Pre-Contract Planning

Penn State's reputation in the international community depends in part on the nature and strength of our partnerships. Early attention to these issues helps everyone provide their input on the approval path. Before discussing collaboration with a foreign institution, the following issues should be considered.

Suitability of the Institution

Each proposed collaboration will be considered separately on its own merits. Providing background information about the proposed collaborating institution or organization will assist reviewers in making sound and consistent decisions. This is particularly important when a Penn State degree will be based on coursework completed at another institution. Useful information about the proposed collaborating institution or organization includes the following:

  • Status of institution as a degree- or non-degree-granting educational institution;
  • Status as a government or private organization;
  • Accreditation status or other academic recognition;
  • Institutional size and areas of specialization;
  • Ranking and other quality indicators;
  • Existing international relationships. 

Global Programs can provide background information about the proposed collaborating institution. (To request vetting information for a proposed collaborator, contact   

Sustainability of Agreements

An agreement should only be developed if the partnership is likely to be sustainable. Factors indicating sustainability include the following:

  • Availability of faculty/staff/administrative resources required both at Penn State and at the collaborating institution;
  • Support from the dean(s) of the sponsoring college(s), or the chancellor(s) of the sponsoring campus(es) with endorsement from the Office of the Vice President  for Commonwealth Campuses;
  • History of the relationship including:
    • Number and scope of reciprocal visits between the institutions;
    • Number of faculty members from both institutions involved in the collaboration;
    • Length of time that a relationship has existed;
    • Nature and scope of past or current cooperation;
    • Existence of prior joint projects, exchanges or agreements;
    • Relationships to other Penn State departments, colleges, or campuses if known.

A regular review of the collaboration is recommended to assess the sustainability and success of the collaboration.

Justification and Outcome

Agreements should be considered only when both parties will work towards an outcome-oriented collaboration that brings reasonable value to both institutions. According to the Penn State Strategic Plan 2009-10 through 2013-14, agreements concluded “in the excitement of a visit” as well as agreements that lacked “concrete engagement by the faculties” have often failed to be productive partnerships.

Not every type of collaboration requires a formal agreement. Formal agreements are appropriate if:

  • They are needed to support a grant application;
  • Students are exchanged in a reciprocal manner;
  • Non-reciprocal undergraduate study abroad programs are created;
  • Financial or other commitments are involved;
  • A degree collaboration is specified;
  • An ongoing relationship is intended to be longer-term or more developed;
  • A strategic partnership or Global Engagement Network (GEN) is planned. 

Prospective collaborating institutions and related collaborative programs should be considered in the context of Penn State’s overall engagement strategy, which requires “focusing on fewer and more strategic universities in a true partnership manner.” Within this context, the academic unit’s mission, long-range strategic planning, and potential for disciplinary synergy should also be considered.  Before initiating an agreement, the following questions should be answered:

  • Does the partner institution or program provide curricular assets not otherwise available? 
  • Do individual faculty members have important research expertise/stature that may provide exceptional opportunities for research collaborations and/or graduate training? 
  • Would the collaboration provide access to unique research facilities/specialized resource centers that would enhance faculty research and/or graduate training at Penn State?
  • Is there a curricular need and market demand for the planned program? How many students/faculty members would participate in the program?

Compliance Issues

Certain types of collaborative relationships, research activities, and country affiliations may be restricted or limited by law or policy despite promising academic possibilities. As a United States institution, Penn State is required to comply with the laws and regulations issued by the government related to the export of both goods and services.  The U.S. government controls the export of certain technologies, software and hardware for reasons of national security, foreign policy, prevention of the spread of weapons of mass destruction and for competitive trade reasons.  Export control laws regulate the transfer of items, technology, software and services.  They apply to all activities with foreign persons and foreign countries, not just sponsored research projects and not just activities which involve the transfer of technology or information to a foreign destination.  Export controls may restrict: (1) the ability of foreign nationals (students, researchers or collaborators) to participate in research; (2) the ability of University personnel to provide services (including training in the use of equipment) to foreign nationals; (3) the ability to send equipment, spare/replacement parts, technology or software to foreign countries; and the ability to collaborate with researchers in foreign countries.

Every Penn State researcher is expected to be aware of the export control issues related to her/his work and to use the available resources to ensure compliance.  If you have questions, advice is available through the Export Control Compliance Office at or 814-865-1371.