Just saying “no” to overseas branch campuses and programs: Ivy League vs UK logics

Over the last two days we’ve received information regarding leaders of two universities – in this case the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University – making clear statements that they have no interest in opening degree-granting campuses or programs abroad. Both decisions were highlighted in The Daily Pennsylvanian (22 April 2008), while the Yale decision (regarding a possible presence in Abu Dhabi) was profiled by the UK Higher Education International Unit, a relatively new (circa 2007) institution with a website, and newsletter, worth keeping an eye on.

The Yale and Penn stances contrast, sharply, with the stance on overseas degree-granting ventures adopted by numerous UK universities that were profiled in today’s other GlobalHigherEd entry. The crux of the matter is related to (a) control over brand name reputation, and (b) quality assurance (QA) concerns, as determined by the respective Ivy League universities versus QA agencies. These quotes from The Daily Pennsylvanian say it all:

While the University has “considered” exporting education overseas, Penn President Amy Gutmann said the University is not ready to open a degree-offering program on a satellite campus.

Should Penn ever seriously consider a degree-granting outpost campus, it would only be because the school found such a program in line with its mission and consistent with its educational standards, Gutmann said.

She said the University’s ability to recruit faculty overseas was not up to par, but added that partnerships with universities on other continents have been successful.

And in the UK Higher Education International newsletter:

Quality assurance struck at the heart of Yale’s decision to withdraw: ultimately the University did not believe it could devote adequate numbers of faculty to the Abu Dhabi institute to guarantee academic standards. Yale President Richard Levin said ‘We don’t want to offer degrees unless we can essentially staff the courses with a faculty that is of the same quality and distinction as the one here in New Haven… and at this stage in the development of international programmes, that’s not easy to accomplish.’….

In an interview with the Yale Daily News in October 2007, Mrs Ellis warned, ‘You cannot have the ‘luxury Yale experience’ — the couture line — in New Haven and then the Canal Street fake version somewhere in the Middle East. You must never compromise on your brand or your honour in such ventures [or] chip away one iota of quality or core values that have made Yale, Yale or the Louvre, the Louvre.’

No doubt straining not to say, ‘I told you so’, Mrs Ellis was re-interviewed by the paper last week. ‘The rewards would have to outweigh the potential political and reputational risks to Yale,’ she said, before raising a fundamental question: ‘What’s in it for Yale? Abu Dhabi needs Yale, but it is not clear to me that Yale needs Abu Dhabi.… It seems to me such deals make most sense for institutions looking to raise cash and their international profile. Last time I checked, Yale needed neither.’

To be sure Yale, and Penn, both seek to create ‘global footprints’, but institutional and program mobility is clearly not a desirable option for them right now, if ever. It is also noteworthy that Yale and Penn have relatively deliberative institutional cultures, at least compared to many universities with overseas campuses, and thorough debate occurs before key decision-making points; a feature of institutional governance that frequently leads to the rejection of these types of proposals, as the University of Warwick found out in 2005 when deliberating about the implications of opening a large campus in Singapore. This said, it is noteworthy that a peer university – NYU – has gone very far down the institutional mobility path, highlighting the diversity of approaches adopted to institutional globalization.

In closing, GlobalHigherEd understands more news items will be emerging on the broad issue of QA and overseas degrees (in China) in the coming weeks, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted…

Kris Olds

One thought on “Just saying “no” to overseas branch campuses and programs: Ivy League vs UK logics

  1. Pingback: Debating NYU Abu Dhabi and Liaoning Normal University-Missouri State University « GlobalHigherEd

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