Education Leaders & Speakers

The Powers of Networks: Why Collaboration is Key in 21st Century Learning


In today’s business circles, hardly a day goes by where we don’t hear about the importance of networking, globalization, collaboration and inter connectivity – and just as multinational businesses are developing and expanding their reach, universities must do the same to deliver better outcomes for their students than ever before.

The difference, perhaps, from a decade or two ago, is that the notion of networks used to relate to a relationship benefiting an individual. We’ve all heard the sayings “it’s not what you know, it’s who” and “you’re only as good as your network.” Today, we need to progress our thinking towards a more authentic concept of forging partnerships that add genuine value and mirror the increasingly connected social and strategic webs of today’s successful businesses.

On a recent visit to Adelaide to commemoratively launch Torrens University Australia, the nation’s newest comprehensive university and part of Laureate International Universities, President Bill Clinton summed up the Laureate approach to networking saying, “If you look at this University and the Laureate network, that’s an example of positive interdependence. Educating people, empowering people, bringing them into contact with people who are different from them in a way in which everybody has a chance to win”.

He’s absolutely right. We live in complex and often troubled times, but by capitalizing on networks based on rapidly-evolving technology we can create a shared future by looking at what we have in common and by celebrating our differences.

The benefits of finding commonality and constructive difference should be reciprocal, too – both sides learning from common experiences and their different, individual backgrounds. This is as opposed to both sides looking at what can be lost by sharing information, by collaborating.

As Lipson found in his 2014 expository focused on newcomers to networking, ‘Surviving and thinking in the early years’, a network should never be a one-way street. [1] Networking, rather, is about making connections and building mutually beneficial relationships so that all members have an equal chance of winning.

This is done by helping others without the expectation of receiving anything in return, but there may be a day when something is returned and vice versa. Torrens and Laureate International Universities are built on the same core principle – that our students and society are better off when knowledge is shared, not guarded behind lock and key.

History has shown us over and over that establishing networks and working cooperatively yields better results than acting alone, with President Clinton saying the very nature of Laureate’s higher education institutions, the fact we are part of a network, was an attribute that attracted him to become Honorary Chancellor.

And so the same is true for our students.

By studying at an institution with strong global links, industry partnerships, expert mentors in locations from the Asia-Pacific to Africa, and real-world opportunities to establish industry connections, students are learning first-hand that some of the most important learning isn’t necessarily part of the curriculum. Rather, they are the things we learn about working as a group, solving problems together as a team, sharing research with like-minded individuals and working towards commonly held goals – all of which translate into attractive skills in the workplace. This is at the heart of Torrens’ and Laureate’s principles – that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that the world works best when it works together.

Sometimes that might be in the form of consulting with business leaders to guide program development – ensuring the skills students are learning reflect those most-valued and sought-after by employers. Frantz, in his June 2014 essay ‘Why advisers and mentors matters’, has gone further, saying that our relationships may often be the difference between winning and missing out on great results. [2]

Torrens knows that it is only through strong, reciprocal relationships – the healthy indicators of a network – that the best outcomes occur and that’s why this is at the heart of the Torrens’ You First commitment to its students.

By building a global network of education institutions and by building a global network of industry connections, our students are best placed to collaborate, pool knowledge and ultimately take their futures into their own hands by moving forward together. This is especially important considering the forever changing landscape of our global economy.

But it’s one thing to talk about a global perspective in education; it’s another to deliver on this pledge. Torrens’ students, like students enrolled at Laureate institutions around the world, live the reality of global education every day.

Through pairings with international mentors, by analyzing global case studies, by engaging in trimester-long international exchanges at our sister institutions, and by partnering with students and academic staff from the wider Laureate network, Torrens’ students are part of an international classroom wherever they are, every day.

A far-reaching survey of more than 20,000 students from throughout the Laureate network discussing the concept of “The University of the Future”[3] reinforced the fact students are prioritizing collective learning, with more than half of respondents anticipating universities of the future will provide programs shaped by student collaboration in group settings, with 61 per cent expecting most programs to be designed in consultation with industry experts, just like Torrens’ programs are now and over 50 per cent foreseeing global students using social media platforms to learn and, in turn, each other students.

With the importance of partnerships coming through loud and clear from our student body, we at Torrens, along with other universities, must continue to strive to deliver an education framework that provides ongoing access to as broad a range of people and sources of information as possible in a targeted and tailored way.

Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships, whether to learn the ropes of your chosen profession, to boost your reputation, to enhance job opportunities, to access relevant information, to share knowledge and to create more together than we could alone.

It’s about connecting people so that we can benefit from one another’s opinions, experience and expertise, not just in business, not just in education, but in life. This is how the world works best.

Chris Hill

Mr. Christopher Hill – Chief Operating Officer, Laureate Australia and Chief Operating Officer, Torrens University Australia
Chris has 12 years of professional experience, spanning private equity, strategy consulting, entrepreneurship, and education management. His specialties are strategic and financial planning, general management, business development, market entry, governance, management process and project management.

[1] Lipson, J. S., Surviving and Thinking in the Early Years, Journal of Financial Service Professional, May 2014.

[2] Frantz, J., Why advisers and mentors matter, Smart Business, June 2014.

[3] 2014 Global Survey of Students: The University of the Future, conducted by Zogby Analytics, 20,876 students in 21 countries from 37 Laureate International Universities.

About the Author

Torrens University Australia

Torrens University Australia will draw on the resources and experience of Laureate International Universities (LIU) as it develops over time from a ‘greenfield’ operation to be one of Australia’s outstanding and unique universities in an increasingly diverse higher education sector.