University Cooperation

TRES, Joaquim (2006)

University cooperation is rapidly changing its identity. 

University cooperation is rapidly changing its identity. It began during the Cold War when it was carried out by a large number of institutions for political and developmental reasons thanks to the financial and institutional help of the State. Today in university cooperation, or rather in university collaboration, market mechanics are gaining in importance and in fact nowadays university cooperation for development ends coexists with collaboration motivated by market mechanisms.
Official Development Aid (ODA) is a contemporary phenomenon based on cooperation towards reconstruction after World War Two through the US financed and organized Marshall Plan. Since then, countries reconstructed by the Marshall Plan have gone on to become aid donors, above all after the multiple processes of decolonization in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In an international context marked by the Cold War, the Soviet Union also offered aid for development, and cooperation in general was greatly affected by political alliances based on which of the two sides one belonged to. Throughout this period, cooperation focussed mostly on investing in infrastructure, given that capital was the rarest commodity in developing countries after the colonial withdrawal. An annual investment of 1% of the GDP of rich countries (0.7% from the state and 0.3% from the private sector) would be sufficient according to Dutch Nobel Prize-winner Jan Tinbergen.
This period of projects based on investment soon revealed limitations and support shifted in the 1980s to programmes with important economic conditions imposed by international financial institutions, oriented towards market economic reforms. The main drawback of these programmes was that one model could not function for all and that there were disappointing results in terms of growth, creation of employment, reduction of poverty and inequality. Today the basis of cooperation is in reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). However, we remain far from achieving a consensus about the effectiveness of cooperation. Some (D. Dollar & P. Collier) have shown that cooperation works when functioning in politically favourable environments, while the sceptics (led by W. Easterly) would consider that cooperation has never worked. Nevertheless, the international community dedicates approximately 60,000 million dollars to cooperation through multilateral organisations such as the UN, development banks, bilateral aid and NGOs.
What role has university cooperation played throughout this period? In processes of independence, universities in Northern countries provided support for the establishment of national state-run universities in the recently formed States, with technical assistance in the creation of syllabi and the active participation of professors. One of the most widespread forms of aid, because it is also offered by so called developing countries or countries in transition, are grants for postgraduate studies, including doctorates and other studies, in the country where they are offered. More recently, however, joint doctorates and later joint postgraduate courses have appeared, which offer more advantages than before, such as much lower costs, because most of the courses are offered in the country of origin. The subjects studied thus tend to have a more direct relevance to the reality of the country of origin and can inspire the setting in motion of related research projects during or after the course of study, as the supervising staff may have a greater interest in what occurs in the student’s country of origin.
With the increasing ease with which we travel, thanks to declining costs and the increasing availability of access to communication media such as the television and, of course, the Internet, student exchanges have taken on a much greater role in university cooperation in large parts of the world. In Europe, student exchanges are almost synonymous with the Erasmus Programme, founded in 1987 with the participation of 3,244 students. Today there are some 125,000 participants per year, and the programme has had more than 2 million participants from two thousand universities since its creation. Two years ago it was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for International Cooperation (Spain), for being considered one of the most important projects of international cooperation in the history of Humanity, whose participants, “…as well as increasing their education and enriching their knowledge of the values shared by the people of Europe, have added to its cultural diversity.”[1] Erasmus is now opening to participants from other continents.
Despite the evident results and the recognition that it has achieved, university cooperation is not always a priority for aid donors, who focus their efforts on covering basic necessities such as education and first aid as they are clearly laid out in the MDGs, which must be followed to the letter. However, the excessive weight given to the MDGs has damaged universities and countries because—as everyone knows—higher education is a necessary part of development because it trains teachers, medical staff, hospital directors, public administrators, judges and attorneys and the many other professionals. The MDGs are important and should stay in place, but the international community, countries from the North and the South, should redouble their efforts to ensure that higher education is a priority.
The increasing ease with which we travel, and the spectacular increase in enrolment, which almost multiplied by 10 between 1960 and 2005 to reach approximately 120 million students, has been mirrored by spectacular growth in academic exchange, which has been cited at 50,000 million dollars, a similar figure to that of total ODA worldwide. It is in this context that university cooperation is changing its identity. Today the new providers are crossing borders and, whether state or private in their country of origin, they act as private institutions in the host countries. Public and private alliances are made between universities from Northern countries and those from the South, in which we can see that further to cooperation new forms of collaboration have emerged which do not have the political or aid-based motivations of the past (which, however, have not entirely disappeared). These new forms are motivated by economic profit, as is explored in more detail in the interview this month with Professor Jane Knight. The changes have been rapid and the phenomena are evolving swiftly. However, what is clear is that aid-based and market-based collaboration will coexist, and the role of the State will be to strictly regulate higher education policies in order to guarantee quality, a commitment to society and access to any capable students.

Prince of Asturias Jury Prize for International Cooperation 2004.

About the author

Joaquim Tres

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government