Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes: opportunities and challenges in early 2008

The establishment of overseas/branch/foreign campuses, and substantial international university linkage schemes, continues to generate news announcements and debate.

Over the last two months, for example, Queen Margaret University in Scotland announced that it would be Singapore’s first foreign campus set up by a UK university (a fact that received little media coverage in Singapore).

The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) announced that their Singapore-based campus would be doubling in size by 2009 (a fact that received much media coverage in Singapore), while the University of Chicago’s Financial Mathematics Department announced it would establish a graduate program in Singapore, likely in association with Chicago’s Stevanovich Center for Financial Mathematics. Further details are available here.

Finally, on the Singapore front, MIT and Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) jointly announced the establishment of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre (SMART), a “complex of research centres set up by world-class research universities and corporations working collaboratively with Singapore’s research community”. As MIT describes it:

SMART is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) largest international research endeavor and the first research center of its kind located outside Cambridge, Mass. It will offer laboratories and computational facilities for research in several areas, including biomedical science, water resources and the environment, and possible additional research thrusts that encompass such topics as interactive digital media, energy, and scientific and engineering computation.

Besides serving as an intellectual hub for robust interactions between MIT and global researchers in Singapore, the SMART Centre will also provide MIT and Singapore new and unique opportunities to perform interdisciplinary experimental, computational and translational research that takes advantage of MIT’s long-standing collaborations in Singapore.

The joint press release can be downloaded here. Needless to say this was also a high profile media item in Singapore.

Noteworthy, too, is the fact that the Chicago and MIT initiatives in Singapore involve regular (versus contract) base campus faculty and researchers, reflecting core principles guiding their respective internationalization agendas. This is clearly enabled by direct and indirect Government of Singapore support, and relatively high tuition fees.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East and East Asia, the University of Calgary-Qatar (a joint venture between the University of Calgary and the Hamad Medical Corporation), and the University of Nottingham Ningbo, have both been busy searching out faculty (contract/contingent/secondment/visiting only, it seems) for their respective campuses.

nottningboroom.jpgEmployment sites always provide insights into how these types of ventures are represented, and how the transnational staffing dimension is handled, so check out what is on offer at Calgary-Qatar and Nottingham-Ningbo. I must admit, however, that the sterile curtained room on offer to three year-long contract faculty in Ningbo (photo to the left) does not exactly look appealing, exciting though China (and Ningbo) are. Perhaps they just hired a bad photographer:)

Over in Saudi Arabia the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which we have written about before, is filling media outlets like the Economist with full page advertisements for senior and mid-level administrative staff. The largesse available to KAUST, and the Singaporean influence on its development model, was also evident when it announced, incrementally in globally circulated press releases, that it was moving forward on substantial collaborative ventures, at an institutional scale, with the American University in Cairo, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Imperial College London, Institut Français du Pétrole, National University of Singapore, Stanford University, Technische Universität München, University of California, Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. These are substantial and lucrative linkages, according to Changing Higher Education, with Berkeley’s Mechanical Engineering Department (the lead linkage unit at Berkeley), for example, receiving US $28 million to participate in this scheme between 2008 and 2013.

KAUST is also attempting to leapfrog in the development process by buying in individual scientific support via their Global Research Partnership (GRP) Investigator competition. This scheme, which will initially support 12 “high caliber researchers” from the “world’s leading research universities”, allows KAUST greater flexibility to target individual researchers in fields or universities that might not be enabled via institutional linkage schemes like the ones mentioned above.

kaustcampus.jpgInterestingly KAUST’s graphic design consultants have worked very hard to create a sunny high tech image for the campus, which is still being developed, though they actually have less to work with (on the ground) than does Nottingham in Ningbo, not to mention significant security concerns to plan for when foreigners (especially US citizens) are involved. It just goes to show you how much work good or bad graphics (still & video, including the fascinating five minute long campus profile below) can do in creating distinctive representations of campuses such that they might appeal to mobile faculty and researchers living outside of the host country.

And on the analytical news front, Inside Higher Ed, and the New York-based Social Science Research Council’s new Knowledge Rules blog, both posted critical articles on the overseas campus institutional development model by Andrew Ross, a professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University (NYU), a university we profiled with respect to institutional strategic issues last autumn. Finally, Inside Higher Ed provided coverage of one initiative that had California Polytechnic State University, working with Jubail University College in Saudi Arabia, to develop approximately $6 million worth of programs for Jubail’s male only student population. But, as Inside Higher Ed notes, moving forward on this initiative might rub against (in a dejure or defacto way) core elements of Cal Poly’s internal code of conduct, and the national legal system it is embedded within (in this case U.S. equal employment laws that bar discrimination). The issue was put this way:

Faculty skeptical of the project — and by some accounts there’s plenty of skepticism on campus — wonder: Will opportunities truly be equally available to all Cal Poly faculty? Would women feel they can apply for an on-site director position in a country where they, unlike their male colleagues, would be barred from driving? What about homosexual faculty? Would they see good professional options in a country where sodomy is punishable by death? What about Jewish faculty in an Islamic country without religious freedoms?

The administration says that the bulk of the work to develop the programs would likely happen on the California campus. But site visits and long-term director positions abroad would be available. And there aren’t just opportunities, but also money, at stake here: The proposed base annual salary for a senior faculty member working on the project is $180,000.

Transnational complications, indeed.

Entangling institutional infrastructures from different countries cannot help but generate some inter-cultural and institutional conflict: indeed this is sometimes the rationale for supporting the concept of overseas campuses. But the Ross articles, the Cal Poly-Saudi debate, and Amy Newhall’s entry in GlobalHigherEd last autumn (‘Liberal education venturing abroad?: American universities in the Middle East‘), are but a few reminders that much more thinking is required about the underlying forces facilitating the development of such ventures, the nature of the deliberative processes on campuses that are considering such ventures (which has been, to date, driven in a top down fashion, for good and for bad, by what I would deem administrative entrepreneurs), and the nature of the memorandum of understandings (MoUs) and legal agreements that lock in such linkage schemes (usually for a five year period, in the first instance).

The evidence, to date, suggests that there is incredible diversity in drafting overseas campus and linkage arrangements, ranging from the unsophisticated and opaque to the sophisticated and transparent. It is perhaps time for some systematic rules and guidelines to be developed by international organizations like UNESCO and the OECD (extending the UNESCO/OECD guidelines on “Quality provision in cross-border higher education”). It is also worth pondering why publicly supported institutions are not active, and indeed sometimes hostile to, the public release of relevant MoUs and legal agreements. Public release clauses could, after all, even be built into the MoUs and agreements in the first place; a “non-negotiable” item in the terms of participants at a recent American Council of Education Leadership Network on International Education meeting. One of many unfinished debates about this emerging global higher ed phenomenon…

Kris Olds

8 thoughts on “Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes: opportunities and challenges in early 2008

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  8. How does one go about initiating/pioneering a linkage from a university abroad in one’s country?

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