global alumni body who are not only unified by class year or by geographic location but also by interests and profession. We are also seeing the rise of academic research networks that transcend traditional disciplinary, cultural, and geographic boundaries. Yale’s Global Health Leadership Institute, for example, collaborates with international partners to develop and disseminate research for improving health systems in locations as disparate as China, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as in Ghana.

Universities have been developing strong scholastic networks of affiliated academic institutions, as well. The Yale School of Management’s Global Network for Advanced Management, comprised of thirty-two business schools from six continents, has four African business schools as members: the Lagos Business School; University of Cape Town Business School; University of Ghana Business School; and Strathmore Business School in Kenya, which joined this year and became the first member from East Africa. Instead of participating in typical bi-lateral relationships that provide one-on-one exchanges between two institutions, each member of the Global Network benefits from the dynamic perspectives and intellectual contributions of all the participating schools.

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With continued technological advancements, we will also develop more web-based educational networks. We have already seen how innovations have made it possible for research universities to teach and conduct research in ways that could not have been imagined even ten years ago. Online platforms can reach many more students and offer flexibility in teaching formats. As the capacity and speed for delivering digital knowledge advance, we must create operating and quality standards to optimize opportunities for global interactions between universities, scholars, and students.

Through the Yale-Africa Initiative, our international partners have helped Yale transform educational experiences for our students and produce remarkable discoveries in business, public health, agriculture, and other sectors. In a world that is growing in complexity and becoming more interrelated, successful universities will embrace global networks and exchanges. By combining our diverse strengths and insights, we can create a shared future for the global community.

The Author is President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology, Yale University

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