Engaging globally through dual degree programs: SUNY in Turkey

panditaag.jpgEditor’s note: this guest entry has been kindly prepared by Kavita Pandit, Senior Vice Provost, State University of New York (SUNY) System Administration. She joined the SUNY System in July 2007 from the University of Georgia where she worked for over two decades. Dr. Pandit has also acted as President (2006-2007) of the Association of American Geographers. At SUNY her responsibilities as Senior Vice Provost include oversight of International Programs and activities. She also oversees the Office of Program Review and Assessment, Academic Planning, Distinguished Professorships, and Faculty Development programs, and serves as the primary liaison to the Academic Affairs Committee of the SUNY Board of Trustees. Her entry should also be read in conjunction with one published on 15 February by Lily Kong on the National University of Singapore’s experience with such programs.

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A spate of recent articles in the New York Times, Inside Higher Ed, other media outlets, and blogs such as the Beerkens’ Blog and GlobalHigherEd, have examined the growing trend of American universities to establish overseas branch campuses as part of their internationalization strategy. These global outposts are seen as a way of fulfilling the growing demand for U.S. degrees while increasing the international prestige and reputation of the institution. Yet there is also a recognition that establishing campuses in other countries can be a risky venture for American universities because of the high cost involved, the difficulty in ensuring educational quality, and overseas concerns about the undermining of the local culture. A compelling alternative is the establishment of international dual diploma programs that can generate many of the benefits of international branch campuses while building deep and lasting partnerships with overseas universities. An excellent example of this is the State University of New York’s award winning dual diploma strategy in Turkey.

sunylogo.jpgThe State University of New York (SUNY) is comprised of 64 institutions that include major research universities, four-year comprehensive colleges, agriculture and technology colleges, and community colleges. In 2000, the System entered into a partnership with the Turkish Higher Education Council (YÖK), the body with oversight over Turkey’s higher education, to establish dual diploma programs between SUNY and Turkish universities.

yoklogo.jpgUnder this arrangement, Turkish students complete part of their undergraduate education in a Turkish institution and the other at a SUNY institution, fulfilling the requirements of both institutions for a degree in a particular program of study. Instead of the traditional 2+2 articulation (which restricts the overseas partner to delivering only introductory courses) we sought a more equal partnership by requiring students to spend alternating years (or blocks of semesters) in partner universities in a manner that took advantage of the specific academic strengths of each partner institution. Following completion of the requirements, students are then issued two diplomas, one from the Turkish institution and one from the SUNY campus.

sunyturkeyno.jpgIn its first year, 2003-2004, ten dual diploma programs were initiated among three SUNY campuses (SUNY Binghamton, SUNY New Paltz, and Maritime College) and four Turkish universities (Istanbul Technical, Middle East Technical, Bilkent, and Boğaziçi University). More than 3,800 Turkish students applied for 305 slots in the programs, and eventually 262 formally enrolled. Over the next few years, 14 more dual diploma programs were added, and the number of participating universities has grown to 9 SUNY campuses and 9 Turkish universities. Currently about 400 students enroll in the dual diploma programs each year; over the initial five years, nearly 1500 Turkish students enrolled in the various dual diploma programs. The first classes of students have yielded 74 graduates and more than 180 will graduate in 2008.

For SUNY, the advantages of the dual diploma program were manifold. The program allowed SUNY campuses that previously had limited engagement in the international sphere, particularly the Middle East, to open the horizons of their institutions and their students. Through faculty exchanges with Turkish universities, a key part of the arrangement, there was a forging of new research and scholarly collaborations. The partnership with YÖK also helped build SUNY’s reputation in Turkey and draw attention to the quality of programs and faculty in campuses other than its already well known research universities.

bilkent.jpgThe collaboration was also important for the Turkish side. Turkey’s system of universities is only able to accommodate about a quarter of the 1.5 million applicants who take the national university entrance examination administered by the Turkish Higher Education Council. Many highly motivated and well prepared students are turned away. The YÖK-SUNY dual-diploma program provided a way to increase the capacity of the Turkish university system. It also provided an attractive option to Turkish students who were able to receive a diploma from a U.S. university at a fraction of the cost. Not surprisingly, the majority of the Turkish students admitted into the dual diploma program were those that had scored at the 90th percentile or better on the entrance examination.

SUNY’s strategy in Turkey demonstrates how dual diploma programs can address the growing demand for U.S. degrees in a manner that is affordable to international students. Yet it avoids many of the risks and pitfalls of establishing overseas campuses because there is no need for new capital outlays or for hiring overseas faculty. By respecting and preserving the academic integrity of the educational systems of both countries, dual diploma programs are unlikely to evoke concerns about foreign influence over local cultural norms that overseas campuses may generate. Most importantly, dual degree programs are built around academic curricula that are focused on student learning and driven by the faculty. Students are immersed in two cultural and educational environments resulting in a richer education than either university alone can provide. Faculty in both universities are brought together to work out equivalencies in each other’s courses and curriculum, deepening international relationships between programs. Ultimately, by keeping students, faculty, and the integrity of academic programs in sharp focus, dual degree/diploma programs ensure that a university’s engagement in the international sphere never deviates from the core mission of higher education.

Kavita Pandit

8 thoughts on “Engaging globally through dual degree programs: SUNY in Turkey

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