Development of a proposal

A number of initial stages need to be considered before committing fully to a collaborative arrangement. These are summarised below along with links to the supporting documentation.

Risk assessment

There are positive and negative risks in collaborating with other institutions associated with the complexity of such collaborations.  This creates particular challenges for the University and the partner institution and these will need to be managed robustly. 

  • Aspects of risk that should be considered are: 

a) financial risks, which can be considerable, especially if they provide an important element of a School/RI or College's income. It is essential for the University to ensure that both its financial management arrangements are strong enough to manage the risks effectively and that the financial arrangements themselves are realistic and do not jeopardise the integrity of the academic standards and quality of the provision or the interests of students.

b) geographical location and distance, which can impose physical or resource constraints on communications and logistics.

c) cultural differences.  A university’s partners may have similar or differing approaches to learning, teaching and assessment; their available learning resources; their learning environments and cultures; and their approaches to quality management and academic governance. There may also be linguistic and disciplinary differences. 

d) organisational structures.  In addition to the factors of geography and culture, the distance between a partner and a university’s ‘centre’ (and it’s senior committee responsible for academic standards and quality) may be of significance. The filtering of reports at programme and School/RI or College levels could mean that the centre does not have sufficient oversight or access to the evidence that would justify the University’s continuing confidence in the quality and standards of the provision. Reporting lines within the University may be long or short, and single or multi-stranded and the crucial interface between a university and its partner – the programme team – may itself encounter problems in gathering and relaying reliable information on the operation of the partnership.

e) potential for bribery. Although in reality it is unlikely that you would wish to collaborate with a partner institution you didn’t trust, it is important to be mindful of the recent legislation in this area – The Bribery Act 2010.  Simple steps can be taken to mitigate any such risks such as simple internet searches to find out the culture towards financial or other incentives in the country in question. Please refer to the University of Glasgow Financial Regulations and the 'Ethical Principles behind the Acceptance and Refusal of Donations' document available from the Court Office.

  • The University manages these risks by adopting the particular modes of partnership that are set out here. By varying the nature and extent of delegation to the partner, the mode of partnership enables the University to exercise a specified degree of control over the partner and the provision that it offers. To this end, a risk assessment tool has been introduced to determine the level of ‘risk potential’ associated with a proposal. 
  • The risk assessment considers both the nature of the operating environment and the factors which will contribute to the ‘distance’ between the University and its partner organisation. It informs the decisions that are made after the College has approved the proposal, and development teams will want to consider its recommendations in the planning process. The University’s approach to risk assessment is based on the premise that ‘front line’ academic staff are in the best position to know what is ‘coming up over the horizon’. Development teams know their markets, they are the experts in their discipline and they have day-to-day experience of the institutional (Subject, School, College and University) environment in which they are working. A risk register should be developed outlining the risks and how they have been addressed. It is crucial that the risk register is reviewed regularly as risks identified at the outset may change throughout the duration of the arrangement.
  • The partnership approval process requires a financial due diligence to be undertaken and a business case to be developed.  Assistance and support is available from the College Finance Manager.  It is the College’s responsibility to ensure that the business case is robust and realistic to maintain the integrity of the academic standards, the quality of the provision and the interests of students.
  • The business case should ensure that sufficient resources are provided for University staff to visit the partner for monitoring purposes, notwithstanding the costs associated with the maintenance of geographically remote partnerships. Geographical distance can also be overcome through the routine use of video-conferencing and other forms of electronic communication. In the running of a partnership, annual monitoring reports should enable the University to anticipate rather than merely react to changes in the operating environment.

A variety of methods are used to reduce the cultural differences between the University and its partners. These include the care that we take over the selection of partner institution.  External members are included on institutional visit panels, who can offer both an expert knowledge of the subject and understanding of local context, and our External Examiners ensure that the University derives full benefit from their subject expertise and their experience of higher education.

Some awarding institutions choose to offer collaborative programmes in languages other than English. While this may extend the range of students they can reach, it raises important questions about their capacity to satisfy itself about the quality of the provision that leads to its awards. Similarly, assessment of students' work in a foreign language poses serious challenges to the ability of a University to be in proper control of the academic standards of awards made in its name.  For that reason, it our policy only to offer programmes that are delivered and assessed in English, which maximises our ability to assure the standards of the programmes. In addition, the University’s commitment to enhancement, to staff development and to assisting partners in developing their learning infrastructures, should ensure that the quality of learning opportunities available to students is at least comparable to that enjoyed by their ‘on-campus’ colleagues.

In structuring any partnership the University will:

    • following scrutiny by the College, formally consider and approve proposals with the highest risk via the Collaborations Group, EdPSC/ RPSC and Senate; 
    • in addition to their consideration at School level, feed annual monitoring reports into the College review processes providing the facility for any issues being referred upwards to the Academic Standards Committee;
    • provide continuing advice to partner organisations and programme teams for the purpose of improving the quality of their monitoring reports;
    • maintain close working relationships with their partner organisations through the School and programme teams; and
    • ensure that the everyday communications between programme teams and partners are complemented by the involvement of the Collaborations Unit in monitoring partnerships.

By using the risk assessment tool you will be able to assess any potential risks associated with your proposal and obtain a score for overall risk, as follows:

 Overall Risk  Low  Medium  High 
 Score 16-32  33-48  49-64  49-64

The risk assessment tool should be completed for all types of collaborative arrangement and be submitted as part of the documentation for approval.  It is not intended that this serves to provide a definitive position on whether a proposal should be considered or not, but to assist those tasked with considering a proposal in identifying the level of associated risk.  Thus, a low risk initiative may be rejected (for example on commercial grounds) whilst a high risk initiative may be explored further (for example on the basis of its potential and strategic importance).

The sponsor will be responsible for completing the risk assessment tool in the first instance and will be asked to indicate the level of confidence in the scores. Thereafter the sponsor should discuss and agree a final version with a member of the Collaborations Unit and RIO.

The risk assessment will also be used to determine what type of institutional visit should be undertaken, if required. Further information can be found here. 

Business case

When considering a proposal, the development and careful review of the business case is essential and it is recommended that you liaise with your College Head of Finance as early as possible.  Regardless of the nature of the collaboration the approving body (whether this is the College or Senate) has to be satisfied that there is a sound business case for the programme, based upon realistic projections of revenue and full and accurate costing of activities. Your College Head of Finance can provide valuable assistance in developing your business case and can advise whether there are any tax or legal implications for the University and the College HR Manager on HR matters. Guidance on costs you should consider when developing your business case can be found on the Collaboration Proposal Form Guidelines.  

You should obtain confirmation from Planning and Business Intelligence Services and Recruitment & International Office that the proposal is not at odds with University strategy and recruitment targets or policies and provide confirmation that the proposed arrangement would bring no financial disadvantage to the University. The Business Development Manager or equivalent can advise on the proposed fit with College strategy as well.

Due diligence

  • Due diligence encompasses 4 main areas:
    • Strategic due diligence - the fit between the proposal and the strategic priorities of the University/ College/ School.
    • Academic due diligence - academic quality and reputation; degree awarding powers; teaching and research resources or capacity of the department/s and postholder/s to be involved in the collaboration.
    • Financial due diligence – the scope and depth of financial due diligence will need to be adapted to the nature and content of the planned partnership and your provisional risk assessment. As a minimum this usually includes a review of audited financial accounts, balance sheet and directors’/governors’ reports for the last three to five financial years. It may also include: a review of other major financial commitments of the partner; the tax regime; and exchange controls or other restrictions which might prevent the University from transferring funds received overseas to the UK.
    • Legal due diligence – is the basis for creating a legally enforceable and fair partnership which minimises the risks incurred by the University
  • Other areas for review are the insurance and visa implications of the arrangement.
  • In the context of international partnerships due diligence involves the gathering and review of information on:
    • the regulatory and statutory environment of the region in which the proposed partnership will operate,
    • the partner’s circumstances (strategic, financial, legal,  etc).
  • The scope and extent of the due diligence exercise will depend on the scale and nature of the planned partnership, but also on the location and the status of the suggested partner institution. A risk assessment of the proposed partner and collaboration will assist in setting the structure for the due diligence exercise.
  • Due diligence should be a mutual exercise: so do not be surprised if your proposed partner asks for similar information about the University as part of their own due diligence process.
  • Due diligence may seem like an unnecessary exercise at the start of a promising partnership, but it will help you to avoid entering into binding legal commitments which can generate substantial ongoing costs if they are not properly conceived, structured and documented. Consequently, due diligence is in the best interest of all parties.
  • Due diligence should be seen as one of the first steps (after negotiation of the main terms of the partnership) in the process of making partnership arrangements. The earlier due diligence is started the better.  The results allow the parties to shape their partnership and better understand and evaluate the related risks.
  • There may be concern that starting a formal due diligence exercise is inappropriate in certain countries and may upset a potential partner and lead to a breakdown in negotiations that were progressing well.  Although this may be an understandable reaction, it should not stop the University from carrying out a detailed due diligence.  The following points of reassurance may be provided to overseas partners who are unfamiliar with due diligence:
    • it is a requirement of the University’s quality assurance body (QAA); 
    • the University of Glasgow will participate fully in the proposed partner’s own due diligence investigations;
    • it will allow the partners to fully understand each other and avoid misunderstandings
  • You cannot alwways take things at 'face value' so you should carry out your own background checks and not rely solely on the word of the proposed partner.
  • The University must consider the outcome of a detailed due diligence exercise and, where called for, be prepared to walk away from a proposed collaboration.
  • Due diligence checks are the responsibility of the sponsor.  However, support with this can be provided by the key College contacts; the International Officer based in RIO and the ACO.  


The following documentation is normally required for the approval of a proposal for a new collaborative partnership:

a) Collaboration Proposal Form (and Collaboration Proposal Form Guidelines)

This requires summary information on the proposal; the academic, strategic and resource issues, including the business case and rationale; the lead academic in the School who will manage the collaboration arrangement and planned timescales.

b) Due Diligence Checks

Depending on the complexity of the proposal, a number of due diligence checks should be undertaken prior to committing to a collaborative arrangement.  These are outlined in more detail in the Collaboration Proposal Form Guidelines.

c) Business Case

The Collaboration Proposal Form Guidelines provide examples of the costs to include in your business case. Not all of the costs listed will apply to each type of collaboration.

d) Risk Assessment Tool (and Guidance Notes)

e) Any Other Relevant Supporting Information

This may include information relating to other collaborations that the proposed partner has been involved with (ongoing or formerly).  It is helpful to try to establish why an arrangement was terminated, although this may be difficult to ascertain.