An evolving partnership model in higher education — a matter of inter-connections

Photo by Benjamin Behre on Unsplash

“What good is a position when you have no sense of direction”?

(Basil, P., 2023).

In higher education, we navigate many islands as part of a larger system such as:

· central divisions

· faculties or schools

· research centres

· professional support units for staff and students.

Each university has a slightly different lay of the land, but many underlying structures are fairly similar.

As someone who has currently taken residency in one of these large central division islands, and is heavily involved in education design and strategic direction for a university, I often contemplate how we interact and form partnerships with other fellow islanders.

To explore the metaphor further, each island has its own rhythms of work, routines, processes, and myriads of complex interactions. In complex systems such as higher education, I find one needs to have an awareness of these rhythms, which in turn helps to develop a sense of direction.

In a way, I find I constantly build and re-build bridges between the islands. These bridges are not static, in fact a lot of them are in a constant state of flux. Often, multiple bridges come into existence, then get dismantled, often to re-appear again. Sometimes, new bridges are build, and are positioned in place or over older ones.

Some are more solid and last longer. It is these bridges that interest me, as I find the most productive relationships are based on solidifying the bridges over time. However, for that to happen, there needs to be mutual respect, trust, and at least some common goals. These cannot be established quickly; they require time to mature. One needs to deliberately build partnerships and make decisions whether a bridge is worth solidifying along the way.

There are many opportunities within institutional network to do this. It could start with a quick 10-minute chat in a seminar, webinar or a conference. A longer chat could follow. It could be a continuous research partnership, or one that spans over multiple transdisciplinary projects.

All these opportunities could form into inter-connections, and create a sense of direction for the work of each of the islands and their inhabitants, and for projects and activities which involves many islands at once. For me, I find the trick is to deliberately maintain solid bridges through connecting, re-connecting, exploring, framing, re-framing, and probing of different interventions and ideas, and the co-production of new knowledge. At the same time, it is important to keep a wider perspective on other islands and bridges which come into being. It is an organic process, which happens through deliberate sharing, contributing, and inter-connecting.


Basil, P. (2023, February 7). Under the mkone tree. Aeon.



Education design, leadership, systems thinking, research and strategy.

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Jenny Pesina

Education design, leadership, systems thinking, research and strategy.