NYU Abu Dhabi: realizing the global university?

Is New York University (NYU) going the furthest with respect to realizing the global university (a term we’ve borrowed from a Worldwide Universities Network conference this coming November)? It might be doing so, and the contrast between NYU’s approach, and what most American universities choose to do, is jarring. Regardless of whether you agree with NYU’s approach or not, it is worth taking note of. Why?

Virtually all American universities proclaim that they are pushing forward on an ‘internationalization’ agenda, though in reality it most often means they welcome foreign students and visiting scholars, are supportive of study abroad schemes, and have a program in place to internationalize curricula. Many American universities sign memorandum of understandings (MOUs) with foreign universities, with large American universities having hundreds of these MOUs ‘on the books’: in reality, though, what do they mean? Many (not all) have limited resources provided to institutionalize MOU-related linkage schemes (e.g., a program officer), fund exchanges (for faculty and students) across national borders, or formalize ties (even in a virtual sense). Some American universities have started joining international consortia (see Lily Kong’s recent entry on consortia) though it is clear that some consortia member universities are still grappling for ways to “make it work”. The reality is most American universities are somewhat complacent, masking their uncertainty or reticence with loud proclamations about internationalization while not really pushing forward, especially in new and innovative ways.

In sharp contrast to the complacency that is often evident in the US, NYU is pushing the boundaries. Last Friday New York University announced that their planned campus in Abu Dhabi would go ahead. The official press release includes these two extracts:

This will be the first comprehensive liberal arts campus established abroad by a major U.S. research university. It is projected that a first class of students will enroll in 2010….

The development of NYU Abu Dhabi is a major step in the evolution of NYU as a “global network university” – a university with a teaching and research presence around the world through sites connected to the main campus in New York and to one another, drawing in scholars and students of talent from around the globe.

This is not an unexpected announcement, as we noted on 2 September. Further context on this development is also available here in a GlobalHigherEd entry by Amy W. Newhall (Executive Director, US Middle Eastern Studies Association), and these entries in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. We’ve also pre-programmed Google searches for media and blog coverage on the NYU Abu Dhabi topic – whenever you revisit this entry, just click on media, blog, and web (which includes Arabic language sites) and you’ll get near real time search updates (subject to Google’s search engine limitations).

NYU is amongst the most assertive universities in the world with respect to establishing institutional bases in other countries. These bases include:

And now NYU is going further with the Abu Dhabi campus, one that will have comprehensive program and course offerings.

The interesting thing about the NYU approach to realizing the global university is that it is exploring how to stretch its institutional fabric out across global space. One way to conceptualize of this development process is by positioning NYU within the following model to the globalization of higher education:


This model was developed by Arnoud De Meyer, Patrick Harker, and Gabriel Hawawini when they framed the development of the Wharton/INSEAD approach to the globalization of business education, including the development of INSEAD’s Singapore campus (De Meyer guided the campus into existence). There are alternative models, including some discussed in the American Council of Education’s 2007 report Venturing Abroad: Delivering US Degrees Through Overseas Branch Campuses and Programs, but we will stick with this one now. [INSEAD recently announced that it too was establishing a base in Abu Dhabi, with a new centre for executive education and research]

While this blog is not the place to go into the detailed aspects of the De Meyer/Harker/Hawawini model, it is worth noting that the Import model is the classic approach to internationalization in Western universities; the one US universities overwhelmingly rely upon. Most research-intensive universities in the US also exhibit elements of the Export model, with faculty traveling overseas to teach in special courses, or via distance learning technology. The Partnership model is becoming a common mechanism to further the internationalization objective of many foreign universities in Asia and the Middle East, including NYU (prior to the new campus announcement). This model is typically pursued via the exchange of students and faculty, via the joint operation of teaching and research programs, and via the provision of intellectual leadership or consultancy in the establishment or restructuring of research and teaching programs, departments, schools and indeed entire universities.

NYU Abu Dhabi is reflective of the adoption of the Network model. The Network model is the least utilized of all of the globalization of higher education models given the scale of effort and resources required to pursue it, and concerns about failures (e.g., RMIT in Penang (1996-1999) or UNSW Asia in Singapore (2007-2007)) which damage reputation and ‘brand name’. In this model, global networks are created via the merger of geographically separate institutions, or else the establishment of new campuses in other countries. One of the key principles underlying the establishment of a genuine network of campuses is their functional integration with a relatively intense sharing of material and non-material resources, and a relatively flat hierarchy with respect to the quality of the multiple campuses and their respective roles in knowledge production. The Network model requires an undeniably significant commitment of up-front resources (hence NYU’s need for support from the state in Abu Dhabi), and it is the most risky of these four models. Once commitment is made to implement the Network model, though, and the campus begins to operate, and it is effectively managed in a supportive structural context, flows of what might have been viewed as “proprietary knowledge” occur across space between the campuses (according to De Meyer, Harker and Hawawini), and between the NYU and various segments of society in Abu Dhabi, and the broader Middle East. The new campus will also enable NYU to forge ties with students, faculty and other people (including business people) who are reticent about traveling to the US, especially given frequent problems with acquiring US visas, and hassles at US airport immigration desks.

This is an experiment worth watching, whether you agree with the value of the Network model or not, or with the particular way NYU is globalizing itself. In subsequent entries in GlobalHigherEd we’ll also attempt to explore some of the underlying forces that are bringing the network model into being, and some of the implications of this model for capacity building in host territories, as well as the refashioning of core principles (e.g., academic freedom) that have traditionally been conceptualized in a national/territorial sense. We’ll also include some profiles of universities (e.g., Sciences Po and the University of Warwick) that are attempting to blur these models, or even turn them inside out.

Kris Olds

Further Reading:

American Council on Education (2007) Venturing Abroad: Delivering US Degrees Through Overseas Branch Campuses and Programs, Washington DC: American Council on Education.

De Meyer, A., Harker, P., and Hawawini, G. (2004) ‘The globalization of business education, in H. Gatignon and J. Kimberly (eds.) The INSEAD-Wharton Alliance on Globalizing: Strategies for Building Successful Global Businesses, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olds, K. (2007) ‘Global assemblage: Singapore, Western universities, and the construction of a global education hub’, World Development, 35(6): 959-975.

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