Handbook for Planning International Linkage Agreements

MU currently maintains approximately 200 fully approved agreements with institutions in more than forty countries around the world. The purpose of this handbook is to provide guidelines and step-by-step procedures for planning, initiating, evaluating and reviewing such agreements.

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Types of international linkages and definitions
    1. Types
    2. Definitions
  3. Evaluative criteria for an agreement
  4. Initial steps in developing an agreement
  5. Drafting an agreement
  6. Components of an agreement
  7. Agreement review and approval
    1. Unit Responsibilities
    2. Agreement routing form
    3. Process
  8. Evaluation and renewal
  9. Appendices
    1. International Agreement Planning Form (docx)
    2. International Agreement Review Routing Form (pdf)
    3. Sample agreements
      1. General agreement (pdf)
      2. Student exchange agreement (pdf)
      3. Amendment to memorandum of understanding (pdf)

table of contents

1. Introduction

Agreements with universities, government agencies and NGOs located in other countries are used to facilitate a range of international activities.  MU currently maintains approximately 200 fully approved agreements with institutions in more than forty countries around the world.  Several of these agreements provide important tangible benefits, such as revenues for services rendered, access to research facilities, data or funding, student and faculty exchange, etc. However, since countries have different legal systems and different standards and expectations in higher education, international agreements can sometimes introduce unanticipated liabilities and obligations.  Agreements may also introduce distributed costs, duplication of effort or other inefficiencies that offset expected benefits. MU must estimate the potential benefits and costs of these agreements.  Wherever possible, we need to monitor and manage these flows to maximize our return on investment in international initiatives.  International agreements can be used to extend MU’s global reach and reputation.  By planning and managing which agreements and institutional associations to pursue, we can affect our reputation in particular regions.

The purpose of this handbook is to provide guidelines and step-by-step procedures for planning, initiating, evaluating and reviewing such agreements. Ideally, MU would have agreements in place with any and all international institutions with which we intend to partner. This handbook provides a useful and practical working reference and a framework for faculty, staff, and academic units that consider collaborative research, teaching, faculty and student exchange, joint degree or non-degree programs, training and/or other professional development programs with an international counterpart abroad.  It provides detailed information to assist you as you begin the process of building international relationships and formalizing agreements. We intend to review this handbook periodically and make updates as necessary.  Please contact the vice provost for international programs with your questions and/or suggestions for improving this document.

2. Types of international linkages and definitions

  1. Types. Agreements with international institutions may involve a variety of shared and exchange programs.  The most common types of linkages include the following:
    1. General agreement. General agreements are used to formally express institutional intent to pursue opportunities for collaboration.  Typically, these agreements require no financial commitment for either institution.  On the surface, they may seem to entail minimal risks.  However, the agreement represents substantive, broad commitment, and should reflect institutional intent. (sample general agreement)
    2. Co-curricular program. These are agreements covering a specific academic program or programs in which both institutions provide part of the requirements for the degree. The institutions must agree in advance which institution will grant the degree, courses that will be accepted in transfer, whether the second institution will grant a certificate of completion or other recognition of the joint nature of the studies, and many other details of the program. Such an agreement requires a great deal of work and the involvement of several offices at MU to evaluate lists of courses that not only match MU degree courses but also meet all MU degree requirements. (sample co-curricular agreement)
    3. Student exchange. These are commonly referred to as “reciprocal exchange” agreements. Student exchange agreements allow students to pay tuition to the home institution and study tuition-free at the host institution. The students, in fact, trade places reciprocally, so it is important to exchange an equal number of students each year. An imbalance in the number of students exchanged may result in a financial loss to either the home or host institution. (sample exchange agreement)
    4. Faculty collaboration. These agreements usually include faculty exchange in areas of teaching, research or co-hosting seminars or conferences. Collaborations may be one-time or on-going, and may involve work done at one institution or both.
    5. Non-degree or non-academic program. These programs are designed and delivered by MU specifically for an academic institution and/or organization abroad. Such programs include courses and/or activities designed specifically to meet the requests of the international institution. Typically, the agreement facilitates payment for services rendered. Non-academic programs may be delivered on the MU campus or abroad. MU units involved may issue certificates of completion to program participants.  This type of program may also be offered by an academic institution and/or organization abroad for MU students.
    6. Credit transfer. Many 2-year colleges and comprehensive universities abroad enter into articulation agreements on credit transfer with U.S. counterparts. One institution usually enters into such agreements with multiple U.S. counterparts so as to give its students more options to choose.  This type of agreement requires course review, evaluation and matching from department advisers and/or faculty and the Office of the Registrar.
    7. Consortium/membership. These consist of formal or informal agreements or contracts between MU and an educational association or consortium here or abroad to provide opportunities for individual students to study abroad. Examples include:  International Student Exchange Programs (ISEP), Consortium of College International Studies (CCIS), etc. MU both sends students abroad and receives foreign students through such consortia.  These agreements usually are handled by the International Center and do not involve departments and college or schools directly.
  2. Definitions.
    1. Letter of intent. A Letter of Intent is designed to encourage mutual cooperation and friendship but involves no commitment other than to continue to work towards an agreement. Such a document is usually a first step toward a more detailed future Memorandum of Agreement. It may cover the general understanding of potential exchanges and a suggested timetable of further discussions; it can be used when long-term planning and negotiations have not yet taken place. A Letter of Intent attests to a successful meeting of representatives of two institutions and expresses a desire to promote cooperation. This kind of document can be used when the presidents of two institutions meet and wish to commemorate the occasion.  A Letter of Intent is unnecessary unless it is desired by the international university.
    2. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This is a binding agreement/contract between two parties.  Components of such an agreement include a) institutional and/or organizational information (see 6.1.); b) purpose(s) or goal(s) of the agreement, including identification of the academic units involved and the nature of the program; c) responsibilities of each institution; d) program management with designated individuals and offices of both parties including email addresses, phone/fax numbers, etc.; e) implementation date and duration; and f) other terms required by MU.  This is a negotiated process, and should take into account the needs of the partner institution as well.
    3. Appendix or addendum. An appendix or addendum supplements does not change the terms of an agreement or contract.  This document usually provides details of a specific component referred to in the agreement or contract.  It is a separate document, attached to a signed agreement, and becomes part of the Agreement.  It provides added details to an on-going program.  It may be part of an original agreement or added at a later time one or two components.  In some cases, an agreement makes a commitment to different types of linkages, such as faculty exchange, joint programs, or student credit transfer for more than one discipline.  The agreement may not include all the details of each type in the main body of the agreement but they appear in an appendix.  In other cases, the signed agreement only has one major focus such as a short-term summer program at the time when it is developed, but states an intent to expand to include other areas.  An appendix or addendum is added when the expansion occurs.  An appendix agreed upon at the time the original agreement is signed does not need to be signed.  An appendix agreed upon at a later date must be signed by representatives of both parties.
    4. Amendment. An amendment changes the terms of an agreement or contract.  It may change the ending date, charges and fees, or substantive terms.  In some cases, an agreement originally contemplates only one major focus, such as a student exchange, but the parties later decide to add another type of linkage, such as a faculty exchange.  An amendment outlines the terms of the additional linkage.  An amendment must be signed by both parties. (sample amendment)

3. Evaluative criteria

Often, MU is approached by potential international partners to establish a formal agreement.  Sometimes, MU representatives see opportunities to build international connections; and request assistance in initiating an MOU. In considering any linkage agreement with institutions or organizations abroad, keep in mind the following questions, which will be used by all involved in reviewing submission.

  • How does this partnership enhance the proposing unit’s and/or MU’s academic excellence?
  • How has (or does) this partnership contribute to new research or academic content?
  • How might this partnership enhance the MU student experience?
  • What affect will this partnership have on MU campus resources?
  • Which faculty, chairs, deans, deans, donors, alumni or others now support this partnership?

Each proposed new agreement will be evaluated by these criteria.  Members of the campus IMOU Review Committee will score the agreements based on the five questions listed above.  These scores will be available to all stakeholders involved in agreements, including initiators.  The criteria will also be used to review the performance of each agreement, up to three years after it comes into effect.

In short, the agreement must assure an appropriate return on investment if the agreement involves MU financial and/or human resource commitment.  It must also earn the support of all appropriate MU leaders, and must undergo careful programmatic and legal review before it can be approved and signed.

4. Initial Steps to developing an agreement

An international linkage agreement must be consistent with the goals of the unit or units that will be involved in the agreement. Knowledge of the international priority of the proposing unit and the university is important before moving toward the development of an agreement.

  1. Choosing a partner. In most cases, agreement initiators at MU contact the individuals at potential partner institutions or organizations. It is important to consider factors such as site, type of academic institution, its academic strengths and weaknesses, assessment of its international interest and sources of financial support, etc. Sometimes, the partner institution strongly desires that a Letter of Intent be in place that defines what needs to be determined before a formal MOU is considered.
  2. Preliminary consultation. The first place to consult is the International Center since it houses most of the MU international linkages and agreements. It also provides advice and assistance to those exploring new international partners in terms of locations, types of programs, and the university global and international priorities. It is, of course, necessary and important that the person consults with his or her department and/or college to make sure what he or she proposes is truly supported by the department and college.
  3. Identification of resources. All agreements need human and/or financial resources. For example: faculty may be needed to deliver programs either on-campus or abroad; staff may be needed to administer and support program delivery; and department and college budgets may require adjustment to provide necessary support.  Agreements are essential to ensure MU’s international efforts lead to the success or strengthen the success of its core values of the university. It is important to estimate resource needs well in advance of finalizing the terms of an international linkage agreement.
  4. International Agreement Planning Form. Any new agreement initiator needs to complete and submit the MU International Agreement Planning Form (docx).  It requests key pieces of information that are needed for multiple purposes, such as for drafting the agreement after communication has been carried out both internally and externally. It also assures that the dean and the university supports the initiative.
  5. Next steps. The International Center will meet with the initiators and other key MU participants to determine how to move forward.  This will include the International MOU Committee review.

5. Drafting an agreement

In some cases, prospective partner institutions or organizations may offer a draft agreement. As long as the written document accurately relates the terms agreed upon, most formats are acceptable. If MU initiates the linkage, The International Center will provide a model for the agreement you seek, after reviewing the MU International Agreement Planning Form (docx) and ensuring the proposed partnership is appropriate.

Examples of different types of standard agreements are provided in the appendices of this handbook.  These are examples and cannot be used automatically for a new arrangement.

Whenever there is a question concerning whether or not MU should enter into a particular agreement, the provost will make the final decision. In the drafting process, a negotiation outline or strategy will be developed. Negotiation strategies include:

  • Inquiring about the goals of our counterpart.
  • Considering long-term as well as short-term goals and objectives
  • Matching the proposed activities with the internationalization priorities of the university.
  • Reviewing human and financial commitments of the directly benefiting department, college/school and other units.
  • Considering whether there is a good match between the outcomes desired by MU and the other university.
  • Considering the time within which the commitments can be delivered.
  • Aligning the goals of the agreement with MU’s mission, values and academic programs.

Sometimes, the persons directly involved in developing a linkage are in agreement on the academic aspects of the program. However, it is important not to make any firm commitments that the program will take place until the written agreement has been finalized. MU has limits on what it can promise, and international partners have similar limits and requirements for the language of the agreement.  The language that is thought of as “boilerplate” is usually more than a mere formality, and an inability to agree on that may mean the program cannot go forward.  For example, some countries are asking that MU be subject to the laws of that country in ways that might subject individual faculty or students to suit by or liability to the partner institution in that country.

The persons initiating the linkage must also read the written agreement carefully to be sure that MU can fulfill all of the commitments it makes.  It is important that the written document accurately states what has been agreed upon.

6. Components of an agreement

Each agreement will be specific to the goals and objectives of the partnership arrangement. However, all proposed international agreements or contracts must incorporate the following components:

  1. Institutional and/or organizational information. A brief description of both institutions including information about the history, major academic components, size of student body, strengths, ranking/accreditation, program specific information (if applicable), or other information as appropriate.
  2. Goal(s) and objectives of the agreement. A paragraph or more describing the overall purpose of the agreement.
  3. Terms and conditions. Details the precise items to which the partners are agreeing. This may include timelines, physical or research resources to be provided by each party, frequency and size of exchanges, qualifications of students who will participate, and other details so that it is clear to the reader what is required of each institution.  This section also includes a brief description of the specific project or exchange and outlines the related activities.
  4. Institution responsibilities. This section describes the responsibilities each party will assume within the agreement period. Mutual responsibilities have to be spelled out in enough detail so that there is no ambiguity about which party is responsible for what. Responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following items:
    • Costs such as tuition and fee rate, international and/or local transportation, housing, health insurance.
    • Programs such as content, grading criteria, length of delivery, credit or no-credit bearing.
    • Transfer of credit and English language testing.
  5. Contact information. Include a list of names and/or offices from both parties for the on-going management of the agreement after both sides sign it.  The contacts from both parties will be responsible for communications and for administering the agreement.
  6. Abiding by institutional policies. A section should state that neither partner institution may take any action contrary to established policies, procedures, and practices of the other institution.
  7. Agreement modification. This section should describe the process by which the agreement can be modified, amended, or supplemented, including who is authorized to modify, amend, or supplement the agreement.
  8. Duration. Describe how long the agreement will be in effect. Agreements must have an expiration date. Most agreements should have a life of three to five years.  MU cannot permit agreements that are in effect for more than five years, or those that are automatically renewed. However, MU will evaluate the success of the objectives of the agreement at least annually.
  9. Extension or renewal. Describe the procedure for extending or renewing the agreement, including the minimum length of time for giving notice by either partner. The method of extending or renewing the agreement can vary to accommodate partner institutions needs.
  10. Termination. Detail the procedure for terminating the agreement before the expiration date, including the minimum length of notice by either partner that it wants to terminate the agreement. Generally, a period no less than two months or no more than six months should be specified.
  11. Signatures. All agreements will have a signature section at the end of the document. The agreement is signed by both partner institutions. At MU, all international linkage agreements, must be signed by either the chancellor or provost after the appropriate agreement reviews are complete.

7. Agreement review and approval

  1. Unit responsibilities.
    1. International Center. In general, the International Center functions as the coordinating and facilitating body throughout the process of international linkage development and implementation. Functions include:
      • Arrangement of agreement clearances;
      • Assisting with contacts here and abroad;
      • Conducting periodic update meetings with responsible individuals at MU for each agreement. (These meetings will include progress reports, which summarize activities and provide recommendations on whether the agreements need to be revised, renewed, or suspended, etc).
      • Identifying both positive and potentially negative impacts of any linkages on broad institutional policies, such as employee benefits, tuition rate, academic credit, , availability of university housing, salary equivalents.
      • Assuring that all units of the university that will be impacted by the agreement know about and have been consulted about the agreement before it is finalized. Such an administrative role of the center helps create a long-term record, prevent unsustainable linkages, and build up a pool of international expertise that is easily accessible to the campus community.T
    2. International Memorandum of Understanding Review Committee. The IMOU Review Committee is comprised of MU faculty members and staff who represent the range of stakeholders and/or provide knowledge and experience in international agreements from legal, regulatory or programmatic perspectives.  This committee is appointed by the MU provost, and is chaired by the vice provost for international programs.
    3. Department chair or academic program director. Department chairpersons or academic program directors or deans evaluate any proposed agreement that involves that department or program. Agreements must meet the unit’s academic priorities while balancing its resources and commitments. The chairperson or program director must communicate with the college dean and make sure to have the college‘s endorsement for the program.
    4. College/school dean’s office. A college/school dean evaluates any proposed agreement that relates to the college programs and resources. The dean must also verify that the proposed activities, financial implications and obligations, and payment processes, in the agreement are consistent with university policies.
    5. MU Contracts Office and UM Office of the General Counsel. Any formal and new agreement or contract between MU and institutions/organizations abroad must be reviewed by the university General Counsel. According to university policies, the agreement is not legally binding until signed by all parties, including the Contracts Office.
    6. Vice Provost for International Programs. The Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs reviews all international linkage agreements to ensure that they comply with internal university policies and priorities.
    7. Offices of the Provost and Chancellor. The chancellor’s signature is required when our international counterpart will have or already has its university president’s signature on the agreement. In most other cases, the provost may sign the agreement for MU.  Two copies of the agreement with a completed Agreement Review Routing Form (pdf) attached will be distributed to the vice provost for international programs for review and approval prior to acquisition of the provost or chancellor’s signature.
  2. Agreement Review Routing Form. Most of the individuals or offices on the routing list have been involved in the agreement development process. However, these individuals have one more chance to check the agreement and suggest changes before they sign on the Agreement Review Routing Form (pdf) and before the agreement becomes an official document.
  3. Process. Figure 1 (pdf) summarizes the following process for establishing a formal international agreement at MU:
    1. Identify need or opportunity. The international agreement process begins with an MU faculty member, staff member or administrator identifies a need or opportunity that an international linkage could address. In some cases, this may be prompted by an overture or proposal from an international institution. Before consulting the International Center to start a review and approval process, the initiator should discuss feasibility and support with others in the unit and potential international partners, referencing the evaluative criteria in the handbook.
    2. Consult with International Center. Before drafting documents or moving forward with the potential international partner, the initiator should consult with Mary Stegmaier, interim vice provost for International Programs. This will ensure early consideration of feasibility and alignment with strategic priorities, as well as the notification and involvement of necessary stakeholders, especially where there are distributed costs.
    3. Complete and obtain approval of planning form. After consultation with the International Center, the initiator must complete an International Agreement Planning Form (docx). This form requires information about the both parties to the agreement, both at MU and the foreign partner institution, as well as information about the proposed collaboration, including goals and objectives; current and planned activities; required commitments of funding, space, time or other resources; and potential products. The dean or appropriate unit official must approve the International Agreement Planning Form before it is submitted for review.
    4. International Center drafts agreement. Based on the approved planning form, International Center staff will draft the international agreement in consultation with the initiator and the MU contracts office. In some cases, prospective partner institutions or organizations may offer a draft agreement. If so, the International Center staff will review to confirm that the document accurately and completely reflects the collaboration described in the planning form and complies with MU requirements. The International Center may suggest changes.
    5. IMOU Committee review and recommendation. Using the evaluative criteria listed in section 3, the IMOU Committee will make a recommendation as to whether the agreement should be approved to the vice provost for International Programs.
    6. Approval by vice provost for International Programs. If the vice provost for International Programs approves the proposal, it is forwarded to the provost or chancellor, as appropriate, for final review and approval. If the vice provost does not approve the proposal, the initiator may choose to abandon or rework the proposal, or ask their dean/director to initiate an appeal of the decision.
    7. Final approval. Final approval of the agreement will be provided by the chancellor or provost. Fully signed copies of the agreement will be kept at the International Center and office of the vice provost for International Programs.

8. Evaluation and renewal

  1. Evaluation. Whether or not this is addressed in the agreement, MU must evaluate each agreement’s effectiveness periodically. Halfway through the life of an agreement (typically 2 ½ years into a 5 year agreement), the IMOU Review Committee consults with the agreement’s designated MU contact person, and any pertinent MU leaders to assess the performance of the agreement on the same evaluative criteria described above. Results of this assessment will be reported to the Vice Provost for International Programs, and to all relevant stakeholders.  If the decision is reached to terminate an agreement, that decision must be communicated to our international counterpart in a timely manner. The Vice Provost for International Programs will facilitate the evaluation process in consultation with the appropriate departments, college, or schools.
  2. Renewal. Six months prior to the end date of an agreement, a final evaluation should take place. At that time, a decision will be made to renew without change or to renew with changes to any of the existing agreement terms. If the continuation of the relationship also means adding or expanding to include additional academic programs, affected department(s), college/schools and office(s) should be involved in the discussion and decision-making following the processes outlined for developing a new agreement.In cases where the terms of the agreement do not change, the extension or renewal may be done through an exchange of email, letters or memoranda. Where the terms change, an amendment may be required. In all cases involving modifications to the original agreement, an extension or renewal requires the signatures of both partners.The International Center will facilitate the process of renewing or revising the agreement.

9. Appendices

The following pages contain forms and sample agreements relating to international linkages. These are provided to assist you as you consider the details necessary for inclusion in a formal agreement. NOTE: The International Center should always be consulted prior to drafting an agreement that will be shared with potential international partners.

Examples of different types of standard agreements are provided. These are examples and cannot be used automatically for a new arrangement.

  1. International Agreement Planning Form (docx)
  2. International Agreement Review Routing Form (pdf)
  3. Sample Agreements
    1. General agreement (pdf)
    2. Student exchange agreement (pdf)
    3. Amendment to memorandum of understanding (pdf)