UMD: A Globally Connected University

Guidelines for Initiating an International Agreement

Guidelines for Initiating an International Agreement

The University of Maryland is connected to peer institutions around the globe through a dense fabric of collaborations.  Many of these partnerships are at the level of individual faculty interactions with professional colleagues, and operate on an informal basis (i.e., without the official exchange of institutional resources).  Such individual contacts and collaborations, however, can be the seeds of larger, formal institutional agreements that legally bind each side to provide specific services or to perform specific actions: student and faculty exchange, joint research—even shared degree programs.  Over the past 35 years, the University of Maryland has entered into educational and scholarly collaborations with more than 300 universities, government agencies, and private institutions, worldwide.  Most of these formal collaborations, and in particular most of the most successful ones, began as informal, individual collaborations.  The University actively encourages such initiatives, which are crucial to its continued growth as a "globally networked university," as articulated in its current Strategic Plan, Transforming Maryland: Higher Expectations, and the priorities set forth by President Wallace Loh.

What follow is intended to:

A)     Help UMD faculty and units decide whether an informal international collaboration should be made formal

B)      Outline the process for creating a formal relationship between UMD and an international partner institution

The content below elaborates on guidelines set forth in the campus-wide protocol for the creation of international agreements established by the Office of the Provost.

The threshold question that a potential sponsor of a new formal international agreement needs to answer before embarking on that path is, “Is this a good idea?”  To reach the answer, “yes,” the University requires that the initiators of any international accord provide a rationale for that agreement, addressing the following questions:

  • The impetus for developing this relationship with the peer institution in another country
  • The quality of the peer institution, its faculty, and program(s) (Determined by what metrics?)
  • The goals and anticipated outcomes of the collaboration
  • The strategic importance of the relationship (to the individual faculty member, department/college, the university)
  • The scope of the relationship.  Are there opportunities to expand the collaboration to other researchers in a department, other units in a college, or across campus?
  • What components, (e.g. research, student exchanges, joint degrees), will be included in this collaborative agreement?
  • If you are including undergraduate exchanges, its potential to be a viable program (e.g., student interest, credit transfer, course options, language of instruction, internships available, accessible information)? Have you discussed the idea with the Education Abroad Office?
  • The kind of administrative and financial support needed for this collaboration.  Is equivalent support available at the partner institution?
  • The sustainability of relationship in the long-term?

The actual approval process consists of two phases: 1) Preliminary approval; and 2) Final Approval. Sponsors should not begin the drafting of documents with potential partners until Preliminary Approval has been obtained. No agreement linking UMD to an international partner is valid without the signature of either the Provost or the President, which only comes at the end of the Final Approval process.

Preliminary approval begins with a formulation of a Proposal that answers the questions above, and the circulation of that Proposal to a series of campus officials for permission to proceed.  Required permissions start with those in the supervisory chain of the initiator, up to the level of Dean or Division head.

  • Proposals that include reciprocal undergraduate student exchange must contact the Education Abroad office, which has statutory responsibility for all outgoing and incoming undergrad exchange students, to arrange for a meeting and approval
  • Proposals that include graduate student exchange or programming must contact the Graduate Division, which has statutory responsibility for all graduate programming, to arrange for a meeting and approval
  • Proposals that include formal research collaborations must contact the Office of the Vice President for Research, which has statutory responsibility for all formal research agreements, to arrange for a meeting and approval

Preliminary approval to proceed must also be obtained from the Associate Vice President for International Affairs, and the Associate Provost for Academic Planning and Programs.

Once Preliminary approval for a proposed agreement has been secured, sponsors and the proposed partner institution should draft the required formal documents:

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU):

An MOU is a formal declaration of the desire of two institutions to collaborate.  It is couched in very general terms and does not establish any particular program of collaboration.  Rather, it articulates a range of potential activities, and the general principles under which subsequent programmatic agreements must operate.  An MOU is a common precursor to a programmatic agreement between two institutions; if UMD does not already have an MOU with the proposed partner, the UMD sponsors should execute one along with the specific programmatic agreement.  The University prefers NOT, however, to execute an MOU with an international partner when there is no specific programmatic agreement in the offing.  The main exception is in cases where personnel at the two institutions are making a joint application for external funding.  Agencies sponsoring this funding often require MOUs between the institutions of applicants, as a threshold indication of bona fides.

Programmatic/Implementation Agreements:

The general MOU calls for a specific implementing agreement for each collaboration executed under its aegis.  A variety of specific programmatic agreements are possible:

  • A student exchange agreement allows students at each institution to take classes, as non-degree students, at the other institution on a short-term basis (a semester, or an academic year).  Exchange students pay tuition to their home institution, and limited fees at home or to the host institution.  Room and board costs at the host institution are the student’s responsibility, as well as travel to and from the host institution, and other incidental and personal expenses.  Student exchanges are normally executed on a 1:1 basis, and careful attention is kept to maintaining that balance.  Exchanges can be restricted—i.e., open only to students in specified programs—or open—i.e., all students at each institution can apply.  Applicants must meet requirements from both the home and host institution.
  • A faculty exchange agreement allows teaching and research personnel at one institution to carry out their duties at the other institution under conditions similar to those at their home institution.  Contents can include provisions for salary sharing, housing swaps, travel expenses, and more.
  • Joint research agreements can come in a variety of forms, including the establishment and/or sharing of laboratory and other resources, short term student and staff exchanges between the institutions, et al.
  • Joint academic programming can come in a variety of forms, from student transfer agreements (“2+2” agreements), to PhD programs with joint committees, advising, etc.

The initiators should contact the Office of International Affairs for assistance with drafting both the MOU and the specific implantation agreement(s).

OIA has templates for the MOU and student exchange agreements that have been crafted in consultation with the UMD Office of Legal Affairs.  OLA has due diligence responsibility for all formal agreements between UMD and international partners.  Sponsors are encouraged to obtain these templates from OIA, and to offer them to the prospective international partner for consideration.  If the partner institution accepts the pre-approved UMD template, then Final Approval proceeds more expeditiously.  Use of other templates, or alteration of these UMD templates, leads to mandatory review by OLA, which at the very least will slow down the approval process.

Once the initiator and the prospective partner have crafted documents that meet with OLA and OIA approval, the initiator is requested to ask the partner institution to sign and return the documents.  These documents are then routed through the same list of supervisory approvals as the Preliminary proposal, for Final Approval.  If the initiators have engaged in appropriate consultation with these individuals and units, the final approval process should move fairly quickly.

An original of the countersigned (“Fully Executed”) agreement goes to the Provost’s office for archiving.  Pdf copies go to the Office of International Affairs, and any other UMD units involved.