Defining Local Unit Roles
(Note on the term local unit: "Local unit" is meant to describe what is often called a “school” at a university—for example, a medical school or a school of public health within a larger institution. Each local unit typically has its own deans’ offices, finance offices, local policies and procedures, and in many cases international programs and/or foreign offices.)
Some local units will have more international activities than others, and those units may establish their own internal roles related to acting as liaison between local unit and central administration, developing local policies, enforcing local and central policies, and managing and supporting international activities in their units. These local unit representatives may work in collaboration with related central representatives and committees so that all units follow institutional policies.
Ideally, all local units would have their own standing committees to evaluate and approve new international ventures proposed by departments in their own units. These committees may also review ongoing activity on a regular basis to ensure that the activity is consistent with the institution’s mission and that it is being managed in accordance with central and local policies. Typically, the following local stakeholders and subject matter experts are involved in the evaluation, approval, and ongoing review processes related to international ventures:
- Deans' offices.
- Local finance offices.
- Academic stakeholders (faculty).
- Local human resources.
- Local research compliance offices.
Once roles are identified the overall support infrastructure may look something like the diagram below.
Roles and Responsibilities for International Activity at a University
Building the Infrastructure to Support International Activities
There are several elements to supporting international activities as illustrated below:
These elements may lie exclusively within the administering programs of the departments or local units. In order to promote institutional consistency, communication, risk avoidance, and compliance, however, a designated role or department may ideally exist within central administration to support all local units that administer international programs.
Role of Central Administration
The central administration of a university may ideally play a key role in the support of the schools or departments where international activities often originate. Schools will often lack adequate resources in key functional areas such as legal, compliance and risk management, human resources, and cash management, thereby increasing financial and reputational risks to the institution.
A designated central administration department or role may ideally complement and support the local units maintaining or seeking to establish international programs, primarily by establishing related policies and procedures, keeping a current central database of all international programs, and acting as liaison between the local units and the key functional areas just mentioned (e.g., legal counsel, human resources, etc.).
Examples of the benefits of central administration’s close involvement with the international activities of the schools include but are not limited to:
- Economies of scale with internal processes.
- Reduced costs to the university as a whole.
- Oversight of compliance (export controls, local laws, and regulations).
- Consistent practices (human resources, cash management, etc.).
- Accurate domestic compliance reporting (IRS Form 990, of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), etc.).
- Universitywide program database for a Web site or for informational purposes.
Reluctance by the schools to involve central administration may be due to several factors. These may include:
- Lack of clarity about who to contact.
- Inconsistent answers by the same central department.
- Lack of timely follow-up by central administration.
- Lack of central authority.
- Lack of knowledge or resources in central administration to solve school issues.
Some of these issues may be resolved by a model that emphasizes a designated central contact who acts as a liaison between the schools and the key functional areas within central administration. This contact is often with the general counsel’s office, the controller’s office or part of the central human resources office. Often a central committee can be formed with the primary purpose of identifying a single international representative for each key functional area to act as the single point of accountability and be responsible for consistent responses and timely follow-up of issues. Such a model may look something like the diagram below: