Breadth and diversity
The first core feature of partnerships is that they reward diversity and openness because the benefits extend across their “DNA”.
Only in a few cases such as tomatoes is a single gene thought to explain the majority of superiority in hybrid offspring. This tells us there is more to partnership building than matching a few specific strengths, unless we are the organisational equivalent of a tomato.
The value of a successful hybrid in agriculture is that it can give better yields, easier harvesting, and climate resilience all at the same time. The fruit you buy in the supermarket are appealing, nutritious, and cheap.
This analogy implies that we should build partnerships with notably different organisations, and have an eye for opportunities across all aspects of research, teaching and societal impacts. Achieving this scope requires partnerships to be at the level of larger units such as Schools, Colleges or our university.
We can see this breadth in our partnership with the University of Notre Dame, which is growing organically to involve multiple colleges and encompasses recruitment, mobility and joint research. It already includes efforts at varying levels of development to enable student mobility including summer research students, encourage joint proposals to international funders via joint online talks and symposia, offer sabbatical hosting and give access to specialised research infrastructure. It is not hard to imagine further novelties like online guest lecture swaps, joint remote environmental data collection projects, collaborative virtual exchange projects for undergraduate students, shared community outreach initiatives, or postgraduate dual degrees.
This breadth of activity contrasts with more familiar academic “collaborations”, which tend to be owned by individuals and target the tightly defined deliverables of specific research projects or teaching initiatives.
An important quality of partnership diversity is not simply its richness, but also equity and respect. I was recently inspired by a speaker at a British Council internationalisation conference session on African partnerships who pointed out that European universities often start with a target initiative then search for a matching African partner. He suggested it would be more logical and effective to start with the partner, then identify the specific goals and solutions by building transnational understanding. An African or Asian or US partner is closer to the realities of African or Asian or US challenges and opportunities.