Responsibilities in collaborative arrangements
There are a number of key responsibilities to consider when developing a collaborative arrangement. Further information on what they are and where they lie is outlined below.
All publicly-funded higher education institutions in the UK are subject to obligations to their respective funding councils and to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA). In developing, extending or managing collaborative arrangements and their associated provision, the University has to ensure that its policies and practices are consistent with the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (the Quality Code) Chapter B10: Managing Higher Education Provision with Others. The Quality Code is a code of good practice for UK higher education institutions in developing, extending or managing collaborative arrangements. Chapter B10 comprises 19 indicators which outline the key matters of principle identified as important for the assurance of quality and academic standards. Institutions are expected to be able to demonstrate that they are effectively addressing the issues covered by the indicators.
The key responsibilities of the University are:
a) Whatever the nature of the collaboration, the University is responsible for the quality and standards of all provision leading to an award or credits made in its name, wherever they take place.
b) The University is responsible for ensuring that the quality of learning opportunities offered through a collaborative arrangement is adequate to enable a student to achieve the academic standard required for its award.
c) The academic standard expected of provision delivered by a partner institution is the same as that maintained for a corresponding or comparable award in the University and should be compatible with any relevant benchmark information recognised in the UK.
d) The awards of the University that may be attained by students at a partner institution will be those approved within the regulatory framework of the University. The standard and title of such awards, and of the programmes which lead to them, will be those which are recognised in the UK.
e) The University will undertake, with due diligence, an investigation to satisfy itself about the good standing of a prospective partner, and of their capacity to fulfil their designated role in the arrangement. This investigation will include the legal status of the prospective partner, and its capacity in law to contract with the University.
f) All collaborative arrangements will be supported by a written agreement setting out the rights and obligations of the parties and signed by the authorised representatives of the University and the partner organisation.
g) The relationship between the University and a partner institution will be based on a mutual commitment to the agreement and to the interests of students and their ability to progress through their chosen programme or course. Each institution has a duty of care to the students involved. Agreements will, therefore, provide for situations in which the student learning experience will be affected, such as where a partner institution ceases operation, or changes its legal identity.
h) The procedures established to manage collaborative arrangements must be capable of the delivery of robust quality assurance and enhancement and must ensure that the student experience is equivalent to that of other University students. However, they are constructed in a way that is appropriate to the scale and nature of the collaboration and to the strategic interests of the relevant partners.
i) A register of approved educational partnerships, including the name and title of the School/RI contact, should be maintained and be publicly available on the University website.
The Senate is the University’s senior academic body, with statutory responsibilities for regulating and superintending the teaching and discipline of the University and for promoting research. The University Court has ultimate responsibility for the deployment of resources in the University and for the strategic plans of the institution. It also has a monitoring role in relation to the overall performance of the University and it is responsible for the well-being of staff. With the Senate, it is responsible for the well-being of students and for the reputation of the University.
Quality Assurance Agency (QAA)
The University is reviewed by the QAA on a periodic basis. This Enhancement-led Institutional Review (ELIR) covers all of the University’s provision regardless of where it is delivered. The ELIR review and resulting report will consider the management of the student learning experience; institution-led monitoring and review of quality and academic standards; and the strategic approach to quality enhancement. An overall confidence judgement will be reached on the University's current, and likely future, management of the academic standards of its awards and the quality of the student learning experience it provides.
The QAA conducted the University’s second Enhancement-led Institutional Review (ELIR) during October and November 2009. The report confirms that the panel had confidence in the effectiveness of the University’s management of academic standards, and of the assurance and enhancement of the student learning experience, both currently and in the future. The report is very positive. It recognises a large number of significant developments the University has been pursuing. The reports also identify a number of areas for development and these include some aspects of our collaborative arrangements, including:
- finalising, implementing and promoting the University’s Framework for Academic Collaborations
- including an external member on partnership approval panels
- developing a process for the periodic review of partnerships
There may be other reviews of the University’s provision and/or collaborative arrangements (e.g. internal audits or reviews of accreditation by Professional, Statutory or Regulatory Bodies). From the University’s perspective, the reports generated by these exercises supplement and update the information gathered through partner approval and monitoring processes. Addressing the findings from these reviews is an important part of the ongoing process of review and enhancement of our collaborative arrangements and procedures. Consequently, it is important to realise that risk management does not come to an end once a collaboration begins.
It is most important that partnership arrangements are managed effectively within Colleges to assure the quality and standards of all provision. In general, Colleges’ responsibilities are the same as for any other School or RI provision. Two responsibilities outlined in the University’s Roles and Responsibilities of the College, School (and subject) and Research Institute document (2010) of particular relevance to collaborative arrangements are:
- to promote, develop and manage strategic partnerships, including international developments;
- to ensure the academic standards of all programmes managed within the College.
Consequently, it is important that there is College engagement with international and national partnerships from initiation of a proposal through to implementation and monitoring.
The Head of College is responsible for:
a) ensuring that all proposals authorised to proceed to further development are in line with University and College strategic priorities;
b) confirming approval of proposals by the College, including the associated business case.
Responsibility for a collaborative arrangement lies with the sponsor School or RI in the same way as it does for any other School or RI provision. Consequently, Schools and RIs must take ownership of any partnership in which they are involved and will be responsible for ensuring that such arrangements are managed effectively, including the assurance of the quality and standards of all provision, whether it is delivered by University staff or by staff in a partner institution.
The Head of School/ RI Director is responsible for:
a) nominating a co-ordinator to be responsible for leading and managing the collaborative arrangement;
b) ensuring that all proposals authorised to proceed to further development meet with the School Plan and that appropriate resource is allocated to enable the nominated coordinator to fulfil his/her responsibilities;
c) endorsing proposals prior to their submission to the College;
d) liaising with the nominated co-ordinator to oversee the development of the Memorandum of Understanding/ Agreement (MoU/MoA);
e) undertaking a review of the near final draft of the Memorandum of Agreement;
f) ensuring that there is routine monitoring of the collaboration in accordance with normal University procedures and with the agreement governing the collaboration through the co-ordinator.
The School/ RI co-ordinator for the collaborative arrangement will act as the principal point of contact for all matters relating to its development and operation. This is not a role for an inexperienced member of staff and it is important that the Head of School/ RI Director nominates someone with the relevant level of skills and experience, and allocates sufficient time to allow them to successfully fulfill this important role.
The co-ordinator is responsible for ensuring that the MoA is implemented. The College Business Development Manager (or equivalent) should assist in the development of an implementation plan in accordance with the MoA and in consultation with: the partner institution; School/ RI and College colleagues (e.g. Head of School/RI Administration and the Head of Academic & Student Administration for the College) and relevant University Services (e.g. Recruitment & International Office, Registry, Planning Services, Senate Office, etc). The plan should clarify roles and responsibilities on a practical day to day level in order to ensure alignment with University/College procedures and systems. For example, student data requirements; scheduling of exam boards and graduation (where appropriate).
You need to be mindful throughout of issues relating to the public availability of information on collaborative arrangements. These include, but are not limited to, the following:-
- Regardless of the type of collaborative arrangement, the University must maintain effective control of publicity and marketing materials, especially where these are published by a partner organisation. All material used to advertise or inform prospective students about the collaboration should clearly outline the University’s role in the arrangement. For example, this may mean using similar wording as “validated by the University of Glasgow”; “in collaboration with the University of Glasgow” or other wording as applicable.
- In particular the University seeks to ensure that publicity and marketing materials avoid:
- inappropriate or misleading comparisons with other providers;
- derogatory statements about other providers;
- misleading statements about recognition of awards by public or other authorised bodies;
- misleading advice about the recognition of awards by professional bodies or bodies in other countries;
- bringing UK HE into disrepute.
- The University will agree with the partner organisation whether it will publish all publicity and marketing materials or, if this is to be done by the partner, mechanisms for approval of such materials prior to publication. Any materials should be approved by a nominee of the School. As a minimum, the sponsor School will be expected to monitor the quality and accuracy of promotional material on an annual basis. This should be specified in the MoA.
- The University’s marque may be used to promote collaborative arrangements but only with the University’s written agreement and in accordance with Corporate Communication’s specific guidance on using our marque. This should also be reflected in the MoA.
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.
‘Risk’ can be defined as the threat that ‘an action or event will adversely affect an organisation’s ability to achieve its objectives’. The relevant objectives for the University are to enhance quality, maintain standards and secure the viability of its provision.
Academic collaboration is intrinsically risky and has the potential to expose the University to both positive and negative risks. In the hope of capturing new markets, the University may cooperate with partners to develop and deliver programmes and this will incur ‘positive’ risk. However, the University may delegate certain responsibilities to its partners and this could incur some ‘negative’ risks. A good understanding of the risks associated with collaboration and how these are managed is therefore crucial.
The minimisation of these risks requires the robust application of quality management arrangements to the general risks associated with collaborative provision, and to the particular risks presented by an individual partnership.
It is important to consider the potential damage to the University’s standing and reputation if academic standards are not assured or should the partnership arrangement break down. Such risks occur when a university fails to gain and act upon intelligence relating to its operating environment, its partners and the effectiveness of its own teams in discharging their day-to-day management responsibilities. This means that clarifying respective responsibilities between the University and the partner institution becomes extremely important, to ensure that the programme delivery replicates the standards set for other University of Glasgow awards. Achieving this goal needs a contingency mindset to ensure that all eventualities are covered, in other words, that there is the capacity and willingness to quickly rectify anything that may be going wrong.
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 Colleges 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.
The University manages these risks by adopting the particular modes of collaboration set out in the Framework. 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 Form 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 to identify the risks and record how they have been addressed. The risk register will assist in monitoring the risk throughout the duration of the agreement.
The approval process requires a financial due diligence to be undertaken and a business case to be developed. Assistance and support with this is available from the College Finance Manager and Business Development Manager (or equivalent). 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 is our policy only to offer programmes that are delivered and assessed in English, which maximises our ability to assure the standards of the programmes. 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 Academic Collaborations Office in monitoring partnerships.
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 Schools/RIs and postholder/s to be involved in the collaboration and risks regarding Intellectual Property.
- 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 sheets 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 arrangements.
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; and
- 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 UK’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 always 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/School/RI/College. However, support with this can be provided by the key College contacts; the International Officer based in RIO and the Academic Collaborations Office.