Colleges President Mark Gearan was noted in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about consortia that exist among institutes of higher education. The article features a number of different groups in the U.S. and abroad that have colleges and universities with similar interests and needs. The groups vary from having just a few members to hundreds and from having no membership fee to fees in the tens of thousands.
Gearan notes in the article that he “has chosen to concentrate on membership in just a handful of groups, including the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which has more than 1,000 members and which Mr. Gearan describes as useful for the Washington perspective. His institution is also a member of the Annapolis Group, the network to which he has devoted most of his own time, which charges just $1,000 in annual dues and consists of mostly small liberal-arts colleges. For international exposure, he has elected to join only the Talloires Network, a group based on issues of civic engagement and social responsibility in higher education. The Talloires Network has about 140 members, many in the developing world, and does not collect dues.”
The full article follows.
Chronicle of Higher Education
As Universities Globalize, Consortia Take On a New Meaning
Aisha Labi • August 13, 2011
In the late 1990s, some members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities felt they needed a better way to connect with like-minded peers at other global institutions. “A number of vice chancellors were going to meetings and coming away saying that there were 400 institutions there, how do I find the ones that are like mine?” says Jane Usherwood, secretary general of Universitas 21, a network of 23 universities, all of which offer undergraduate through doctoral education. The organization was conceived “as a shorthand way of finding people dealing with the same sorts of problems,” says Ms. Usherwood. This year, for example, much of the group’s discussion has focused on high technology costs and frustrations that, despite the investments they have made, many institutions feel they are falling behind the technological curve.
Networks of universities are nothing new, and range from the intimate and exclusive to the sprawling and inclusive. The Ivy League, for all its connotations of academic excellence, is simply a formal network of eight private institutions in the northeastern United States that compete against each other in sporting events. The Russell Group, sometimes dubbed Britain’s Ivy League, represents that country’s 20 leading research-intensive universities. The League of European Research Universities is a similar size but includes leading research universities in Britain and continental Europe. Other networks span the globe to include hundreds of member institutions of varying sizes and academic prestige. But with higher education becoming an ever more international enterprise, membership in a network has become an increasingly important way for institutions to leverage their resources and reach a global audience in ways that few could do alone.
Universitas 21, for example, uses the $40,000 or more that each member pays annually for programs, like workshops for early career researchers and an annual, weeklong summer school for undergraduates, centered on a global issue and held at different campuses since 2004. Like a lot of networks, Universitas 21 is also continually evolving, admitting this year the Catholic University of Chile, its first member from South America. “Members have got to be research intensive, but we recognize that research intensiveness is demonstrated in a variety of ways,” Ms. Usherwood says. Institutions with innovative internationalization agendas are also especially attractive. “We are actively soliciting but in a very targeted way,” she says, emphasizing that the group “turns away members and won’t admit just anybody.”
Maurits van Rooijen, rector of the Nyenrode Business University, in the Netherlands, is president of the Compostela Group of Universities, which includes more than 70 European universities and several non-European associate members. The urge to connect is one of the defining characteristics of higher education, he says. “It’s part of what makes academia unique-we compete, but we also work together in an almost medieval spirit of brotherhood.” At the same time, university leaders need to be discerning about which networks to join and to ask hard questions about how membership in a specific organization ties into their institution’s mission. The membership dues that many networks charge are also a consideration, although the Compostela Group’s annual fee of ?1,500, or $ 2,100, is relatively nominal.
University presidents and top-level administrators are constantly being invited to join various associations. Mark D. Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in upstate New York, has chosen to concentrate on membership in just a handful of groups, including the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which has more than 1,000 members and which Mr. Gearan describes as useful for the Washington perspective. His institution is also a member of the Annapolis Group, the network to which he has devoted most of his own time, which charges just $1,000 in annual dues and consists of mostly small liberal-arts colleges. For international exposure, he has elected to join only the Talloires Network, a group based on issues of civic engagement and social responsibility in higher education. The Talloires Network has about 140 members, many in the developing world, and does not collect dues.
Mr. van Rooijen says that most institutions should follow Mr. Gearan’s example and join different networks for different purposes. Ms. Usherwood, of Universitas 21, agrees, noting that several of her group’s members also belong to organizations such as Compostela or the League of European Research Universities.
Compostela’s size gives its members opportunities that might not be open to them as individual institutions, allowing them to, for example, mount joint bids for projects financed by the European Union, such as the Tempus program, which promotes cooperation among institutions in the E.U. and those in the surrounding regions. The group runs workshops, which are often well attended given the size of its membership, says Mr. van Rooijen. Last year, for instance, it organized a meeting with the Santander Group, a Spanish bank, on how universities can better work with entrepreneurs. The organization was founded in 1993 with a key priority being to increase exchanges among students, professors, and administrative staff members across institutions-an effort that preceded the advent of the Bologna Process in Europe, which moved the issue to the forefront of the European agenda. Members are moving toward even greater integration by offering each others’ students reduced tuition rates.
Constantine (Dinos) Arcoumanis, deputy vice chancellor for research and international affairs at City University London, has created one of the newest networks. “The more we looked at existing networks, the more we were convinced that none of them were right,” he says. The dominant models seemed to be either large organizations or discipline-centered groups with far fewer members. “We wanted a general kind of network, but not one of the large ones, whose purpose I really can’t see, except for networking and socializing,” he says.
Like Seeks Like
As he discussed ideas for a new network with other university leaders, Mr. Arcoumanis focused on his university’s key attributes, beginning with its identity as a commuter institution in the heart of London. He decided to seek out other institutions in world cities, which he defined as cultural and financial centers with more than five million people. He and his fellow organizers came up with four broad themes-transport, business, global health, and cultural industries-that would be of particular interest to institutions in such cities.
The group, now known as World Cities, or the WC2 University Network, held its inaugural meeting last year. It has 11 members and will cap the number at 15. It charges no annual dues and relies on the staff at City University to handle administrative support for its activities, which include a meeting every six months at a member institution.
The new network’s first year has been devoted to developing a collaborative research agenda based on the four themes. Mr. Arcoumanis has also persuaded his university to pay the full costs for a student from each member institution to pursue his or her doctoral work at City University. “The aspiration is that these individuals will be kinds of local ambassadors of the institutions,” he says. “If things go well, each partner institution may be inspired to do the same, and if this happens, it will create a very powerful network of doctoral students who will be the best ambassadors in the future for the network.”
Universitas 21 has a similar program. Spurred in part by a sense that member universities’ business schools were not doing enough to take advantage of the network’s opportunities, Christopher Earley, the departing dean of the business school at the University of Connecticut, has helped to develop a program that will bring together doctoral researchers. “The idea is help Ph.D. students have a more global perspective and also to have a network at a very early stage in their careers,” he says.
One network has taken the notion of collaboration a step farther, developing an entirely new institution with degree-granting authority of its own. The Euro-Mediterranean University, or Emuni, was created in 2008 following a Paris summit of 43 countries around the Mediterranean, including several in the Arab world. Involving nearly 200 member institutions, it provides what Joseph Mifsud, its president, calls “just-in-time education,” focusing on pressing regional issues that are not adequately dealt with through traditional university syllabi and teaching methods. The institution offers graduate-level courses in six areas of concern to countries in the region, such as alternative energy, combating pollution in the Mediterranean, and disaster management and prevention. Each master’s program can accommodate approximately 25 students and involves the participation of 12 to 15 faculty members from different countries. More than 800 students have enrolled in Emuni courses in the three years since its inception. The university has an administrative center in Slovenia but is not otherwise tied to any single place, and courses can be offered at any of the participating institutions.
Emuni’s example raises an important point, one echoed by all involved in networks: to thrive, networks require real commitment from members. Without that, many simply fail. WC2 was inspired in part by a previous organization, known as World Class Cities 1, which Mr. van Rooijen was also involved in setting up. It shut down, largely because of a lack of involvement beyond the top-administrator level, which resulted in the organization’s losing momentum when a handful of key leaders left their posts. Another golden rule for a successful network, Mr. van Rooijen stresses, is that membership should never be dependent on the involvement of just one person or a handful of individuals. While it is important that the president goes to meetings and shows the commitment of the institution and understands what is happening, it is more essential to get others at the university involved, he says. “The real success of being linked to the network very much depends on what happens in universities-it’s an internal story, not an external one.”
He invokes the analogy of a health-club membership. Simply signing up will not yield any benefits. “What you get out of a network has to do not with whether you pay your fee but with the level of engagement. If you can’t convince your colleagues to get involved, if the institution is at the margins you can end up wondering why you’re paying the fee.”