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Partnerships and Collaboration

This section focuses on the necessary considerations for developing partnerships and collaborations with various individuals and organizations for the purpose of developing Faculty-Led Programs Abroad, including a focus on equitable participation and balanced programming.

It is important to note that when working across different perspectives and worldviews (a fundamental feature of global learning and engagement) there is no universal or shared set of values or ethics. Questions of equity, sustainability, and balance, amongst others, must be assessed on a case by case basis. Our intention (as individuals, a community, an institution) is  not to impose our own ideas of what these types of partnerships and collaborations should or must look like. Rather, we seek to hold these considerations central in our relationships with partners and collaborators in order to define how the guidelines are interpreted in each context with participation from the diverse stakeholders involved. In addition, by centring these conversations early on in the process, there is an opportunity to recognize relationships that may not align in relation to the vision, values and objectives held by both parties for the program.

Identifying Potential Partners and Collaborators 

An essential part of the early stages of planning is the process of identifying potential partnership(s) and areas that may require or benefit from additional points of collaboration.

In our work, partnership typically refers to a more formal relationship that involves an institutional agreement and/or sustained commitment, while collaboration refers to connections or relationships that, on the one hand, haven’t formalized and progressed to a more generative stage as a structured partnership entails, or on the other hand (particularly in the context of Faculty-Led Programs Abroad), relates to those who, while not foundational to the overall program, may play a specific role in a particular stage of planning and/or execution.

An example that demonstrates this differentiation is a Faculty-Led Programs Abroad that is developed jointly (including academic content and logistics) by Ryerson and another university - i.e. the partner - but also involves site visits to various organizations and business - i.e. collaborators. While the guidelines above are relevant for all types of relationships including both partnerships and collaborations, it is important to note that they are foundational and fundamental to the particular context of partnerships.

Depending on the scenario, Ryerson International (RI) is able to support partnership and collaboration identification and development in a variety of ways. Typically the starting point for partnership(s) takes one of three forms:

  1. Relationship building or expansion with an already existing partner in your home unit (often requires minimal support from RI)
  2. Leveraging a partnership that exists within another unit of the university (RI can act as a bridge, connecting key stakeholders and managing partnership expansion)
  3. Creation of a new institutional partnership (RI plays a key role in the formalization of partnerships via institutional agreements)

For more information regarding procedures and who to contact at RI to support in this area please visit the Establishing Partnerships section in our Faculty and Staff Resources.

A strong Faculty-Led Programs Abroad will include one or more partners and additional collaborators when pertinent. Much of Faculty-Led Programs Abroad programming occurs in partnership with educational institutions abroad and, depending on the nature of the program design, we recommend that you consider this as a potential starting point. Possible benefits include provision of logistical support, classroom space, student housing options, access to local experts, interpretation or translation support if needed and opportunities to connect with local students. In addition, partnering or collaborating with educational institutions opens up increased opportunities to foster local participation and the incorporation of local educators into programming (both key elements within the guidelines for Program Model and Design). 

If an educational institution is not a viable option (i.e. no institution in proximity, unable/uninterested in collaborating, lack of alignment with identified values and objectives of programming, etc), there are a variety of other types of organizations to consider. In this case, on-site logistics and execution of the program may require a combination of academic contacts, local experts, and travel agents or service providers. 

Examples of possible partners and collaborators include:

  • Educational institution (university, college, etc)
  • Government body 
  • Professional body or network
  • Cultural organizations 
  • Private enterprise 
  • Alumni associations
  • NGO or community-based organization
  • Service provider (i.e. international educational programming specialists or travel agents)
  • In-country staff/program coordinator (i.e. contracted by the university directly)
  • Additional Ryerson staff and Faculty (i.e. with expertise in the region/topic)
  • Diaspora community in Toronto
  • Do they have expertise in the subject area of the Faculty-Led Programs Abroad and/or are they able to collaborate in the development of some of the learning components relevant to the region and/or topic?
  • Is there congruence between their capacity and the areas where you may require additional support (i.e. program design, logistics, student support, risk management, etc)?
  • Are they able to provide in-kind support (classroom space, accommodation, transportation, access to networks or experts, etc) while ensuring a balanced relationship is maintained? (see Program Balance section below)
  • Do you have any concerns about your ability to clearly communicate and determine shared objectives, responsibilities and expectations (including health and safety and the interpretation of the Faculty-Led Programs Abroad guidelines)? Will language be a barrier? If so, how can this be mediated?
  • How will you develop and agree on a shared vision, objectives and common understanding of the programming under consideration with your partner(s)? For example, an institutional agreement may not be required or may not provide this type of in depth detail. In this context, should you consider a program charter, value statement, letter of intent, etc?
  • Are their opportunities to grow in a sustainable manner? For example, are there options to continue the Faculty-Led Programs Abroad beyond a single iteration? To explore different types of student programming in the future or diverse points of collaboration (research, capacity building, etc)?
  • Do they have relationships with other local stakeholders and organizations that could provide increased opportunity for learning and collaboration?
  • Do they require any particular trainings or qualifications of visiting parties (i.e. students, faculty, staff, etc)?
  • Do you have any concerns about your ability to support inclusive programming in relation to the potential partner and/or collaborator? See section on Participation and Preparation.
  • Do you have any health or safety concerns in relation to the potential partner and/or collaborator? Any potential risks to participants, local stakeholders, the environment, etc, that are specifically relevant to the organization (rather than the region, for example) See section on Planning and Logistics.

It is important to note that in recent years there has been a proliferation of service providers and intermediary organizations in the area of education abroad. These organizations can be either for profit or not for profit and provide a wide variety of services specifically directed at faculty and staff planning student initiatives abroad (for example program planning, logistical support, on-site staff, immigration advising, student orientations and safety briefings, etc). The value and/or necessity of working with a service provider depends greatly on the context. Examples where collaboration may be worth consideration include: program lead has limited knowledge of local coordination protocols; language barriers exist; there are safety and risk concerns in the region; there are sensitivities and power dynamics that warrant additional local expertise; it is a demonstrably meaningful method to ensure local participation and more sustained/ongoing relationships in the region; amongst others. 

Please note that there are important considerations regarding travel agencies for logistical planning in our Planning and Logistics section. Here we are referring to third party organizations and providers that explicitly develop and curate international programming for the student market. Lastly, keep in mind that Ryerson’s partner, International SOS, provides extensive materials that support logistical planning, risk and safety abroad, etc, as also indicated in the Planning and Logistics portion.

If you have determined that it is necessary to work with a service provider, it is essential to take care when selecting the organization you will work with. This is of increased importance when working in spaces of heightened power differentials . For example, the mandates of service providers may be heavily focused on revenue generation, or their relationship with locals (individuals, communities, organizations) may not be centred on equity, balance and sustainability as outlined in the guidelines above. As service providers typically act as intermediaries between the institution planning the activity (in this case Ryerson) and host organizations and communities, it is essential to explore how they are accountable to and work with local collaborators and stakeholders. Here it is also important to note that NGOs and community-based organizations may also provide opportunities for collaboration, while similar attention needs to be placed on appropriate identification and relationship building. Tensions with local stakeholders may be prevalent due to external funding requirements and the relationship the organization may have with particular local stakeholders (i.e. lack of broader/diverse local representation).

The following are questions to consider when working with service providers and/or intermediary organizations for logistical support (with additional considerations for spaces of heightened power imbalances ):

  • Is the organization locally owned and/or operated?
  • Is the organization a legal entity? Do they have the capacity to enter into an agreement and assume obligations and responsibilities? Do they have a clear refund and cancellation policy or protocol?
  • If the organization is not local, do they have in-country staff? What relationship do they have to local stakeholders?
  • Are local stakeholders included in decision making processes? And if so, how?
  • What mechanisms does the organization have to ensure accountability to local stakeholders?

Equitable Participation at All Stages

In all areas of Faculty-Led Programs Abroad programming (development, planning, implementation and evaluation), partnerships and collaborations should be carried out with the underlying objective of maintaining equitable participation between all parties. While recognizing each individual’s capacity to engage, equitable participation should be facilitated for all key partners and collaborators. Ensuring equitable participation tends to be less challenging in situations when: partners have similar access to resources; are experienced in the maintenance of institutional partnerships (often shaped by legal concerns); are able to identify one or two individuals to act as key drivers of the relationship. 

 When engaging in spaces of heightened power differentials this principal is of essential importance and often more challenging to ensure. While it isn’t always the case that Ryerson will be entering into a partnership where the university holds the larger share of power, it is highly relevant when students are present in regions and communities negatively impacted by imperialism, colonialism and current global inequities. In these situations “universities must take aggressive steps to create conditions of co-planning, co-management, co-direction, and co-design.” Fair Trade Learning: Ethical Standards for Community-Engaged International Education, external link, opens in new window.

In these contexts, it is quite common for a relationship to form whereby the university takes the lead role in planning and developing the Faculty-Led Programs Abroad, while local collaborators are primarily involved in the delivery of logistical elements (for example, transportation, accommodation, food, cultural activities, etc). It may be challenging to shift this type of relationship, however in order to do so it is important to assess what equitable participation may look like in any given context.  During initial conversations it is essential to actively foment situations that allow for participation to thrive and to centre the voices of local partners and collaborators throughout all stages of the process. When possible, efforts to include a broad range of stakeholders can be highly beneficial (especially if the program is an ongoing initiative). This type of relationship building may require site visits and other types of preparatory planning that, while financially challenging to execute, can ensure the development of meaningful, balanced engagement.

  • Are there any barriers that would prohibit the development and maintenance of an equitable relationship that allows for shared decision making at all stages? 
  • How is communication in the design and planning stages managed? Are your collaborators able to easily communicate via web-based platforms? Should a site visit be considered in order to ensure participatory planning and decision-making?
  • Are collaborators able to determine the form of their participation and the areas they would like to contribute to? (i.e. able to manage their own priorities and capacity)
  • How is transparency maintained in relation to all aspects of programming? What systems can be put in place in order to share information, collectively make decisions, and create materials?
  • How might you address a potential lack of capacity and/or time constraints that may affect the ability of collaborators to participate?
    • How may you be able to alleviate Faculty-Led Programs Abroad time commitments that may take away from other remunerated work without compromising equitable participation? 
    • Are there any supports (resources, training, etc) that may increase collaborators ability to participate?
  • Are collaborators accountable to local stakeholders? If you have concerns, how might you include perspectives from a diversity of stakeholders that may not be represented within the organization or institution that you are collaborating/partnering with?

Program Balance: Reciprocity, Mutuality, Interdependence, Solidarity?

Historically, international programming has focused on the centrality of student learning, job market preparation, intercultural understanding and overall well-being (amongst other objectives). While these goals may remain priorities for programming, increasingly scholars and practitioners are seeking ways to ensure that the focus on student well-being and benefit is considered alongside the well-being and benefit of local stakeholders and participants. How can all parties involved with and connected to programming contribute to, benefit from, and form part of the initiative in an equitable way?

 In scenarios characterized by heightened power imbalances, questions of balance can be more difficult to define and enact. How do we recognize and address the realities of working in regions where socio-economic conditions may prohibit individuals from participating in similar types of educational endeavours; where locals may not have the resources or ‘citizenship’ necessary to facilitate travel to Canada (let alone travel within their own regions); where forced migration may be the norm compared to the optional, short-term travel available to some of our students; where, if collaborators are able to travel to Ryerson to participate in programming, they are often met with additional logistical barriers, i.e. short-term housing, that can be extremely challenging to overcome. These fundamental inequities are difficult, if not impossible to address, but we would be doing a disservice to our Ryerson values of equity and community inclusion if we were not to engage with these challenges.

In order to grapple with questions of balance, some frameworks centre reciprocity (e.g. Fair Trade Learning model, see below) which typically refers to partnerships and collaborations that ensure mutual benefit. While other scholars and practitioners view reciprocity as transactional in nature and unrealistic in terms of one’s ability to identify and ‘calculate’ reciprocity in practice. Different approaches suggest a focus on mutuality (MacDonald & Vorstermans, 2016) and interdependence (Dear and Howard, 2016), which centre deep relationship building and the development of holistic programming explicitly shaped by the context, highlighting the importance of reflective and adaptive processes. Solidarity is also a concept that is enacted to reflect a move away from orientations of helping and dependency to that of co-creation and co-learning. Here it is important to reiterate that each of these concepts is subjective and highly contingent on context. The intention of these guidelines is to ensure that these types of considerations and questions are central to program development and planning, without presuming to be able to prescribe an appropriate path for any given situation.

The Pachaysana Institute, external link, opens in new window provides a unique approach to traditional understandings of education abroad service providers. As a collective, the organization is one of the few organizations operating in what is commonly understood as the ‘study abroad industry’ that centres the importance of reciprocity and equitable participation. The organization maintains key partnerships with several communities and various organizations (a university, a cultural education organization, and a university-based research project, amongst others). You can read more about how the organization approaches equitable participation and decision-making with their community partners on the Pachaysana Community page, external link, opens in new window.

While Pachaysana does collaborate with universities abroad to develop shorter term programming options, their principal program is titled Rehearsing Change. This program is a semester of study that includes 4-5 courses and multiple sites of study, those of which are predominantly located in the communities and community-based organizations that they partner with (rather than traditional university classrooms). One of the main aspects of their semester program that sets them apart is their approach to reciprocity. As a study abroad based option (i.e. their partnerships are not structured on an exchange basis), international students are required to pay tuition fees. Their tuition fee model ensures that for every international fee-paying student their tuition is able to subsidize the participation of at least 1 local participant in the program free of charge (this includes local and regional travel, as well as access to all courses and activities).

 With special focus on situations of heightened power differentials (North to South):

Coming Soon: More program profiles and examples from both Ryerson and beyond!