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International exchange agreements: the need of a strategic approach
This article highlights the importance of an institutional strategic approach to the internationalization of higher education. Recently, especially due to technological developments, educational institutions increased their efforts to internationalize through exchange agreements that allow inward and outward mobility of students and researchers between different countries. Those mobility arrangements can create intersections between different individuals, research groups, institutions and organizations from different countries with related interests. Therefore, they can foster researches and knowledge creation that will be translated into development and revenues through fees, funding and intellectual property rights. However, two possible initial issues can arise. The first stems from the lack of a strategic approach as far as exchange agreements are concerned. Although such arrangements commonly provide individual mobility, or many times are orchestrated by specific research groups, they may escape from the institutional—and its departments’—sight and, consequently, be underused. It is then of paramount importance that international exchange agreements are settled in a strategic manner considering the institutional objectives. This can be done by systematically collating information about international possibilities that will go in tandem with the internationalization policy. The second issue arises from the lack of efficient management of the individuals who use those agreements. Efficient management not only during, but also after the exchange could translate these individual exchanges into long-lasting key intersections between international institutions, turning the internationalization policies into effective tools that will meet institutional goals. Based on preliminary research results from case studies covering the PEC-G and the PEC-PG programs, we advocate the need of a strategic perspective in the internationalization efforts as follows: (i) it is necessary to organize the already existent agreements and to foster new ones based on informed decisions that stem from institutional goals; (ii) there should be a more consistent management of international students and researchers that are part of exchange agreements; (iii) managing the student insertion in research groups and institutional activities will strengthen the possibility of creating robust international links; and (iv) the creation of alumni networks, that can be later organized by country, institution or expertise, can provide even more productive intersections.