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Moving between what-is and what-might-be? Sustainable international partnership in higher education : perspectives from England and China

Ma, Jie


Jie Ma


Catherine, 1962 Montgomery

Dina Lewis

Ourania Filippakou


One of the ways in which universities relate to the world in the context of internationalisation is through partnership. However, many university partnerships either do not reflect institutional strategic planning, or do not make good use of the individual contingent networking. Higher education institutions across the world engage enthusiastically in developing inter-institutional partnerships but reluctantly invest in nurturing inter-personal relationships, which are central to sustainable relationship building. This thesis attempts to explore what constitutes sustainable international partnership in higher education, and sets its focus on England and China, given the strong belief in internationalisation to achieve particular national agendas in both countries.

In order to explore what is perceived to be desirable and worth attaining in sustainable partnership for a given set of participants, the concept of the imaginary is incorporated in this research to connect what-is with what-might-be. Two strands of data were collected from each case university (one in England and one in China) relating to the policy constructions and the staff perceptions. The university strategic policy discourse indicated how institutions project constructions of sustainable partnership in each institution. The 35 semi-structured interviews with staff at either the institutional level or the disciplinary level from both countries demonstrated how individuals respond to policy constructions and also ‘imagine’ alternatives.

The thesis presents a shared imaginary across two institutions in England and China, within which, sustainable partnership is constituted by either strategic planning or contingent networking, and this seems to create an illusion of sustainability for both institutions and individuals. Furthermore, the findings from this study suggest sustainable partnership is constituted by the coordination between strategic planning and contingent networking. The key is to embed partnership emerging in the contingent networking and then situate strategic planning in the context of partnership, nurturing and flourishing interpersonal relationships, and, not vice versa. This thesis not only contributes to a holistic imagining of what might constitute sustainable partnership, but also creates an imaginative space from which sustainable partnership might be attainable between universities even with divergent strategic agendas.


Ma, J. (2018). Moving between what-is and what-might-be? Sustainable international partnership in higher education : perspectives from England and China. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Mar 22, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Education
Public URL
Additional Information School of Education and Social Sciences, The University of Hull
Award Date Oct 1, 2018


Thesis (3.5 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2018 Ma, Jie. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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