U.S. branch campuses abroad: results of a targeted survey

Editor’s note: this entry was kindly contributed by Madeleine Green (pictured to the right), Vice President, International Initiatives, American Council on Education (ACE).  Madeleine Green leads internationalization efforts at ACE and its Center for International Initiatives (CII). CII offers programs and services that support and enhance internationalization on U.S. campuses. It also works with international partners on higher education issues that have a global impact, conducts research on internationalization, and advocates on international issues. Green was the recipient of the 2010 Charles Klasek Award of the Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA) for outstanding service to the field of international education.

Madeleine Green’s entry can be viewed in the context of ongoing debates about how attempts to develop relatively deep forms of ‘internationalization’ (from an institutional perspective) complement and contradict state-led territorial development agendas in ‘host’ nations (or, to be more exact, discursive-material city-regions). This is a remarkably under-researched topic despite the notable increase in media coverage of the phenomenon.  We are happy to post this entry to further thinking about the branch campus topic, and welcome further guest entries. Some additional ‘open access’ resources on this topic include this series of brief articles in International Higher Education (2010)

A longer version of Madeleine Green’s entry is available here.

Kris Olds

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Interest in and speculation about U.S. off-shore campuses and programs are growing by the day. The prospect of India opening its borders to foreign providers has unleashed speculation about India as the next frontier for U.S. campuses wanting to establish operations abroad. At the same time, the financial problems in Dubai have led to speculation that the ability of governments to provide generous subsidies to foreign operations is fragile and unpredictable. The terrain is shifting and operations abroad vary tremendously, depending on the nation.

There has been little research, however, on how U.S. institutions actually go about the business of establishing and operating branch campuses, how these operations differ by region, or the identities of the students and faculty. In an effort to fill this knowledge gap, ACE began collecting information on U.S. branch campuses abroad in 2006. Drawing on an initial assessment of the range of U.S. branches abroad, ACE assembled 11 leaders from U.S. institutions offering programs abroad and sponsoring branch campuses for a roundtable in January 2008. The meeting provided depth to ACE’s knowledge into the theoretical and practical challenges associated with establishing a branch overseas. As a beginning step toward a wider breadth of understanding the universe of U.S. branch campuses abroad, in 2009 ACE fielded a targeted survey to collect more detailed information on the structure of branch campuses.

In response to a survey sent to 88 institutions operating a total of 197 branches campuses, 20 institutions submitted information on 40 branch campuses. Sixteen (40 percent) of the branch campuses were in Asia, 15 (38 percent) in Europe, 7 (18 percent) in the Middle East and North Africa.  The results are supported by information drawn from Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses, a national survey of 2,746 institutions conducted in 2006, as well as ACE’s ongoing dialogue on this topic with campus leaders.

The survey used the following definition of branch campus:

  • The branch campus rents or owns educational facilities (this could include a library, laboratories, classrooms, and/or faculty and staff office space) in a different country from the U.S. parent institution.
  • The branch campus offers courses in more than one field of study leading to a degree.
  • The degree bears the parent institution name (either alone or with a partner institution).
  • The branch campus is where students take the majority of their courses and finish their degree.
  • The branch campus offers mainly face-to-face instruction.
  • The branch campus has permanent administrative staff.

Conclusions

There is no predominant model. ACE research on U.S. branch campuses abroad reveals a wide variety of approaches. Some campuses are fully funded by the host government, some receive partial support, and some receive none. According to the preliminary results of the 2009 ACE targeted survey of U.S. branch campuses abroad, some campuses offer only undergraduate programs, some only graduate, and some offer both, and the faculty were nearly equally likely to be employed by the branch campus as the parent institution. Institutions with branch campuses abroad reported that the development of a branch campus is shaped by many factors, including needs and regulations of the host country, availability of partners, and strengths of the U.S. parent institution. Additionally, those that have set up campuses in different countries indicated that each experience was different, and although there are lessons to be learned from prior experience, the initiatives differ from one another.

Regional differences exist. The data showed some regional patterns. Branch campuses in Europe were more likely to have been founded before 2000, while those in other parts of the world have been established more recently. Faculty at European branch campuses were likely to be drawn from that region, while faculty at Asian and Middle Eastern branch campuses were more likely to be from the United States or countries other than the host country.

Branch campuses in the Middle East were more likely to receive support from the host government than those with branch campuses elsewhere. States such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have made huge investments to attract foreign institutions to meet the demand for higher education in their country and in the region, to increase their national capacity for research, and to advance as knowledge societies. Thus, their willingness to provide financial support for U.S. and other institutions has helped them meet their national goals. Most European nations, on the other hand, are not experiencing rapid growth in demand and have well-established higher education systems with sufficient capacity to educate their domestic students. They were, therefore, more likely to use traditional institutional partnerships to enhance their teaching and research.

U.S. institutions show intense interest in Asia, where there is tremendous demand for higher education. Asian nations are unlikely to provide operating revenue to branch campuses, although they do provide other types of support. Nearly all the branch campuses in this region received support in the form of facilities. In addition, the U.S. parent institution keeps a close association with the Asian branch campus: The majority serve as the employers of the faculty and about half reported that that the majority of their branch campus faculty were from the United States. These findings suggest that these institutions are exercising quality control by selecting and employing U.S. faculty.

The absence of branch campuses in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America in this survey was notable. The 2006 Mapping Internationalization national survey indicated that 7 percent of respondents had branch campuses in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) and 3 percent were operating programs in South Africa. Although little information is available, we can hypothesize that even though the demand for higher education is great in Africa and Latin America, the pool of students able to pay the fees required by foreign institutions is small, and the ability and/or willingness of African governments to provide assistance is equally lacking. Regardless of reason, Africa does not seem to be fertile ground for branch campuses.

ACE’s research suggests a need for further inquiry into the future of branch campuses. The effect of the worldwide economic downturn on both supply and demand is uncertain. It remains to be seen whether students will be more likely to seek a foreign education at home. If the demand (and the market) continue to be so great in Asia and other regions, branch campuses could not only flourish but also increase. Such a scenario would suggest the growth of branch campuses, perhaps at the expense of international mobility. In another scenario, economic recession may make a foreign education unaffordable for many students and their families, even in one’s home country or region.

There also are unknowns on the supply side. It may be that U.S. institutions battling financial issues will be less inclined to venture abroad. Even if support for such initiatives is available, institutions may be deterred by the requirements of time and effort, not to mention the inevitable hidden costs. Faced with uncertain financial circumstances, higher education leaders, boards, and legislatures may feel that now is not the moment to chart unknown courses. On the other hand, they could decide that these times present opportunities that should not be refused.

Madeleine F. Green

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