Reimagining Global Partnerships in Higher Education through Open Systems Theory


  • Katherine Adams University of North Georgia
  • Michael Lanford University of North Georgia



boundary spanning, community engagement, global partnerships, open system theory, stakeholders


Although global higher education partnerships can promote greater intercultural understanding, establish unique environments for student and faculty development, and generate opportunities for innovative and entrepreneurial ventures, they can be beset with problems that negate their potential effectiveness. This paper proposes that open systems theory offers a constructive lens for reimagining global higher education partnerships so that they not only benefit internal stakeholders, but also society. It begins with the basic concepts associated with systems theory, with particular attention to the differences between rational and natural systems, as well as open and closed systems. To project how open systems theory might encourage global partnerships to embrace institutional outreach with the environment, the relationship of open systems theory with community engagement is then explored. Finally, the paper shows how boundaries can be either reinforced or traversed through deliberate buffering, bridging, and boundary spanning strategies.


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Author Biography

Katherine Adams, University of North Georgia

Dr. Katherine Adams is Coordinator and Assistant Professor in the Higher Education Leadership and Practice program at the University of North Georgia. Her research interests are in the areas of boundary spanning, community engagement theory, university-community partnerships, service-learning, and research communication.


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How to Cite

Adams, K., & Lanford, M. (2021). Reimagining Global Partnerships in Higher Education through Open Systems Theory. Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education, 13(5), 108–123.



Winter 2021 Special Edition