Seven Guiding Principles For Public-Private Partnerships in Higher Education: Reflections from TIEC’s First P3 Conference

“ Regardless of the specific project, applying certain universal truths and guiding principles will lead to successful P3 outcomes.”

— – Dr. D’Andrea Weeks, TIEC Director of Business Development

By D’Andrea Weeks

People working in the public sector often look to the private sector with a sense of mystery and uncertainty. Private corporations seem to have money and power and a degree of flexibility public servants dream of. The public sector, for its part, has reach, purpose, mission, and knowledge. How do these two sides come together to make magic? Through public-private partnerships, of course.

P3s are an excellent way for two very different entities to come together to share programs, solutions, investments, and benefits. A P3 is built upon trust, collaboration, cooperation, communication – all the things that make any relationship successful. When done right, you will leverage your partner’s strengths toward a greater outcome than you could achieve yourself. Everything we know about partnerships in our personal lives can and should be applied to P3s. 

For universities, P3s open opportunities in so many sectors – student learning, research, housing, commercialization. Regardless of the specific project, applying certain universal truths and guiding principles will lead to successful P3 outcomes.

#1: Understand your university’s capacity before you start

Map out your institutional capacity to manage P3s before you start. Public-private partnerships in higher education require collaboration between international offices, sponsored projects offices, risk management, legal, finance, and other units of university campuses. You need to know the people in those offices and prepare them in advance.

#2: Choose your model carefully

P3s have many forms.  Take the time to select the model that serves you and your partner best. 

#3: Understand the motivations

Understand why the private corporation you are targeting is seeking public partnerships. What is their motivation, and what are the outcomes that matter to them? Is it financial? Shared values? Reach? Reputation? Clarify this from the outset.  

#4: get to know each other first

Establishing partnerships must not be rushed. Start by developing the relationship with an informal “coffee shop” conversation. Be open about the problem you are seeking to solve so your partner can be part of ideating the solution. Private sector stakeholders want to be involved in the creation of the solution. 

#5: have lots of cheerleaders, at many levels

Broad institutional buy-in and intimacy between partners are necessary for success.  

#6: ecosystems win, “egosystems” fail

Leave your ego at the door. Partnerships succeed because we need something from each other, and we must be open about that.

#7 embrace shared success – and failure

In a true partnership, my success is my partner’s success, and my partner’s failure is my failure.

TIEC learned these guiding principles, and put them into words thanks to the expertise of a number of individuals who presented their successes and lessons learned during TIEC’s P3 Mini Conference held in January, 2021. Our expert presenters, Thomas Debass, Managing Director of the Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State, and Lisa N. Blonder, Senior Private Sector Engagement Advisor, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided the experience of large government entities and their motivation for seeking private partners. Phillip A. Ray, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs, Office of the Chancellor, Texas A&M University System shared the particular challenges for higher education institutions in sharing reputation and reward with private entities. Sherry Wynn, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager, from IBM and Lauren Berry, Senior Director of Social Performance at Kosmos Energy helped us to understand what motivates large and successful corporations to take on the complicated effort involved in partnering with universities and state agencies. Dr. Rick Nader, Principal Consultant at Global Proposal Solutions, and Dr. Warren Burggren, Consultant at Global Proposal Solutions shared knowledge and skills in creating a joint proposal for funding, and how to set oneself up for success.

Helping the academic community begin to ideate around P3s is extremely gratifying to TIEC. Our members have greater and greater pressure on them to innovate on behalf of students, and to successfully raise revenue for research, development, and so many areas. This mini-conference renewed our confidence that as a member organization, we can bring expertise to the whole that would be harder to organize from a single institution. Members can check out the recordings on our new Member Resources Page. Make sure to follow TIEC for future training, partnership opportunities, and member updates.

Related content:

Is now the time to build a public-private partnership?

TIEC Workshops: International Funding Opportunities


D’Andrea Weeks, Ed.D., serves as TIEC’s Director of Business Development. Dr. Weeks has over 20 years of experience leading productive teams and streamlining internal operations. For the last seven years, she has been a thought partner and catalyst for non-profits and institutions of higher education on a diverse range of topics from global education, educational innovation, educational leadership, program development, evaluative inquiry, grant writing, and non-profit board development. These projects spanned five continents and multiple states in the United States. As a project strategist, Dr. Weeks has worked with small to mid-sized organizations to design impactful projects and write grant proposals for public private partnerships.