Identifying higher-value partnerships: funding isn’t everything

Identifying higher-value partnerships: funding isn’t everything
23 February, 2022

Blog series ‘Equitable partnerships: Lessons from practitioners’

Aaron Yarmoshuk

When I started my PhD, I initially proposed conducting an in-depth case study of a partnership between a Kenyan university and the University of Toronto in Canada. As program manager of the partnership, I knew the partnership well and thought it was a good model for capacity strengthening.  

Instead, my supervisor suggested I examine a range of partnerships before trying to state what was a good model. This way, I could gain a deeper understanding of the diversity of approaches and results achieved. I took her suggestion and, 125 partnerships later, I identified three characteristics common across the higher-value partnerships of four East African universities related to their health sciences programmes. 

Being an institute of higher learning, you would expect research to be first but you need to develop the researchers. That is why education is up. [Be]cause for them to become researchers you need to develop them … if you come to do research and I don’t have the capacity to do the research, I’m not seeing it [the value of linking].
– Kenyan university representative 

The representatives I interviewed from the four universities identified between 25 and 36 international partners at their universities. During interviews, I encountered a variety of interpretations of the meaning of ‘higher-value partnerships’. I found that the size (number of faculty or students involved) and scale (number of departments or schools involved) of partnerships varied widely, as did their duration and budgets. I even found variations within universities: representatives from one school might consider a partnership that had a few faculty exchanges and allowed a handful of nursing students to do a term in Europe, or a curriculum development project valued at GBP 100,000, to be ‘higher-value’. Meanwhile, a multi-year, multi-million quid partnership in another school at the same university was considered to be only medium-value.

Surely there was something wrong with the weighted scoring system devised to differentiate between which of the partnerships were lower-, medium- or higher-value?  I reviewed the interview data again and again. 

It turned out that the 31 ‘higher-value’ partnerships at the four East African universities shared three general characteristics: 

  1. The outputs and outcomes of the partnership were considered a priority need by the representative(s). 
  2. The long-term capacity of their university to provide education or conduct research was increased. 
  3. The overall capacity building benefits realized by the East African university were perceived to be fair when compared to the international partner(s).  In other words, it had to be viewed as equitable. 

All three of these characteristics needed to exist for a partnership to be considered ‘higher-value’.

Clearly, funding is not the only consideration when it comes to valuable partnerships. In any enduring human partnership, both sides need to achieve some tangible or intangible benefit.  If inequity is going to be addressed, more times than not the partner whose capacity is deemed to require more strengthening needs to have its capacity strengthened as least as much, if not more, than the partner whose capacity is greater. 

Author bio

Dr Aaron Yarmoshuk is a Freelance Consultant and researcher with over 25 years of experience in 16 African countries.  He supports organisations with identifying, developing and monitoring and evaluating projects and programmes in the areas of capacity strengthening, public health, higher education internationalization and community development. He has professional experience in academia and the not-for-profit and private sectors, specializing in strategy, project development and implementation, results-based management and cost-effective, robust monitoring and evaluation. Currently, Aaron is working on Global Engagement with the Tygerberg International Office of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa and is an Adjunct Lecturer, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada.

Find out more

To read more about the higher-value partnerships of the four African universities, go to:

To read more about reciprocity in international university partnerships, consider:  

Photo credit

Photo 1 by author: KCMC in Moshi (Tanzania) has a number of partnerships with UK universities. 

Photo 2 by author: Display of memorabilia from international partners in the office of then Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Nairobi (Kenya).  

Photo 3 by author: Artistic mosquito on display at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool (UK). 


There are no funding acknowledgements.

About the ‘Equitable Partnerships: Lessons from Practitioners’ Blog Series 

At UKCDR, we know that research for development needs equitable partnerships. We also know that there are still lessons to learn as we move equitability in collaborative research from principles to practice, which will be explored in upcoming UKCDR and ESSENCE guidance. In the leadup to these guidelines, we’re excited to share our new blog series, ‘Equitable Partnerships: Lessons from Practitioners’. Each week, we’ll hear from International Development practitioners as they share their insights on the topic, providing best practice and learning examples informed by their experience in the field.

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