Are Branch Campuses the Future of International Education?

Recent articles have discussed the burgeoning opportunities for business schools in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan’s desire to attract foreign universities, the potential and pitfalls of India’s vast market of students, and NYU’s stellar incoming class at its new outpost in Abu Dhabi.  In Europe as well, business schools are following the trend, opening branch campuses everywhere from Singapore to the United States.  SKEMA, a French school created earlier this year by the merger of two smaller institutions, has announced it will open a new campus in Raleigh, North Carolina and Spain’s IESE has a center in midtown Manhattan.  Two of France’s top business schools, HEC and Edhec, have campuses in Singapore and Qatar, respectively.

It is clear that universities are heeding the call to become competitive on the global market not just by attracting top international students to their main campuses, but by establishing themselves in promising areas such as the Middle East and Asia.  Countries like India are opening up, some for the first time, to foreign institutions as they realize the benefits of international investment in higher education, and understand that they are not prepared to serve their growing student populations.

So, are branch campuses the future of international education?

Setting up branch campuses abroad offers great opportunities, but also presents significant challenges.  The bureaucracy in countries like India and Saudi Arabia is daunting.  Universities must contend with how to maintain their brand identity and assure the quality of a program overseas.  Opening a campus abroad entails risks, too. Michigan State University and other institutions that opened campuses in Dubai during that country’s boom have suffered as its economy has declined.  In fact, Michigan State has announced it will close its doors in Dubai, having lost millions of dollars on its investment.

Several high-profile American institutions like Yale and the University of Pennsylvania have said they have no interest in exporting their programs overseas. Both institutions cited issues of quality assurance and reputation as factors in their decisions.

In an editorial for Inside Higher Ed, Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College questions the value and viability of such programs not only for universities, but for the countries where they set up shop.  Branch campuses are often so small and specialized that they do little to support access to education or to spur innovation, he says.

There is no doubt that education is globalizing, but international collaboration between universities may become more popular than going it alone.

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Noir sur Blanc is an international communications agency specializing in higher education. Based in Paris and serving the higher ed community for over 20 years, with offices all over the world, the New York office opened in Spring 2010. Noir Sur Blanc USA is the official blog from the Noir sur Blanc New York office. Follow-us to stay informed on hot topics and trends in higher education.
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