Excellence in International Cooperation

Adnan Zahed


This chapter deals with 'excellence' in international cooperation. Section 2 discusses different terminologies such as cooperation, collaboration, and aid and the differences between and relationships among them. This is followed by some general insights concerning international cooperation, as a means to put university cooperation in perspective. International cooperation and university cooperation are further explored and elaborated on from this perspective in Sect. 3. Section 4 discusses student, expert, and teacher exchanges and the effects and proceeds of such exchanges. Section 5 deals with three examples of international cooperation. The first example covers international cooperation in higher education in Saudi Arabia in general, with particular attention given to King Abdulaziz University. The second example discusses international university cooperation and its application in one of the top-ranking world-class universities: the Copenhagen University in Denmark. The final example examines one of the world's leading programs for international technical cooperation: the 'Fulbright' scholarship program. Section 6 contains concluding remarks.


Cooperative work is a task that is accomplished by dividing it among participants, where each person is responsible for a portion of the problem solving [1]. Cooperation can be achieved if all participants do their assigned parts separately and bring their results to the table.

The concept of 'international cooperation' describes all cooperation activities with foreign countries, whether by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), bilateral (from one country to another), multilateral (involving a number of states), or decentralized (between local authorities).

The most established definition of international cooperation in the literature is by Keohane [2]. Keohane assumes a conflictive policy situation between countries at the outset of each cooperative agreement. Policy adjustments are then negotiated to bring agreements more in line with each actor's preferences. Once both policies become more compatible, the act of cooperation is completed.

'Aid' is something different from cooperation. It still has a social content, since it presupposes a relation between partners, but it does not imply sharing. It implicates inequality and it is sufficient that aid takes the initiative in favor of the other, with a certain degree of privilege [3]. Also, universities can enter into agreements in which one of the partners is 'aided' by the other (for example between a university in a developing country and one in the developed world).

The term 'collaboration' is the action of working together with other people to produce or create something. It is used, in the context of universities, mostly on the level of research. Roschelle and Teasley [1] see collaborative work as the mutual engagement of participants in a coordinated effort to solve the problem together [4].

Research collaborations can take many forms. There is a continuum ranging from the classic partnership between researchers in the same laboratory or academic department to the partnership between researchers in the same institution, to even partnership between researchers in different countries. Sometimes, two or more researchers at different institutions work separately and yet collaborate on a project. This can occur, for example, when working on different aspects of the same project, exchanging data, compiling data for the entire project, and subsequently conducting joint data analysis, reporting, and publication. Collaborations between or among researchers are particularly complicated when the researchers work at institutions in different countries. Not only can distance affect communication and project oversight, but cultural differences may further complicate communication and the project's overall conduct.

Cooperate/cooperation has been in vogue for many years, while collaborate/ collaboration is a more recent addition to selection criteria terminology. How do these terms differ? Basically, they are synonyms and both words are used interchangeably, but they represent fundamentally different ways of contributing to a group and each brings with it its own dynamics and power structures that shape groups in different ways.

In other words, cooperation can be achieved if all participants do their assigned parts separately and bring their results to the table, while collaboration implies direct interaction among individuals to produce a product and involves negotiations, discussions, and accommodating others' perspectives. The key difference between these approaches to group work is that cooperation is more focused on working together to create an end product, while successful collaboration requires participants to share in the process of knowledge creation [1, 5].

Collaboration takes on particular importance on more complex projects involving multiple sections, teams, or agencies. Cooperation is more suitable for projects or agreements in which each participant is responsible to perform a certain segment of the complete task, as is the case in joint research projects. Someone might need to cooperate and collaborate with his/her team colleagues. Therefore, depending on the task, and the manner in which it is distributed and performed among the participants, the group work will either be spoken of in terms of cooperation or collaboration. The group work described in the chapter will be generally expressed in terms of cooperation.

The opposite of cooperation or collaboration is 'competition'. A small amount of competition between social agents makes for a healthy social system. It prevents it from degrading and becoming inefficient. However, excessive levels of competition have inevitable negative consequences. Many of the top universities see their colleagues as “competitors”; in part cooperating, in part collaborating in research and joint degrees, and in part in competition for the brightest and best students and staff.

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