Ghent University (BELGIUM)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2018 Proceedings
Publication year: 2018
Pages: 6363-6368
ISBN: 978-84-697-9480-7
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2018.1499
Conference name: 12th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 5-7 March, 2018
Location: Valencia, Spain
In my paper I intend to discuss a model for sustainable strategic international cooperation in higher education. I will do so by presenting the case of the U4, a strategic partnership between four European universities.

Against the background of the fast changing global and European higher education context characterized by an ever growing number of short-term and project-oriented bilateral agreements the universities of Ghent (Belgium), Göttingen (Germany), Groningen (The Netherlands) and Uppsala (Sweden) have founded a durable and comprehensive strategic alliance with high impact on institutional level.

The added value of the U4 network is based on the mutual commitment of the partner universities to form a platform for cooperation, with the aim of using the partners’ complementary strengths and of pooling resources. Compared to other forms of international cooperation the U4 cooperation is more solidly anchored on policy at an institutional level, and simultaneously it has gained broad acceptance due to a variety of operational formats. The U4 offers a framework to share experiences at the level of university management based on mutual trust. In this respect the U4 can be characterized as a learning consortium, defining common bench marks based on reciprocal critical peer reviewing.

The first aim of the partnership is to develop joint cooperation initiatives in the field of education, research and institutional management and to build a platform enabling to act as preferential partners in international contexts. Moreover it is the ambition of the U4-network to strengthen the international position and visibility of the individual partner institutions.

With regard to education the U4 aims at enhancing the students’ international experience through mobility programmes and virtual joint classes and at broadening the offer by pooling resources. With regard to research the aim is to strengthen the research output through cooperation and joint projects. As a university-wide cooperation the U4 also offers a framework for multidisciplinary initiatives. Finally, a distinctive feature of the U4 is the cooperation at the level of university management enabling the partners to share knowledge and experience.

The main tools for implementing the U4 partnership are: joint initiatives in education e.g. joint doctoral summer schools and joint degrees, student and staff exchange and training opportunities; joint research projects and co-authoring as well as preferential partnerships in externally funded international projects; cooperative platforms at the level of institutional management (joint marketing & communication, joint leadership courses, peer reviewing and bench marking, e.g. concerning green campuses).

At the executive level the Board of U4 Rectors defines the general U4 strategy. Each year an alternate host is responsible for organizing the annual Rectors’ Meeting. At the operational level the U4 is organized in four academic clusters, each of which is hosted by one partner institution. The institutional management cluster is hosted alternately and forms the framework for all U4 initiatives related to university policy and administration.

U4 is inherently a closed network. In the context of project consortia, however, the cooperation with external partners is encouraged both for academic and strategic reasons. Good practices of joint U4-activities are also shared in several international fora (e.g. GUILD, EUA, HUMANE).
Strategic networks, internationalisation, sustainability, institutional management, models for international cooperation.