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Looking Ahead: 5 International Trends for 2013

In honor of the New Year, we wanted to put forward five trends that we think will affect international branch campuses in 2013. As is always the case with predictions, we run the risk of being completely wrong. A year from now we will revisit this list to see how we did. In the meantime, feel free to add your own predictions—and critiques—in the comments. And we wish everyone a very happy 2013!

Greater push-back from home campuses. By and large, the development of overseas campuses has been led by senior administrators who jumped into the efforts with limited consultation. Until lately, there has been very little push-back from faculty and others, but we believe this is about to change.

In 2012, Yale faculty members expressed their displeasure about the partnership their president announced with the National University of Singapore to build a liberal-arts college in the island nation. The faculty even went so far as to approve a resolution that raised concerns about the Singapore campus, which could be seen as a vote of no confidence in Yale’s leaders. Some speculated that this vote led to the president’s departure.

A similar scenario is unfolding at New York University. The faculty of NYU’s College of Arts and Science has decided to hold a vote in March on the leadership of the university’s president, John E. Sexton. The faculty members have expressed discontent with the institution’s expansion, both domestically and overseas, and are critical of the limited faculty input in such major decisions.

These two events are evidence that faculty members no longer see cross-border efforts as peripheral activities and won’t be placated by promises of enhanced prestige for the institution and vague assertions of revenue development. As the branch-campus phenomenon matures, we are likely to see more examples of professors asserting their right to participate in the planning, operation, and evaluation of such activities.

A shift from expansion to quality. During the past several years, countries were so eager to develop educational links that they saw almost any foreign institution as a potential partner. And just about any Western college could find a host for a campus if it wanted to expand overseas.

But after more than a decade of rapid expansion, we believe that there will be a greater focus on ensuring the quality of these activities. We see this occurring in three ways. First, from the demand side, expectations from host countries are shifting toward using international rankings to evaluate potential partners. South Korea, for example, wants only top-200 universities to enter its market. China is similarly evaluating institutional prestige.

Second, on the supply side, institutions are recognizing that it is complicated to ensure the academic quality of a branch campus, and questions about academic freedom can’t be brushed aside. Internal procedures and policies are being developed, and we will see more sharing of best practices.

Finally, on the regulatory front, there will be greater emphasis on multinational activities by accreditors and other quality-assurance agencies. Already we’ve seen quality-assurance mechanisms specifically developed for cross-border higher education in Hong Kong and Dubai, and agencies in the United States, Britain, and Australia have directed specific attention to international quality assurance. This trend will very likely expand to other nations as well.

Global competition to be education hubs. A growing number of nations are seeking to be global or regional education hubs primarily by attracting foreign branch campuses. With some hubs now nearly a decade old, we have a chance to reflect and predict.

In the Middle East, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Qatar have all seemed to have secured a role as viable destinations for foreign institutions and students in the region. They are now focusing on developing their existing branches and are less interested in developing new ones.

South Korea will continue to build its hubs in Songdo and Jeju over the next year, although neither look to be prime targets for the high-caliber institutions that the country desires. A year ago we would have predicted that India would be an open market for international branches, but the legislation to allow that to happen is stalled in a bureaucratic and political quagmire.

Finally, there always seems to be a new country looking to be an educational hub. We’ve heard the desire expressed by Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Botswana. You can bet there will be more.

Focus on economic development. Enhancing a nation’s economic competitiveness seems to be a driving force behind educational policies. Branch campuses have mostly had a primary focus on teaching, while work-force development has been a goal of many host nations. Our research has found, however, numerous examples of governments recruiting and supporting foreign branch campuses in order to improve their local economies.

For example, Qatar has recruited campuses that align with its economic goals; Malaysia gives grants to branch campuses to support locally relevant research; China supported the development of one of the most state-of-the-art sustainability labs for the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo campus; and France built new lab space for Georgia Tech’s campus in Lorraine.

We believe that as campuses mature and governments begin to see the critical link between research, innovation, and economic competitiveness, there will be greater encouragement and support in the development of locally relevant research agendas.

Increasing diversity of programs. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the international branch-campus label covers a wide range of activity. We have recently taken to using a broader concept of foreign education outposts to describe the diversity (see here and here), and have identified at least 11 different types of outposts in our research.

We think more universities will employ partnership models, such as the Johns Hopkins University-Perdana University in Malaysia, that take advantage of local capacity for higher education. Business models will diversify as well, with start-up loans from host governments becoming more common than direct subsidies, and public-private partnerships contracting with academic branches to provide supporting infrastructure and facilities.

Lastly, branches that focus more on high-level research and less on direct undergraduate instruction will become more prominent as world-class universities seek to emphasize their strengths and leverage faculty expertise abroad.

We think the days of counting the number of branch campuses is coming to an end as an useful exercise. Rather, we see more value in identifying the diversity and distinctiveness of the models, as well as their relative efficacy for different purposes.

[Creative Commons licensed Wikimedia image by Soldatnytt]

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