Why, When and How do we cultivate external partners in University Education?

By Kamalini Ramdas, Department of Geography and Priya M. Jaradi, Department of History

Reflexive and impactful education are key criteria that have emerged in recent discussions about career advancement for faculty on the Educator Track (for more information, refer to earlier sessions organised by CAFÉ on promotion, and to the special CAFÉ session with UPEC). Drawing from the discussions during the CAFÉ session “Pedagogies of Partnership” on April 13 2021, we discuss how external partnerships, both formal and informal, are ways by which educators can demonstrate impact by creating a conduit of learning between students and community groups and institutions.

Kamalini’s commitment to collaborating with external groups is a key part of her feminist pedagogy. The latter sees collaborative learning as taking place within the classroom and beyond. Impactful learning beyond the classroom invites students and educators to enact social transformation through education. Kamalini’s advocacy research relationship with Sayoni, an LBTQ organisation in Singapore, has allowed her to ‘give back’ to community by sharing and putting into practice what she has learnt as an educator and researcher. She has also been able to incorporate experiences from this partnership to implement a ‘grounded approach’ to learning. This has allowed her to model for students the possibilities and challenges they might encounter in ‘being the change they want to see’.

Priya’s role as Convenor requires her to manage and grow the Art History Minor as part of a collaboration between the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (NUS) and the National Gallery Singapore. Educators from both institutions have steered this partnership critically and meaningfully beyond the legalities of a formal agreement. Existing resources in the form of a diverse pool of domain experts and a significant collection of modern and contemporary regional art have shaped the curriculum’s inclusive design and modes of pedagogy. The Minor continues to build a Southeast Asian core within a global framework. Classes hosted at the museum, alongside an internship module provide students with experiential, skills-based learning. Broadly speaking, this partnership has introduced a consolidated art history curriculum at FASS since 2017. Its collaborative content-development, teaching practices, and shared institutional resources, have enabled students to cultivate visual literacy and cultural knowledge at the dynamic intersection of the classroom and Museum.

Drawing from our combined experiences we offer these points for consideration in the spirit of collaborative learning.

As educators, do why do we need external partners?

IA Discipline-related reasons

  • Is the discipline which you teach nascent in the Singapore/NUS context?
  • Do you need collaboration to clarify or critique epistemological approaches, founding philosophies and pedagogy in your discipline?
  • Is your discipline expanding rapidly to include new topics and current concerns?

IB Pedagogy-related reasons

  • Do you need to augment existing teaching and learning resources?
  • Do you need to move beyond the conventional classroom?
  • Is there a need to widen your pool of experts and educators?

IC Industry-related reasons

  • Is there a need to access industry-related spaces to strengthen learning outcomes?
  • Do you wish to complement classroom-based teaching with a skills-based/hands-on component?
  • Do you wish to develop an internship module with an industry-based partner?

Types of External Partnerships

IIA Formal Partnerships

  • Do you need a formal, contractual agreement which spells out a multi-pronged and extensive collaboration with another institution? As an example, do you need to share the complete writing and teaching of modules, grading of student assignments, and growth of internship modules with your partners?

IIB Informal Partnerships

  • Does the external group have the resources to commit to the partnership? How can you facilitate the process? What are more sustainable ways of cultivating the partnership? As an example, are need-based ad-hoc sessions, guest sessions and field visits, adequate? Can they suffice modular and disciplinary needs?

Steps to establish, manage and sustain partnerships

IIIA Formal Partnerships (A step-by-step guide)

  • FASS-based educators to write a paper/prepare a presentation to establish the need for a formal partnership; identify potential partners
  • Conduct internal discussions with home departments and the deanery to secure consent
  • Approach potential partners with a tentative proposal
  • Write a formal proposal for consideration by University-level committees and the Senate
  • Approach the Office of Legal Affairs to draw out a formal agreement
  • Facilitate signing of agreement
  • Assign a coordinator on both sides to carry on day to tasks as per the terms and conditions stated in the agreement
  • Meet and review the strengths and weaknesses of the partnership regularly; make internal presentations on both sides

IIIB Informal Partnerships (Good practices)

  • Regular exchange and dialogue are key to sustaining partnerships
  • Three-way conversations with feedback between educators, students and partners
  • Refresher courses for partners on student expectations and learning outcomes. This may also provide opportunities for honing learning outcomes and can potentially be a good way to demonstrate reflexivity as an educator.
  • TIPS: Clarity of purpose; advance scheduling of partner educators’ sessions; tell partners if their sessions count towards assessments and how do they complement the overall module


  • Will both students and the external group benefit from this partnership? What are the expectations of the external group for becoming involved and are these aligned with the learning outcome for the module?
  • Clarity of purpose and accountability are key to any partnership
  • Avoid conflict of interest between your home department/faculty/university and partner institution
  • Will you be seen as promoting a certain narrative through this partnership? (As an example, does collaborating with a museum mean promoting artworks of a particular provenance at the risk of becoming exclusive?)
  • Diversity of external partner representations and sustained commitment to an inclusive curriculum can help to address the above-stated (potential) imbalances

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