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«trong>Thriving in Partnership: Models for Continuing Education Peter Moroney Deena Boeck UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA T INTRODUCTION his article, ...»

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Thriving in Partnership:

Models for Continuing


Peter Moroney

Deena Boeck




his article, based on a presentation at the University Professional

and Continuing Education Association Annual Conference,

March 29, 2012, provides concepts, terminology, and financial

models for establishing and maintaining successful institutional partnerships. We offer it as a contribution to developing a wider understand- ing of the models of partnership that lead to sustainable success.

The essential work of the continuing educator is to bring together in- structors, curriculum, facilities, and resources to create a compelling learn- ing experience for learners. As such, continuing educators can be thought of as both brokers and facilitators of the overall learning experience. This implies an ability to assess the relative value of everything deemed essen- tial to the learning experience and the skills to negotiate for expertise and resources. Moreover, because most continuing education units operate in an entrepreneurial environment, these capabilities lend themselves well to developing and managing effective institutional collaborations. This is supported by Himmelman’s (2002) definition of institutional collaboration as “a process in which organizations exchange information, alter activities, share resources, and enhance each other’s capacity for mutual benefit and common purpose by sharing risk, responsibilities and rewards” (p. 3).

© 2012 Peter Moroney, Associate Executive Director, and Deena Boeck, Associate Director of Life and Career Programs, Continuing Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada 112 CONTINUING HIGHER EDUCATION REVIEW, Vol. 76, 2012


Certainly, the concept of partnership is prevalent in continuing education professional circles where it is often an assumed best practice, but there is little in the way of formal approaches to developing partnerships. In this article, we describe the concepts, tools and financial models that have helped guide the development of successful inter- and intra-institutional partner- ships at the University of British Columbia, Continuing Studies (UBC-CS).

Programs delivered via a partnership model account for a significant portion of activity and revenue at UBC-CS. Importantly, the vast majority of new program revenue growth (outside of English as a second language programs) has come via partnership programs, which, in most cases, involve some sharing of revenue and risk. We broadly define a partnership as a formal inter- or intra-institutional collaboration to develop and/or deliver a program or service in which each partner adds value.

The following illustrates the diversity of partnerships in which UBCCS has been involved:

• UBC-CS collaborates with the UBC Sauder School of Business to provide online and in class programs in areas such as project management and business analysis.

• UBC- CS is the exclusive online educational delivery partner for a major professional association in the field of analytics.

• UBC-CS licenses test preparation curriculum to partners who market and deliver their own branded programs.

• UBC-CS partners with a local, foreign-language media company to develop, market, and deliver courses to a non-English speaking audience.

• UBC-CS partners with a national certifying body to deliver courses based on an approved LEED® green-building curriculum.

• UBC-CS partners with a sister Canadian university in another geographical location to deliver project management courses for their local audience.

• UBC-CS partners with a US university to create a program and laddering arrangement whereby graduates of an existing UBC-CS program receive credit toward the partner university’s certificate program.

• UBC-CS partners with three US universities to deliver a joint online certificate program in the field of sustainability.



–  –  –


Typically, the intent to form a partnership begins as a conversation between two or more individuals representing each of their respective institutions.

Not surprisingly, many such conversations are initiated only after the individuals involved have developed a level of comfort and personal trust in dealing with each other. Initial discussions can often be engaging and exhilarating, however, once a lawyer drafts the terms of a partnership, there is seldom a mention of the kind of goodwill and collegiality needed to sustain a partnership. For this reason, legal agreements alone cannot guarantee a successful partnership. As Gage (2004) notes, “Prospective partners should realize that legal documents serve a narrow purpose. They establish the existence of the partnership…as a legal entity and specify the legal rights and obligations of the partners” (p. 41). He adds, “In a very real sense they are there to protect partners from each other. They are about limiting liability. That is why they are legally binding” (p. 41).



Although a formal partnership agreement may be necessary, in our experience it is often the relational aspects of the partnership that are most

critical to success. These include:

• Open, clear communication.

• Commitment to fairness.

• Flexibility—responsiveness.

• Understanding each others’ measures of success.

• Common vision.

• Shared values.

• Trust.

• Positive personal relationships.

When a partnership problem or challenge inevitably arises, it will be the relationship, not the legal agreement that determines whether or not the partnership succeeds. According to Pryor (2011), “When thinking about the concept of partnership, it’s best to remember the most important dimension is building and sustaining a trust-centered relationship” (p. 1).

He provides an apt metaphor:

…The best contracts are the ones that you never have to pull off the shelf. In this sense, contracts are like parachutes. When someone reaches for one, something fundamental has gone wrong. Instead, you’re far better off flying the plane properly so you don’t need the parachute.

The primary importance of relationship factors is an important context that also underlies the discussion of roles, responsibilities and financial models.


At the outset of a partnership discussion, it is typical to have very little in the way of a framework to guide planning. Some institutions may have general guidelines, but the tendency is to move quickly from discussions of the program or service concept straight to operational and financial issues. In our experience, it is important at this early stage to discuss each partner’s objectives, their capacities and competencies, and the value that each can bring to the partnership. This foundation will help define roles and ultimately the appropriate financial model.

Objectives It is important to clarify the specific objectives of each partner. Many partnership discussions focus on the objectives of the partnership itself (e.g.,

–  –  –

to create a highly innovative new program) but fail to clarify the specific objectives of each partner. For example, partner A may want to increase revenue while partner B may want to attract students to its graduate programs.

Capacity and competencies This aspect of the discussion revolves around the specific capacities and competencies needed to effectively undertake the partnership, including the resources required as well as any specific expertise. The objective in early conversations is to be as clear as possible about the capacities and competencies required, and then to have clear agreement on the respective commitments of the partners commensurate with an appropriate financial model.

–  –  –

Figure 2: Sample tool for guiding discussion around responsibilities and contributions of partners (see Appendix for details).

It is important to keep the discussion focused on which partner is most appropriate in terms of adding value. In our experience, we have found that using this tool often calls into question simplistic “50/50” partnership models and helps to educate each of the partners about their respective capabilities and roles. It serves as a good foundation upon which to have realistic discussions about the sharing of risk and reward.


With a clearer understanding of the value that each partner brings to the partnership and their respective roles, it is possible to formulate a financial model that corresponds to the risk/reward tolerance of the respective partners. At UBC-CS, our experience in developing partnerships has led us to conceptualize three different kinds of financial models, each with their distinctive attributes: a licensing model, a shared risk/reward model, and a scaled risk/reward model. These serve as a valuable framework for deterCONTINUING HIGHER EDUCATION REVIEW, Vol. 76, 2012 117


mining the most appropriate financial model for the kind of partnerships that continuing educators are likely to engage in. In particular, the scaled risk/reward model offers a compelling alternative in partnerships where the licensing model and shared risk/reward model do not adequately reflect the differing levels of risk tolerance and entrepreneurship.

Licensing model This model arises most in cases where existing curriculum or resources are being licensed. In our case we have found it applicable in a context where curriculum must comply with national or international standards and where there are minimal concerns about ownership and oversight of the content (e.g., test preparation). Partnerships based on this model allow a continuing education unit to ramp up new programming quickly and leverage external content expertise while incurring minimal risk. UBC-CS also licenses curriculum to external partners as a way of leveraging successful programming in new ways.

The key feature of this financial model as shown in Figure 3 is that the risk and reward are not shared and that the licensing fee (usually a flat fee or percentage) remains the same regardless of enrollment numbers.

–  –  –

cess using the scaled risk/reward model, a financial model applicable to 50 situations in which one partner is more confident about the demand. This 40 model protects the more risk-averse partner while incentivizing the entrepreneurial partner because the ratio for sharing risk and reward changes 20 based on enrollment levels.

10 Figure 5 illustrates an example where UBC-CS, the risk-averse partner, 0 receives 75 percent of the15 revenue for the first 10 enrollments in order to 5 10 20 25 30 Enrollment cover fixed, variable, and overhead costs. As enrollments increase, the partner’s share of the revenue also increases. UBC-CS benefits from new programming, new market share, and exposure as enrollments increase while still meeting financial targets. The partner benefits from a higher revenue share as numbers increase and is thereby highly motivated to support marketing and promotion efforts.

–  –  –

REFERENCES Gage, D. (2004). The partnership charter: How to start out right with your new business partnership (Or fix the one you’re in). New York: Basic Books.

Jones, G., & George, J. (2008). Contemporary management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Himmelman, A. (2002) Collaboration for a change: Definitions, decision-making models, roles, and collaboration process guide. Minneapolis: Himmelman Consulting. Retrieved June 18, 2012, from http://depts.washington.edu/ccph/pdf_files/4achange.pdf Pryor, Jay R. (2011). New partnership models for the 21st century. An address to the World National Oil Companies Congress 2011. London, England. Retrieved June 18, 2012 from http://www.chevron.com/chevron/speeches/article/06222011_newpartnershipmodelsforthe21stcentury.news APPENDIX: Responsibilities as identified in Figure 2 to guide partnership discussion Market research: assessing student demand, demographic and psychographic analysis, focus groups, surveys, market requirements, needs analysis, learning environment analysis.

Program and concept development: defining the market opportunity, target markets, high-level program objectives and outcomes, working with advisory committees, partner analysis.

Business plan development: strategic planning, goals and objectives, resource analysis and requirements, roles and responsibilities, budget creation, financial management and controls, development planning, schedules and timelines, risk management.

Academic governance: academic/senate approvals, program outcomes, course objectives, defining the curriculum, course development, learning activities, academic resources.

Administrative coordination: overall program management, project management, registration, record-keeping, financial management, facilities management, bookings, A/V support, instructor hiring and scheduling, contract management, payroll and accounting, IT support.

Student services (General): program information, student advising, admissions, career counseling, technical support for e-learning, library services.

Student services (Instructional): online tutoring, managing assignments, managing individual and team projects, correcting student work, exams and quizzes, student assessment, issuing grades.

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