IHE INTERNATIONAL - BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS
The signing of an MoU with the University of Rijeka takes IHE-Croatia collaborations to a new level.
IT HAS BEEN JUST OVER 15 YEARS since Ed Simpson had his first almost-chance meeting with a delegation from Croatia visiting the U.S. on an embassy-funded tour. He recalls getting a phone call from Jennifer Frum, a colleague in UGA’s Division of Public Service and Outreach, who knew of his interest in continuing professional education with an international reach. “It was the Martin Luther King holiday and I had planned to go sailing,” says Simpson, “but of course when Jennifer called, I couldn’t say no.”
Simpson met with the delegation, comprised of representatives from Croatia’s then-four universities, who wanted to know more about higher education in Georgia. “It was a wonderful meeting,” he says, “but afterwards I remember thinking, ‘We’ll see if anything comes of it.’ I was almost surprised when, a couple of months later, the head of the delegation invited me to the University of Zagreb for a follow-up meeting.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Since those first meetings in 2001, numerous IHE faculty and doctoral students have traveled to Croatia for workshops and presentations—and the institute has, in turn, hosted numerous visits to Athens.
Simpson, a longtime IHE Fellow and Distinguished Public Service Fellow Emeritus, completed a Fulbright Senior Specialist Project at the University of Zagreb in 2004 and also was named as an external expert for a European Union TEMPUS grant at Zagreb that same year. In 2007, IHE associate professor Doug Toma spent five months lecturing at the University of Zagreb and other institutions as a Fulbright Senior Scholar, helping develop the relationship.
A primary focus in those early years of collaboration involved providing guidance and support as Croatian university leaders worked to adapt their university system to meet the changing needs of their relatively new democratic nation.
We initially started doing programs to support their in-country training for college administrators,” says IHE Director Libby Morris, who has made several trips to Croatia over the years. “Several times the rectors and vice-rectors of the major universities—equivalent to presidents and provosts—convened administrators from across Croatia to participate. These programs, as well as programs involving travel to UGA, have been supported by the institutions, the U.S. State Department, and the embassy.”
Another important goal for Croatian leaders was to accommodate the higher education guidelines required for membership in the European Union. That included meeting the tenets of the Bologna Process through which more than 40 European countries eventually agreed to standardize higher education systems in Europe. Meeting those standards meant major restructuring of Croatia’s education system, which was hampered by highly decentralized management of autonomous faculties, state budget limitations, uneven technological resources, and other challenges. But the goal was eventually achieved the Croatia became the 28th E.U. member in 2013.
“We in the U.S. tend to take higher education for granted,” says Simpson, “but education in the foundation of our democracy. International work reminds us of this important fact, helping us to value and improve American higher education even as we work to assist changing systems in other parts of the globe.”
Simpson notes that the collaborations with Croatia have always involved a mutual exchange of ideas and that IHE students have reaped benefits in seeing the institute’s public service and outreach mission in action.
“The most important thing,” he notes, “is to bring a global perspective to the doctoral training we provide at IHE. We need to ensure that the next generation of leaders and policymakers understands the importance of thinking internationally, and has a grasp of the social, cultural, political, and governance issues facing higher education worldwide.”
Morris agrees: “IHE has a research, instructional, and public service mission, and we consider Croatia an ideal location to exchange ideas about the administration and development of higher education. When we develop programs for the exchange, it pushes us to see U.S. higher education issues, like admissions and financing, from a different perspective.”
An important milestone in the IHE-Croatia partnership was reached in 2012 when IHE faculty traveled to Croatia to participate in two nationwide scholarship fairs. McBee Professor Sheila Slaughter presented the keynote address, while Rob Toutkoushian gave a workshop on funding institutions of higher education. Morris and Simpson, part of the IHE delegation, used the occasion to introduce the Higher Education Initiative for Southeastern Europe (HEISEE) to researchers, administrators, policymakers, and government officials from Croatia and other regional countries attending the fairs. HEISEE had been created earlier that year when a group of faculty and administrators from Croatia visited the IHE to continue discussion about a regional program for higher education.
Fast forward to 2016. With the groundwork well laid—and with relationships carefully developed through the years—it was time, finally, to take the IHE/Croatia partnership to a new level. So in May, Simpson and Morris, along with Slaughter, returned to Croatia to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Rijeka.
“The signing of the MoU represents a watershed for the relationship between IHE and the greater Croatian higher education community,” says Simpson. “For the past 15 years, we’ve had a mutually productive partnership of shared professional development courses and programs, but it has been characterized by an ad hoc approach. With the signing of the MoU and the HEISEE project now becoming a permanent element of the University of Rijeka’s Center for Advanced Studies-South East Europe, we have a lasting foundation on which to continue building institutional capacity for all parties. “Although based in Rijeka, the mission for HEISEE is to serve the entire region,” he adds. “The MoU enhances IHE’s ability to achieve this goal by working more closely with the University of Rijeka and all the HEISEE partners.”
Those partners include the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb, the Institute for the development of Education (NGO), and the Agency for Science and Higher Education, the accrediting agency for Croatia, whose director visited IHE in February 2016.
The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb also has functioned as an unofficial partner providing several grants to HEISEE over the last three years. “The embassy has been a wonderful resource and supporter throughout IHE’s involvement in Croatia,” says Simpson, “for which we are very grateful.”
Cooperative activities to be covered by the five-year agreement (renewable for an additional five years) may include faculty and student exchanges, collaborative research programs, seminars and workshops, and service programs, with specific terms to be mutually agreed upon.
“We are also collaborating with the University of Rijeka on the development of a master’s program in higher education management,” says Morris. “This program will be the first in the region and should bring a higher level of expertise to the study and administration of post-secondary education in the country.”
Already IHE faculty—including Karen Webber, Tim Cain and others—have been to Rijeka to work on developing instructional modules on governance and management, quality assurance and other topics for the master’s program. Once the program’s accreditation process is complete, IHE faculty will teach several courses in person and on-line.
And thus a beneficial partnership, carefully tended over time, will continue to grow into the foreseeable future.