Reposted from earlier in the year: Speed-dating

Bill Noakes is in India. He’s been inspired, and has now started to develop his marvellous internationalisation idea.

Later that day, the tent had been reorganised into rows of tables. Each table had a little flag on it, indicating the non-Indian institution being represented. All of the Gujarati delegates were standing at the entrance to the tent, waiting for a signal. Two chairs were placed on the each side of each table. Bill and Sunny sat together. Sunny was giving Bill a last minute briefing.

“So, we’re agreed that we want to look for institutions who are interested in a mixed relationship.”

Bill looked at her helplessly. “Mixed relationship? Is that something to do with our diversity policy?”

Sunita sighed. “Vice Chancellor. You know, we discussed it on the plane. A mixed relationship is one where we have a range of joint activities. Some courses which are partly taught in India and then students come to us for the final year. Some exchanges, where our students go to India and some of their students come to us. Some shared staff development.”

Bill nodded absently. It sounded routine.

Sunny finished her list. “No simple accreditation deals, remember the University of Wales, but some courses which are franchised.”

Bill tuned back in. “Franchising?” How did she know about his ideas?

Sunny raised her eyebrows. “Yes, Vice Chancellor. When the partner institution runs our courses, exactly as we do. OK, here we go.”

Bill didn’t have time to ask her any more. A bell rang, and the Indian delegates surged forward. They spread out quickly and selected tables. Two people sat down at the Burston Central table, proffering business cards. Bill took one. It was in Hindi.  “Er, thanks, Dr, Professor, Sir….”

“Professor Mumtasa Singh, Ahmedabad All-India Institute for Legal Studies.” Professor Singh took the business card back, turned it over, and passed it back to Bill. “It’s in English on that side. This is my colleague, Dr Mehta. And you’re from Burston Central University? I know Burston well. I spent two years at the University of Burston, doing my Masters. ”

Bill had recovered. He put out his hand. “Yes, Professor Bill Noakes, Vice Chancellor. And this is Sunita Hundal, Head of International Partnerships.”

Sunita touched her hands together and murmured “Namastay, Professor Singh. Dr Mehta.”. She handed their business cards over to their guests. “We don’t have very long, do we? What kinds of international collaborations might interest you at the AII Legal Studies? We’re very keen to focus on franchising arrangements. Our Law, Business and Accountancy programmes are proving popular, and we can guarantee Professional Body accreditation with them, which is recognised by the Indian government.”

Bill stared at her. She’d got the wrong end of the stick. He didn’t want to partner with existing institutions. He wanted to set up a whole chain of mini-Burstons. Ninja Burstons, sharing the principles of lean delivery and value for money across the sub-continent. They needed to be staffed by fresh teams, tutors who weren’t obsessed with research, or jaded by institutional politics. This was going to be a brave new world. There would be no room for established hierarchies in his vision.

Professor Singh was quizzing Sunita in some detail. Dr Mehta was taking notes. The bell rang again. “Chello” said Professor Singh. They stood up. “Thank you, Ms Hundal. Professor Noakes.” He shook hands with Sunny and nodded to Bill, and they moved along to the next table.

“Is everything alright, Vice Chancellor?” Sunny asked. “Did you need me to update you on anything?”

Bill looked at her. “I was just wondering if this franchising to other institutions was the right way for us to go.”

Sunny’s jaw dropped. “It’s what the International Partnerships committee agreed at its last meeting. I think you sent your apologies. But I went over it with you on the plane.”

Before they could discuss it any further, another pair of academics sat down in front of them, holding out business cards. This time, Bill was ready. “Professor Noakes, Burston Central. We’re pretty booked up now, so we probably won’t be looking at new partnerships. But was there anything special you wanted to ask us about?”

Sunny forced a smile. “Just his little joke, gentlemen. You know, keeping the session fresh, so you remember us!”

The two men smiled weakly. “Ah, the famous British sense of humour. Ha, ha.”

Sunny continued. “We’re very interested in finding out more about your institution and the possibility of partnerships, aren’t we, Vice Chancellor?” She glared at him. She would have like to kick him discreetly, but she didn’t quite dare. Bill said nothing.

“Vice Chancellor, you look a little pale. Do you perhaps need to get some refreshment, while I talk to our esteemed colleagues for a moment? Perhaps catch up on your urgent messages?”

Bill narrowed his eyes. He knew an operator when he saw one in action. Not bad, actually, although she did need to remember that he was the VC and he could make life very uncomfortable.

Sunny stared coolly back at him. He paid her to look after international partnerships, and that’s what she was going to do. It had taken her months to get an invitation to ICAI, and about the same time again to persuade Phyllis to get Bill to come along. Burston Central was the only post-92 in the bottom quartile of the league table to get invited, and she was going to make the most of the opportunity.

The two visitors were watching the sideshow. Bill realised that they weren’t giving the best impression of Burston Central. Ah, what did it matter about the speed-dating whatsits today? It wasn’t really competition He could veto anything he didn’t like later. He summoned up one of his fake smiles and glanced down at the business cards he was holding. “No, Sunita, I’m really keen to hear more about, er, the Gujarat Normal College and the possibilities for partnership with Burston Central.” He might as well get a bit of market research out of them while he was there. He fixed the smile into place, and took out his notepad.

Wading Through Treacle is entirely fictional. You can follow @wadingtreacle on Twitter, or like the Wading Through Treacle page on Facebook to be informed of updates, or click on ‘follow’ at the bottom of this screen to register for updates from Wading Through Treacle. For last year’s advent calendar, see The Unknown Tutor.

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