Volume:6, Issue: 2

Sep. 1, 2014

Main Orientations, Terms and Conditions for Initiating Universities’ Participation in Partnership Network Communities1
Romm, Mark V. [about] , Romm, Tatyana A. [about] , Zayakina, Raisa A. [about]

KEYWORDS: partnership network community, scientific and academic partner network, modern university.

ABSTRACT: The article analyzes partnership network communities with higher educational establishments’ participation which are being actively created nowadays. The terms and conditions for successful network activities of a university in scientific, academic and professional network communities are presented.


Intensification of all spheres of public education is the key priority for the current Russian society and state. To solve this strategic task, the so-called “register” of external requirements, which are imposed by the relevant ministry (further on we will use the term ‘an administrative regulator’) to higher educational establishments at the national level, was composed. These requirements include various external (in regard to higher educational establishments) regulations, monitoring the quality of their work through the prism of rather strict criteria of conformity. While analyzing these criteria one can easily notice that many of them, directly or indirectly, touch upon different aspects of social and network activities of higher educational establishments. For example, joint research projects with foreign scientists, various international symposia, conferences, summer and winter scientific schools, joint educational programs’ implementation, student and academic mobility, etc.

The network activity is not only part and parcel of the modern university, but also a criterion of its success. Academic exchange, internship and dual diplomas’ programs, as well as the creation and expansion of consortiums for large-scale research projects, which can join universities’ schools of thought, research centers, institutions and separate laboratories, represent the incomplete list of interactions performed on the networking principle. In this regard there came an urgent need for understanding the nature of universities’ network interactions and search for the most effective models of their network cooperation. 

Traditionally, social networks are defined as structural formations, as stable social ties and relations which unite social actors being in communication. In fact, “the network is a set of relations” [Kadushin 2012, 14]. By ties and relations along with communication interactions, we also mean any exchange of resources. According to R. Choisling, the network relations and interactions can be symbolically depicted as channels through which different kinds of the actors ‘social activities are implemented [Choisling 2003, 36]. Further on, we will proceed from the fact that a social network is a combination of formal-informal relations between the network actors, which enable the latter to increase network capital in the process of networking. Any social network is relatively useful and important for the participants from the point of view of increasing their adaptive capacity and communicative competence, social stability, and functional performance.

When trying to transfer a basic network theory in the domestic realities of the universities, a researcher faces a number of well-known difficulties. For example, there is a need to provide an additional clarification of the fact why actively created formal social networks with the university participation in reality demonstrate such a different efficiency of network communication, despite the similarity of their structural bases.

We postulate three universal principles that define the specificity and nature of the background practices of network communities in general, and higher schools’ network communities, in particular:

1) Networking.

2) Network competition.

3) Network simulation.

If the network community operates on the basis of the cooperation principle, then the implementation of this principle is the partner network community. If the network community operates on the competition principle, it results in the competitive network community. If the network community acts on the imitation principle, we will receive a simulation network community as a result.

Skipping a whole range of possible models, we will discuss one of the most successful - network partnership.

Nature of network partnership

Today, the notion of partnership is multidisciplinary; it is used in economics, law, political science, and sociology. Moreover, this notion in its broad sense is used to determine any business relations. When calling one of the models of universities’ networking a partnership, we, first and foremost, highlight such essential characteristics as awareness, activity, and openness of network actors to interaction, sharing common values, motivation to achieve universally valid goals, mutual trust and mutual benefit of both tangible and intangible nature.

It is noteworthy that partner relations imply development. Simple registration of network relations, sporadic interactions, as well as latent “implicit” relations is not enough for creating a network partnership. There is a need for something more, i.e., the constant exchange of network capital. In general, any network activities of an organization can be measured by two criteria: the extent of their eagerness to cooperate with other organizations (their potential partners), and the diversity of skills they acquire for such approach [Kadushin 2012]. In other words, a higher educational establishment is supposed to be willing to become part of the partner network, and be able to enter and create such networks.

Thus, the partner network relations could be defined as follows:

  1. consciously  built network relations based on the confidence of agents-partners;
  2.  network relations presupposing joint activities;
  3. network relations aimed at achieving the result which is common, and desired by all network partners.

Due to the establishment of stable partner network relations, the network capital emerges and becomes a unique network resource. The network capital is of exceptional value in the eyes of the partners and is accessible only through partner relations. [In detail see: Wellman, Frank 2001]. It might include important for reaching the aims information blocks, mutually created adaptive strategies, social access codes to necessary off-network resources, etc. below we will touch upon the main directions of universities’ activities along which the partner network relations and ties are developed more dynamically.

Scientific and academic partnership network communities

Academic and scientific ties, built on the network principle are not new for the researcher who studies the world of science. Moreover, the scientific community itself is built as a global network.

“Intellectuals are apt to feel that some idea hasn’t entered their reality until it appears in the system of books and journals referring to each other, the system which constitutes the products of the activities of the intellectual community” [Collins 2002, с.73].

The implementation of the partnership principles in scientific and academic network communities become possible under certain conditions:

Firstly, the activity of a network actor (a research cluster, an academic institution, a particular school of thought or a scholar) should be as open as possible to their partners. It is their openness that gives ground for interaction and further development of network relationships.

Secondly, each partner should wish for and have a resource potential for strengthening its own network position (theoretically – being promoted to a more prominent network position). In other words, all partners should feel having a relative equality of opportunities.

Thirdly, a university as a partner should be of professional, academic and scientific interest to other actors. Here, we underline a factor of involvement in common activities.

Finally, an actor of the partner network in the scientific and academic community should be able to maintain communication rate, because a constant involvement in forming the integrated network capital is a precondition of its network importance.

Professional partnership network communities

It is very important for a modern university to position itself in professional networks: leading regional establishments, high-tech manufacturing, professional guilds, and among the professionals who have achieved success in a specific field.  Manufacturing enterprises and professional associations can act not only as places where students are to acquire practical skills or future employment, but also as a qualified expert community that is able to reduce the gap between the content of the university curricula and real market requirements. From this point of view, the network partnership of a university primarily comes down to building up the relations with those actors-partners who are of great importance for their professional development.  It should be noted that the partnership professional networks with university involvement increasingly influence an economic and social life of the region. There are enough reasons to talk about the sociality (social nature) of the modern higher education. [See: Romm T. 2010]. Now, let us define the conditions of implementing partnership principles in professional network communities.  

Firstly, a university whose aim is to enter a network community of this type should have the status of a professional in the given field. Areas of training and specialties, the staff, laboratory equipment – all these things should meet the criteria of today’s economic realities, and the demands of the labor market. Only in this case, the enterprises and professional communities would consider universities as interesting and promising partners.

Secondly, an important condition of university success in partnership professional network is the range of network university involvement. The more network partners directly interact with the university, the higher will be its corporative rating, i.e., the extent of confidence in the professional corporation. Consequently, this university becomes more attractive in the eyes of remote actors (prospective partners).The increase in the level of confidence can be reached by different ways, but the indispensible conditions of this process are to be deep understanding of professional ethics and observance of the rules of professional communication with partners. It should be noted that that the partner network extension is directly connected with the increase of the opportunities of the university. (E.g., their graduates’ employment, professional exchange of skills, knowledge, and information). 

Thirdly, professional partnership puts forward “the strength of weak ties” [Granovetter]. Due to the confidence inspired, it is the key partners who often allow the universities to use their own remote resources to which the latter have no direct access. The condition for gaining such a peculiar “vote of confidence” is a network aimed at participation and mutual assistance, which, in their turn, is impossible unless the partners understand the significant role the university plays in the process of exchange in the professional network. The achievement of this network position in partners’ interaction is a very important task for the university because it provides new prospects for professional development.

To conclude, we made an attempt to explain the characteristic features of partnership network communities with universities’ participation in our country, as well as to clarify a number of conditions that the university has to comply with for achieving beneficial and productive network positions.

References

  1. Choisling R. (2003). Social'nye processy kak setevye igry: sociologicheskie jesse po osnovnym aspektam setevoj teorii [Social processes as online games. Sociological essays on key aspects of network theory]. Transl. from German. Moscow: Logos-Altera, 192 p. 
  2. Collins, R. (2002). Sociologija filisofij: globalnaja teorija intellektualnogo  izmenenija / Translated from English by N.S. Rozova and Yu. B. Vertgeim) (The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change). Novosibirsk: NITZ Sibirskij Hronograf.
  3. Granovetter, M. (2009). Sila slabyh sviazej (The power of weak connections). Economicheskaya Socialogija (Economic Sociology). 10 (4). 31–51.
  4. Kadushin, Ch. (2012). Understanding social networks: Theories, concepts and findings. NY: Oxford University Press.
  5. Romm, M.V., Luchikhina, L.F. (2011). Zarubeznyi traditsii issledovaniya socialnykh setej (Foreign traditions of exploring social networks).  Idei i Idealy. (Ideas and Ideals). 1(2). 77-90.
  6. Romm, T.A. (2010). Socialnost sovremennogo obrazovanija (The Social nature of Modern Education). Idei i Idealy (Ideas and Ideals). 1(1). 80-87.
  7. Wellman, B., Frank, K. (2001). Network capital in a multi-Level world: Getting support in personal communities. Social Capital: Theory and Research, ed. by Nan Lin, Karen Cook and Ronald Burt. Chicago: Aldine DeGruyter. 233 – 273.
  8. Zayakina, R.A., Romm, M.V. (2013). Innovacionnij vuz kak subjekt setevogo vzaimodejstvija (Innovative higher educational institution as a subject of network cooperation). Vysshee obrazovanie Rossii. (Higher Education in Russia). 4. 118-124.

1 The paper is composed within the project «Theoretical and methodological foundations of studying universities' activities within the partner networks», No 14-06-00353, supported by the Russian State Research Foundation. This paper is part of the series of publications on defining the role of network practices, the phenomena and interactions in the modern world. (See: Romm, M.V., Luchikhina, L.F., 2011; Zayakina, R.A., Romm, M.V., 2013).

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