Heavy Lifting vs Spectral Presence in Global Higher Ed

As I shuffled through the morning paper today, supping a much needed cup of coffee, I came across a story about the innovative architect Thom Mayne (of Morphosis) being selected to design the first building of Cornell University’s Applied Sciences NYC campus. This unique development initiative, outlined in detail here (‘Unsettling the university-territory relationship via Applied Sciences NYC’), is rolling forward with considerable speed.

Since Cornell (with Israel’s Technion) won the competition in December 2011, a Cornell/Technion leadership team was appointed in February 2012, and Andrew C. Winters (formerly of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office) was appointed to “lead the physical development process.”

Taken together, the involvement of a skilled and high-powered leadership team from both Cornell & Technion, along with a NY power broker (Winters), and highly qualified designers like Morphis as well as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (for the master plan), imply that this project is serious business.

CornellNYC Tech, “home of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute,” is really just the start of a broader development agenda, which includes the right to bring in other partner universities (and indeed non-university actors) from the US and abroad to their Roosevelt Island campus.

What is interesting about this project, in comparison to one associated with another Ivy League school (Yale, which is working with the National University of Singapore to develop Yale-NUS College), is that the Cornell-led development process reflects a significantly deeper level of commitment to being grounded in the host city of the new campus. What do I mean by being ‘grounded’ and why might it matter?

Being grounded means establishing commercial, legal, material (including human), and discursive presence in the host city. It means being present such that one is entangled in the regulatory, socio-cultural, physical, political, and institutional landscape of the city. It is a form of presence that leads to being drawn upon, and drawing upon, others also present in that city. It means being knitted into development processes where traded and untraded interdependencies (that “take the form of conventions, informal rules, and habits that coordinate economic actors under conditions of uncertainty”) help bring the city-region development process to life.

In the Cornell process, their mission and objectives have led them to control and be fully responsible for all stages (apart from coordinating the bid and review process, which was guided by the New York City Economic Development Corporation) of the development process including:

  • The campus planning and design process
  • The physical development process
  • The research-led knowledge production process
  • The teaching and learning process (in classrooms, labs, etc.).

The process of publicly bidding to develop Applied Sciences NYC (see my summary of the bid process here), then getting deeply involved in campus and building design process, the actual development process, and academic planning for the complex, effectively sutures Cornell’s identity, and its future, to the global city of New York.

Given this stance to the development process, a large number of Cornell and Technion faculty and administrators will be present in NYC, which will lead them to form deep social relations with key actors in the city. Some of these social relations will be sought out, though many will be accidental, subject to the unruly laws of serendipity in the metropolis. Physical co-presence matters to the socio-economic development process in cities, and the lead university (Cornell) behind Applied Sciences NYC seems to recognize this, as did Technion and Mayor Bloomberg.

In the Yale-NUS College case, Yale’s mission and objectives have led them to gift their brand (‘Yale’) for a fee, while providing input to a NUS-controlled:

  • Campus planning and design process
  • Physical development process
  • Teaching and learning process (in classrooms, labs, etc.).

Of course the newly hired faculty will have business cards that say ‘Yale-NUS College’ on them, and promotional materials flag the Yale name everywhere (a point made in this insightful article by Karin Fischer), but this is really a Singaporean project. Two proxy measures of this are that (a) that the newly hired faculty will receive Singaporean contracts, and (b) graduates only receive a degree from the National University of Singapore (not even a dual degree, a now common option in global higher ed). Of course a few administrators will be seconded from Yale, but they will inevitably retain their tenured jobs back in New Haven, CT.

Yale is thus the equivalent of Wharton when it helped provide much of the intellectual and organizational guidance to develop Singapore Management University (est. 2000), except for the fact that Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania did not sell the Wharton/Penn brand, nor did they play up their role in the SMU development process.

There are pros and cons to each model, of course, but I can’t help but wonder what the direct and indirect implications will be of Cornell’s higher level of material and non-material commitment to their new global city venture versus that being undertaken by Yale (at least in a spectral sense) in its newly adopted global city. Being present while being absent provides some latitude of freedom to reduce risk, and cost, but as INSEAD’s presence in Singapore demonstrates, and as Cornell and Technion’s presence in New York indicates, there are a myriad of rewards to being present – to be seen to be contributing, to be seen to be sharing the costs, to being on the ground, and to be demonstrating a medium- to long-term level of confidence in risky experiments in global higher education/global city development.

Kris Olds

Is Yale a Reliable Partner for the National University of Singapore?

Editor’s note: one of the more interesting aspects of the globalization of higher education is the emergence of new universities (e.g., Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, KAUST), as well as some experiments in the establishment of 21st century liberal arts colleges (LACs); LACs that both reflect, and simultaneously attempt to shape, currents of thoughts about the future of global higher education.  For example, I recall, very clearly, the contested emergence of Quest University Canada in a local context relatively hostile to private higher education institutions (HEIs), even HEIs that are (as Quest is) non-profit and genuinely student centered. More recently, Amsterdam University College (est. 2009) was established in the context of experiments in higher education reform in the Netherlands, as well as in the Amsterdam city-region. By most accounts Amsterdam University College (AUC) has been an early success re. enhanced student learning outcomes, while uniquely reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of Amsterdam. We’ve also seen the establishment of branch campuses such as NYU Abu Dhabi, similar to AUC in some ways, but reflective of more geographically diverse currents of thoughts, resources, ideologies, and institutional impulses. The same goes with respect to Yale-NUS College, currently in the development phase on the edges of the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.

One of the important aspects of the development of higher education institutions such as NYU Abu Dhabi, Duke Kunshan University, and Yale-NUS College, is that they are branded and usually shaped by an established elite university, but they require state largesse (from the host city/nation-state) to exist. These are spectacular initiatives, in some ways, but in so requiring state largesse, including from non-liberal (often authoritarian) political regimes, they require the assemblage of elements of geographically separate institutional infrastructures, curricula, brands, modi operandi, etc.  In the context of bringing all of these material and non-material aspects of the development process together, all sorts of debates can emerge for the articulation process is never easy. Moreover, the typical planning process is relatively complicated, with different agendas, assumptions as to what a ‘non-negotiable’ is, and variable temporal expectations regarding desired outcomes. Add some intra-institutional dynamics into the mix, including different understandings of the governance pathways that should be utilized for these often high risk endeavors, not to mention variable senses of the value of transparency when governing, and some intense debates are sure to emerge!

Dr. Michael Montesano’s guest entry below (‘Is Yale a Reliable Partner for the National University of Singapore?’), also available in PDF format, needs to be situated in the context of deliberations about the nature of the formal and informal governance pathways that are utilized for high risk global higher ed initiatives. Dr. Michael Montesano is a long-time resident of Singapore, a Southeast Asia specialist, and a member of the Yale College Class of 1983. He taught in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of the National University of Singapore from 1999-2008 and was an inaugural recipient of the NUS Alumni Advisory Board’s Inspiring Mentor Award (in 2009).

Kris Olds


Is Yale a Reliable Partner for the National University of Singapore?

by Dr. Michael Montesano (3 April 2012)

Yale University’s approach to its partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS) to establish an undergraduate liberal arts college in the country is flawed and ill-conceived in ways that call into question Yale’s ability to be a responsible long-term partner for Singapore and its national university.  Yale’s current leadership has pursued the project in so personalistic a fashion as to build no solid institutional foundation for it at Yale.  That leadership continues to demonstrate no effective understanding of Singapore, even as it has alienated the distinguished specialists on Southeast Asia on Yale’s faculty who could offer guidance.  That leadership appears to censor itself and to pursue a wider regime of self-censorship at Yale in matters relating to the proposed Yale-NUS college.  This regime cannot last; the dissatisfaction that it arouses will come to undermine Yale’s ability to serve as NUS’s partner.  Efforts on the part of Yale’s leadership to address concerns at Yale about academic freedom in Singapore have remained vague and evasive.  That leadership has never explained clearly the role of a “national university” in a “late”-developing country like Singapore or the instrumental nature of academic freedom at such a university.  Other aspects of that role suggest additional challenges that an effective partnership between Yale and NUS will face.  The proposed partnership between Singapore and NUS has now caused a deep, bitter crisis of governance at Yale.  The university now faces two choices: to withdraw from its partnership with NUS or radically to restructure its plans for participation in the proposed Yale-NUS college in Singapore.

I. A poorly informed, reckless, and “sultanistic” commitment.

Last August, during one of the current Yale president’s eerily McNamara-esque flying visits from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States to a Southeast Asian country of whose history and day-to-day life he lacks all comprehension, I attended a reception in his honor for Yale alumni living in Singapore.   The event began with some informal remarks from the president, heralding the great promise of the liberal arts college that Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) government had hired Yale to help create on the Kent Ridge campus of the National University of Singapore. Early in those remarks, the president noted his regret that some of what had been said about this plan in New Haven might have caused “embarrassment” in Singapore.  With breezy contempt, he indicated that criticism of the plan reflected the views of only a small minority at Yale and that newspapers and their coverage need not be taken too seriously.

Already opposed to the plan for a “Yale-NUS College,” I nevertheless found in these remarks two further causes for real concern about the scheme.

First, I asked myself, did Yale’s president really understand Singapore so poorly as not to know that its PAP government has long brushed aside comments from weak and woolly Western liberals on all but two or three very specific aspects of its system of government?  Could he really think that anyone in authority in Singapore had been embarrassed by the rather predictable criticisms voiced by members of the Yale faculty or printed in The Yale Daily News?

Second, I had to wonder, could Yale’s president, travelling with a number of members of the Yale faculty, honestly believe that his sneering reference to a free press would not get back to New Haven?  Did he not understand that, when it did, his offer to enlist Yale as one more regiment of educational Hessians in the service of the PAP government would only face even sharper criticism?

NUS and the Singapore government had, I then realized, had the bad luck to tie themselves to a partner who was both exceedingly poorly informed and terribly reckless.

But the evening only grew more worrying.  As Yale’s vice-president-cum-University-Secretary and I spoke by the buffet table some twenty minutes after the president finished his remarks, he walked over, and the vice president took the opportunity to introduce us.  I told Yale’s president that I believed that his failure, as in his remarks that evening, to articulate any understanding of the Singaporean and Southeast Asian contexts in which Yale would help found this new college meant that what he said about the college and its promise to bring liberal arts education to “Asia” had no credibility.  He replied, as the vice president listened, that having and articulating such an understanding were not his job.  To my comment that he was in that case in way over his head in Singapore, he told me to “come back in five years” and see what the new college would by then have accomplished.  My reply, one that mirrored the sentiments of various senior members of the Yale faculty with whom I had spoken over the course of the preceding year, was that it was likely to be a pretty mediocre operation.  Now the president grew openly angry.  Snarling that he had been involved in many undertakings in his life and that not one had been mediocre, he abruptly turned his back on me and strode off.

Unpleasant as this brutal display of  the Yale president’s self-regard was, it was also quite useful.  For it alerted me to a third cause for concern about the planned Yale-NUS college.  Yale’s current president clearly had so much of his ego tied up in the scheme that he was beyond having a serious, rational discussion about it with an informed critic.  And, having served in his post since 1993, he could only be considered a short-timer.  How could NUS and Singapore possibly count on Yale’s next president to share its incumbent president’s commitment to the new college, when that commitment had such an unmistakably personal rather than institutional nature?  Perhaps Yale’s Singaporean partners ought to bone up on the eminent Yale political scientist and sociologist Juan J. Linz’s work on “sultanism” as they prepare to treat further with Yale and its current president.  Perhaps, too, they ought to contemplate Professor Linz’s theorizing on the aftermath of the demise of “sultanistic regimes” and its implications for the future of the Yale-NUS college.

II. Singapore: In Southeast Asia, or just  “Asia”?

In September 2010, when Yale first formally announced that it was exploring the establishment of a liberal arts college at NUS, the Yale Office of International Affairs issued a five-page document entitled, “Yale and Singapore: Other Projects and Facts.”   In addition to listing internships, the number of Yale alumni in Singapore and of Singaporeans at Yale, workshops, summer courses, and various other connections between Yale and Singapore, the document noted that “Yale established its Southeast Asia Studies Program in 1947 – the first area studies program in the United States to embark on the study of Southeast Asia in all disciplines.”    Today, that program takes the form of a Council on Southeast Asia Studies, bringing together faculty from a range of departments.

Among the half-dozen most important Southeast Asianists to teach at Yale in the past sixty-five years was a Sudetenland-born Jew whose family saved him from the Holocaust by securing him a post in the Netherlands East Indies, today’s Indonesia, in 1939.  Following internment on Java by the Japanese, arrival in New Zealand as a refugee, and a Cornell doctorate, Harry J. Benda joined Yale’s history department in 1959.  Professor Benda died, too young, in 1971.  His journal articles, collected in a Yale Southeast Asia Studies publication by the late, great Yale historian Robin Winks, remain to this day influential in shaping understandings of the interplay of past and present in this region.

And, while the staff of the Yale Office of International Affairs seems to have been unaware of it when they compiled the September 2010 document, it was in the career of Professor Benda that the most significant previous academic connection between Yale and Singapore came.  In 1968 the father of the Singaporean technocracy, Dr Goh Keng Swee, selected Professor Benda to serve as the inaugural director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) while on leave from Yale for a year. At the time of its foundation, ISEAS embodied then newly independent Singapore’s realization of the need to understand its neighbors.  Dr Goh’s appointment of Professor Benda, his confidence in Professor Benda’s suitability for the post, was no casual matter; little about the PAP state’s approach to government or institution-building is ever a casual matter.

Today, Harry J. Benda’s portrait hangs in a place of honor in the ISEAS library, in the Institute’s building adjacent to NUS’s Kent Ridge campus.  The Association for Asian Studies annually presents a prize named in Benda’s memory for the best “first book” on Southeast Asia.[1]  But neither Yale’s current president nor any of those at Yale willing to work with him in creating the Yale-NUS college would appear ever to have publicly alluded to his place in Yale’s history of academic relations with Singapore or to his relationship with Dr Goh, yet alone cited his invaluable work or durable insights on Southeast Asia, even as they plunge into a long-term involvement with this region.

Neither is it the case that Yale’s leadership show any sign of drawing instead on the work of other serious scholars of Southeast Asia in an effort to understand Singapore and its region.  Instead, as in a now notorious episode, Yale’s president has displayed more familiarity with the much advertised Singapore Airlines than with scholarship that might help him understand in an intellectually credible way the historical, social, political, and economic contexts in which the Yale-NUS college will operate.[2]

At times, in fact, it has seemed that Yale’s leadership remains in denial of the reality that Singapore is in fact in Southeast Asia.  Yale’s president appears to conceive of a place called “Asia,” to which he will deliver the blessings of a liberal arts education in the form of a college sited in Singapore.  Scholars in attendance at the Yale-NUS college reception during the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago this past January cringed as Yale’s president witnessed his missionary impulse to bring education to this “Asia,” as he slighted the calibre of NUS’s extant offerings in the humanities and social sciences and its University Scholars Programme honors program, and as he repeatedly invoked “Asians.”  One of those present e-mailed me to say that it all sounded like something out of Kipling, that Yale’s president could not possibly appreciate how foolish he sounded to the Asianists in the room, Singaporean and non-Singaporean alike.

Can NUS and Yale’s new employers in the PAP government possibly deem reliable a partner that, so many months into their partnership, remained both so uncomprehending and so uninterested in their country and its region?  Hard to imagine.  But the situation is still worse.  For, in addition to this lack of comprehension and interest, one must note the alienation from the Yale administration’s decision to sell Yale’s services to Singapore of the members of Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies, of the Yale faculty who have actually devoted their lives to understanding the region and might bring their understanding to a Yale initiative in Southeast Asia.

Last August, Yale and NUS convened in New Haven a curriculum-planning event.  NUS’s president and vice-chancellor Tan Chorh Chuan attended, along with Yale’s president.  So did Southeast Asianists from Cornell and Berkeley, but not from Yale.  It is impossible to know whether President Tan remembered Yale’s boast of eleven months before about its legacy of and strength in the study of Southeast Asia and thus wondered why his new partners could not produce Yale’s Southeast Asianists at this event.  In fact, the members of Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies only learned about the event afterward.  Their participation would have introduced a decidedly unwelcome element of dissent into the event.  But Singapore has a duty to ask itself, how dependable a partner can Yale be, if its leadership cannot count on the assistance of the members of its faculty best prepared to guide it as it seeks to navigate the region?

III.  The rot of self-censorship.

Liberally inclined Singaporeans have long viewed self-censorship as the scourge of the political system that has resulted from uninterrupted PAP rule since before their country’s independence in 1965.  Willingly or not, most Singaporeans and many foreigners resident in Singapore rely on internalized self-censorship as they go about their daily lives.  This is a choice that they make.  It is also a reality that may change as the history of this country unfolds.

As the Yale president’s remarks on the press here last August suggest, however, the real concern raised by Yale’s engagement with the PAP government and with NUS involves self-censorship at Yale rather than in Singapore.

In fact, a Yale news release of May 2011 led many Yale alumni in Singapore—both Americans and Singaporeans—to conclude that Yale was already practicing artful self-censorship.[3]  The release announced that a member of the Yale College Class of 1980, Charles W. (“Chip”) Goodyear, would join the governing Yale Corporation as a Successor Trustee.  It detailed Mr Goodyear’s record of generous and meaningful support for Yale and his career in finance and mining.  It omitted, however, any mention of Mr Goodyear’s relationship with Singapore.  In early 2009 it was announced with great fanfare here that Mr Goodyear had been named CEO-Designate of Temasek Holdings, one of the PAP government’s two well endowed sovereign wealth funds.  He was due to take the reins at Temasek in October of that year.  In July 2009, however, it was announced that an inability to agree on questions of corporate strategy had led Temasek and Mr Goodyear to the mutual decision to call this plan off and to part ways.  The scale and prominence of Temasek meant that, in Singaporean, Asian, and indeed global financial circles, this was big news.  It represented an undeniable loss of face for the PAP government, which has long taken pride in succession planning.  And the omission of any mention of Mr Goodyear’s brief employment with Temasek in Yale’s May 2011 release led alumni here to chuckle knowingly and to remark to one another how quickly Yale’s leadership had assimilated Singaporean norms of self-censorship.

Today, faculty at Yale report nervousness in the ranks about opposing plans for the Yale-NUS college openly, for fear of retribution.  When, a year ago, I raised my own objection with one of Yale’s recent “star hires” in the social sciences, he told me curtly that all to whom he had spoken had told him that this was a train that had already left the station.  Translation: he was not commenting, and our conversation should move on to another topic.

Yale undergraduates have not been spared the pressure to censor themselves either.  On one occasion in early 2011, Yale’s president placed a call to The Yale Daily News to advise the author of an op-ed piece critical of his plans for Singapore to consider other perspectives on those plans in the future.

The problem, of course, is that the routinization at Yale of self-censorship on matters relating to Singapore will require substantial disruption of the intellectual life of the university.  Over time, Yale faculty and students will find the need to censor themselves when writing of Singapore or of the Yale-NUS college impossible to abide.  And there is another angle to all this, for, in its zeal to pursue its own version of the internationalization of the university, Yale’s current leadership overlooks just how “international” Yale’s intellectual life has long been.  Recent developments in Singapore and their relationship to Yale are illustrative.

Singapore held polls for the country’s largely ceremonial presidency last August.  In the course of the unusually heated campaign, there was discussion of the arrest of more than twenty social activists and labor organizers, including many affiliated with the Catholic Church, in 1987 under the country’s Internal Security Act (ISA).  Typically referred to, following the PAP government’s description of it, as “the Marxist conspiracy” but also sometimes called, following apparent Internal Security Department nomenclature, “Operation Spectrum,” this episode is not often talked about in Singapore.  But it remains controversial, and its impact on the Church here has been profound.  Until the recent publication of the detention memoir of the now retired lawyer Teo Soh Lung, perhaps the most important book on the episode was Francis Seow’s To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison, published in 1994 in Yale’s own Southeast Asia publications series.  The question that must be asked is whether, if in future such a manuscript comes to Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies, its leadership will either feel obliged to or come under subtle pressure to decline to publish it, in order not to cause Singapore “embarrassment.”  A pair of indicators suggest that such an outcome is not so far-fetched as it might appear.

First, just before Thanksgiving 2010, I contacted Yale’s much admired and loved Catholic chaplain, the head of the university’s long influential St Thomas More Catholic Center, by phone.  My purpose was to suggest that, sooner or later in Yale’s relationship with NUS, Operation Spectrum and its difficult legacy would come to the attention of Yale Catholics and that it would be good to expose the community to it first.  The chaplain listened to me carefully.  He even asked whether Vincent Cheng, the seminarian-turned-social-worker who became the most high-profile detainee in the operation, was able to travel.[4] I followed up by sending further information to the chaplain.  But—puzzlingly? troublingly?—I heard no more from him until I contacted him a year later.  At that time, following a brief response to an e-mail message, he again went silent. More recently, another Singaporean former seminarian who worked as a labor organizer here before deciding that it was best to leave the country reached out to the same Yale chaplain.  He never heard back either.  And it would seem that most Yale Catholics remain unaware of “the Marxist conspiracy” in Singapore.

Second, and chillingly, in early 2006 Yale’s current president caved in to pressure from the government of Thailand to allow representatives of the Thai monarchy, whose supporters would just months later mount a coup d’état in Bangkok, pre-publication review (just “for accuracy,” but they always say that, don’t they?) of a biography of the Thai king already in the process of publication by Yale University Press.[5] While the late Yale law professor Alexander Bickel turned over in his grave, publication of the book was thus delayed long enough so that the world’s media had no access to it as they reported on the gala celebrations marking sixty years of the king’s reign in June 2006.  This episode leaves little doubt about the impact, on Yale itself, of the current Yale president’s weak commitment to academic freedom where Southeast Asia is concerned.   Its implications for Yale scholarship relating to Singapore are clear and ominous.  After all, Yale was not even employed by the government of Thailand when the episode occurred.

That this Thai episode elicited so little protest from Yale faculty was hard to understand.  Nonetheless, it was in itself a one-time event.  Should such episodes, or even the suspicion of them, become routine in matters concerning Singapore, however, the resultant regime of self-censorship in New Haven would surely prove unsustainable.  It would poison both the relations of many of Yale’s humanists and social scientists with Yale’s leadership and the intellectual climate at the university.  It would thus also undercut the ability of Yale, especially under the leadership of future Yale presidents, to serve as an effective partner of the PAP government and NUS.

There are two deep ironies here.  The first is that, as I noted at the outset, Singapore’s PAP government pays no heed to most criticisms levelled against it, whether by scholars at Singaporean or foreign institutions.  It has long since concluded that only criticism of very particular kinds can do it damage.  And it simply does not take most scholars in the humanities and social sciences seriously in any case; too many of them are liberals.  Second, Singapore’s regime of self-censorship is enforced through unspecified “OB markers” (with “OB” meaning “out of bounds”).  Never knowing how far one can safely go in expressing oneself, Singaporeans learn to remain carefully short of where they think the line might be.  They thus avoid even criticisms for which they would face no retribution.  Yale’s president and others at the university seem very quickly to have learned the same behaviour.

IV.  Not how Singapore is different, but why it is.

Yale’s current leadership has been maddeningly, even irresponsibly, vague in the case that it has made for both the merits of “a new model of residentially-based liberal education to serve all of Asia” (as Yale’s president and provost put it in their September 2010 “Prospectus for a Liberal Arts College in Singapore”—a college that will, incidentally, enrol mostly Singaporeans) and for the merits of selling Yale’s services to the PAP government.  And it has also been difficult for many at Yale—troubled by this vagueness but far away from Singapore, unfamiliar with its history and politics, and lacking workaday experience of its universities—to translate a general, justified, and deep sense of unease about this undertaking into specific and effective criticism.  They have focused on concern over the degree of academic freedom that faculty and students at the Yale-NUS college will enjoy.  But they have thus overlooked a more fundamental issue, an issue that casts serious doubt on the sustainability of any partnership between Yale on the one side and the PAP government and NUS on the other.

In 1994, Foreign Affairs published what has become a famous interview with Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, conducted by Fareed Zakaria.  A member of the Yale College Class of 1986, Dr Zakaria is now a Successor Trustee of the Yale Corporation and an influential voice in deliberations on the “internationalization” of the university.  Zakaria concludes the interview with “A Coda on Culture,” the last lines of which read,

At the close of the interview, Lee handed me three pages.  This was, he explained, to emphasize how alien Confucian culture is to the West. The pages were from the book East Asia: Tradition and Transformation, by John Fairbank, an American scholar.

“Culture”—“Confucian” or “Asian” or other—does not explain the markedly different institutional and academic context, with its very different norms, to that of New Haven, Connecticut, in which the Yale-NUS college will operate.  History and of course politics do.  But of particular value to any understanding of that context is the work of one of one of the Yale president’s fellow economists, the late Oddessa-born, Austrian-educated Harvard professor Alexander Gerschenkron.

To be an American in Singapore is to encounter a familiar exceptionalism.  Of course, neither the United States nor Singapore is as exceptional as its citizens might think.  And PAP Singapore conforms in all salient respects to some of the generalizations that Professor Gerschenkron made about “late”-developing economies and the ways in which they differed systematically from early developers—above all from the master-case of the first industrializer of them all, liberal England. Three of these generalizations have particular relevance in the present context.  First, late developers make use of “the backlog of technological innovations” that they can borrow from earlier developers.  Second, they apply “institutional instruments for which there is little or no counterpart” in earlier developers. Third, they feature a markedly different “intellectual climate.”

Professor Gerschenkron was concerned above all with industrialization.  But his generalizations apply equally to other sectors. They shed light on the entire trajectory of Singapore’s astonishing economic growth under People’s Action Party rule since 1959.  And they explain the PAP government’s general interest in and approach to the education sector and particular interest in and approach to the establishment of a liberal arts college on this island.  This point merits brief elaboration.

The Yale-NUS college has been criticized on the grounds that it is not organic to Singapore or to Asia.[6] But this criticism reveals a failure to understand how the late developer achieves rapid development, by adopting and adapting innovations and ways of doing things from earlier developers.  The PAP government’s determination to fill out its “educational portfolio” through the creation out of whole cloth of a liberal arts college here is classically Gershenkronian.  But one must understand it in the context of Professor Gershenkron’s other generalizations about late developers, too.

PAP Singapore has achieved what it has achieved through the use of institutional forms alien to liberal economic climates: the Housing and Development Board, which has built the flats in which some eighty percent of the country’s population lives; the Jurong Town Corporation, which created to turn-key facilities on this island for foreign investors in the industrial sector; the National Trades Union Congress, whose leader sits in the PAP cabinet and which functions to keep the country strike-free; the Development Bank of Singapore, which originally served to channel finance into sectors of the economy deemed crucial to national progress; a range of state firms across numerous sectors, now corporatized and called “government-linked corporations”; the People’s Action Party, a vanguard party with a small cadre membership whose secretary-general serves as prime minister; the People’s Association, devoted to the promotion of “racial harmony and social cohesion” in Singapore; Temasek Holdings and the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore, two sovereign wealth funds; and many, many other institutions that Professor Gerschenkron would have found so predictable . . . including the National University of Singapore.[7]

Professor Edwin Lee’s history of “nation-building” in Singapore devotes a number of valuable chapters to the tertiary education sector.  (Professor Lee is a former head of the NUS history department and a student of the late O. W. Wolters, yet another thinker with whose perspectives on Southeast Yale’s current leadership and those members of the Yale faculty who have joined it in advancing its Singapore plans would do very well to acquaint themselves.)  His book makes clear that, from soon after Singapore’s independence in 1965, the PAP government viewed the University of Singapore—as NUS was called until the Chinese-medium Nanyang University was merged into it in 1980—as an arm of a state focused on national development.  Little illustrates this reality so starkly as the government’s decision to send then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Toh Chin Chye to serve as the university’s vice chancellor during 1968-1975.  While no longer serving as deputy prime minister during this period, Dr Toh did remain a member of the cabinet and chairman of the PAP.  Both before and during Dr Toh’s tenure as vice chancellor of the University of Singapore, leading lights of the PAP government (including then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew himself) and of the university’s faculty debated the bases of academic freedom at a national university and the degree of autonomy deserved by such a university with a sophistication sadly missing from current debates on the issue.

What the course of these debates made clear was that PAP Singapore’s national university was not to be a university in the way that the term has ever been understood at Yale.  Here it is useful to recall Professor Gerchenkron’s point about late developers’ adoption of “institutional instruments for which there is little or no counterpart” in the liberal settings of the early developers.  Neither has NUS’s situation changed significantly since the early years of Singapore’s independence.  Professor Lee notes the continued status of NUS as “a university geared to the brain-power needs of the nation . . . in the knowledge and information driven economy of the present” and “the close nexus between the university and the government.”  It is in this light that one must appreciate NUS’s emphasis on the same sorts of quantitative measures—publications in “top” journals, university rankings—that one might associate with the measurement of economic growth.  And so one must also understand the focus of its Asia Research Institute on migration and the family, urbanism, science and society, and religion and globalization—all concerns of the PAP government.  Similarly, and as the University of Wisconsin geographer and specialist on the globalization of higher education Professor Kris Olds has written, the emergence of Singapore as a “global schoolhouse” or as the “Boston of the East” is a PAP government undertaking, one reflective of planning about the next stage in Singapore’s national development.[8]  The proposed Yale-NUS college can only be understood with reference to Professor Olds’s writings on this subject.

For institutions of the sort that PAP Singapore developed in order to achieve its astonishing record of economic growth to function as they have done, Professor Gerschenkron’s third generalization needed to obtain.  The “intellectual climate” of Singapore, like that of virtually every successful “late” developer before it, has been illiberal.  So, too, have its political, social, and intellectual orders.  When the chairman of the governing board of the proposed Yale-NUS college recently declined to label the education that it would offer “liberal,” some Yale alumni were nonplussed.[9]  But the chairman’s remarks reflected a canny understanding of the context in which the college was to operate.  “Liberal” is a term of derision in the official lexicon of PAP Singapore.  This derision has its roots in a conviction that liberals were too weak to lead Singapore through the challenges of its early history, that they remain too weak to take the hard decisions necessary to ensure the country’s continued prosperity.

On one level, there is nothing objectionable to all this. Singapore and Singaporeans have charted the course of their own history.  It is not for foreigners to intervene in their affairs.  What is objectionable is the failure of Yale’s current leadership perhaps to understand and certainly to be frank and honest about what it has got Yale involved in. Yale’s leadership can talk, breezily and foolishly, about bringing a new model of the liberal arts college to “Asia” all that it wants.  But to be credible, it must acknowledge that Yale has sold its services—and, some would emphasize, its name—to a PAP Singapore focused on further developing its economy by becoming an education hub.  The Yale-NUS college is one component of this effort, and to see it in any other light is to betray a sorry failure to understand Singapore.

Yale and NUS are both “universities.”  But they are not institutions of a “counterpart” nature.  For all of the surface similarities between Yale and NUS, the term “university” has two fundamentally different meanings as applied to the two institutions. Recognition of this reality, and of the import and purpose of the Yale-NUS college in late-developing Singapore, has at least four direct implications, implications that Yale’s current leadership and its fast-dwindling band of allies on the Yale faculty should long since have made explicit.

The first of these relates to the question of academic freedom, which has caused so much concern at Yale.  In a sense, this question has been misspecified from the start.  Stake-holders in liberal institutions view academic freedom as an unquestioned value, as a central feature of the enterprise.  But in the illiberal institutional context of the late developer, freedom—academic or otherwise—has a purely instrumental function.  Scholars in this illiberal context may range freely within their disciplines, as the advancement of those disciplines and the publication of work in those disciplines contribute to the purpose of that which is called “the university” and thus to national development.  But that freedom has no value in its own right, and disciplines and expertise may be demarcated in ways that restrict scholars to what is in effect a spacious and exceedingly well appointed academic pen.  Research and publication within the confines of this pen will rarely require any direct intervention to curtail freedom of expression.  But confines are nevertheless confines, and those in question are not necessarily determined with reference to the concerns of scholarship.

Second, individuals charged with building and leading institutions in the illiberal context of late development know what they want, and they play to win.  The embarrassingly long interval between September 2010 and March 2011 during which Yale and the PAP government worked to hammer out an agreement on the planned college made these truths manifest.  While a close confidant of its president lamented that Yale had “no leverage” in its negotiations with Singapore, there was at the same time exasperation among NUS administrators over Yale’s failure to understand Singapore, its needs, and its constraints.  The Singapore side knew, that is, what it was after.  The Yale side could not be sure what it itself wanted.  One senior faculty member at Yale remarked, “Rick [as Yale’s president is commonly called] wants to do something big internationally, but he does not have the money.”  So he would have Singapore pay for this “something big” before concluding his long, long presidency of Yale.  Others felt that the president was bored with New Haven and sought ways to have his job take him elsewhere.  Perceptive observers in Singapore and elsewhere wondered whether Yale feared being left behind in an Asia-centric twenty-first century if it remained focused on New Haven and whether it saw tying up with NUS as a ready-made answer to those fears.  Neither is it clear that, in the period since March 2011, Yale has put behind it what the rugged men and women of a late developer would view as the weak and indecisive conduct of the liberal.  In the humanities and social sciences, Yale’s approach to faculty recruitment for the planned college has left the distinct impression that it has very little idea what it is doing.

Third, there are some areas in which squaring the circle in any partnership between Yale and a national university conceived of as is NUS will prove simply impossible.  These areas include legislation infringing on the rights of homosexuals in Singapore, its PAP government’s regime of labor control, and the state’s prerogative to monitor the activities of societies, including those operating on university campuses. Neither Yale’s incumbent president nor any of the successors to whom he bequeaths such an unsustainable partnership will be in any position to ask Singapore to take that legislation off its books, to introduce a legally enforceable minimum wage or the right of collective bargaining for the foreign workers and elderly Singaporeans who will clean the precincts of the Yale-NUS college, or to promise that student societies affiliated with the college will not be monitored by outside authorities.  Yet Yale’s current leadership and its successors will find their relations with Yale’s gay faculty and students, with faculty and students who respect gay rights, with Yale’s unions, and with student organizations in New Haven that seek out relationships with societies organized under the auspices of the Yale-NUS college difficult if not impossible.  (One notes with some surprise that one voice not yet heard in the debate over Yale’s plans for Singapore is that of the Yale College alumnus and legendary New Haven labor leader John Wilhelm.)

Finally, in 1994 the Singaporean novelist and intellectual Catherine Lim wrote that “a great affective divide” existed between Singapore’s People’s Action Party and the people of Singapore.  Rebuked by the prime minister of the day for involving herself in politics without running for office, she had nevertheless put her finger on an important aspect of the institutions of late developers.  The PAP, ever focused on renewal, has since that time sought to bridge the divide that Ms Lim recognized.  Yale is, however, moving in the opposite direction as a result of its bungling and poorly explained effort to work with an institution of a fundamentally different nature to Yale’s.  Its leadership has opened a great affective divide between many members of the Yale faculty and their former colleague who happens now to be the university’s president and between the supporters of his Singapore plan and the sceptics.  In recent weeks, efforts on the part of Yale’s current leadership and its supporters to overcome these sceptics have taken on a particularly poisonous character.

VI.  Yale’s Great Singapore Folly: What is to be done?

Yale’s Great Singapore Folly raises a fundamental question in the realm of university governance: ought institutions of higher education be held to the same standards of intellectual seriousness to which their faculty hold both one another and their students as these institutions venture out into the world?   If the answer to this question is “yes,” then Yale and its current leadership have failed to meet any reasonable standard.  In fact, that leadership seems not even to have tried.  It seems to believe, that is, that the answer to this question is “no.”  Too, its irresponsible attitude appears to have seeped downward to the Yale administrators and faculty assisting Yale’s leadership in this project.  Others, thankfully, believe that the answer to this question is indeed “yes.”  This group includes not merely members of the Yale faculty, but also Yale alumni with international experience, not least in various parts of Asia, who have begun to fear a deep leadership crisis at Yale.  This includes moneyed alumni.

The flawed, ill-conceived, and “sultanistic” approach taken by Yale’s incumbent president in putting Yale in the employ of Singapore’s PAP government to establish a liberal arts college in partnership with the National University of Singapore means that Yale cannot be a reliable partner for NUS on a sustained basis.  This much is manifest.  Before it sinks even deeper into its quagmire on Kent Ridge, with consequences destructive to Yale and unfair both to its Singaporean paymasters and to NUS, Yale has two alternatives.

The first alternative is for the Yale Corporation to meet, to examine the university’s contract with the PAP government, to consult its lawyers, and to terminate its partnership with NUS before the mess that Yale’s current leadership has made does any more damage to Yale.  In the short run, this decision will cause Yale considerable embarrassment, but folly has its price.  Giving Yale’s incumbent president a Kissingerian “decent interval” at Yale’s helm, the Corporation can hand effective management of Yale over to others and launch a search for Yale’s nineteenth president.  A central goal of that search will be to select an intellectual committed to liberal values and to sincere collegiality and marked by the perspective and judgement to conceive of and forge responsible, durable, and fruitful academic partnerships around the globe for Yale.  (Monoglots need not apply.)  These will have to be partnerships whose terms are consonant with principles of sound university governance and whose rationales can stand up to the scrutiny of a community of scholars.  This decision will leave in the lurch many in Singapore who have worked faithfully and hard on the Yale-NUS college.  But late developers are tough and resourceful.  PAP Singapore has overcome set-backs before.  It will, before long, put this set-back behind it in like manner.

The second alternative is more complicated.  Its purpose is, in essence, to “save” Yale’s relationship with Singapore by taking a range of concrete steps to enable Yale to be a reliable partner to the PAP government and to NUS over the long run.  These steps must include, but are not limited to, the following.

1.  A figure in Yale leadership must deliver a major public address at Yale on Yale and Singapore.  This address must offer a compelling, credible, and serious vision of Singapore and Southeast Asia, of their histories, and of the complex and dynamic societies in this part of the world with which Yale will now engage. It must transcend the defensiveness that has marked Yale’s stated justifications of the Yale-NUS college to present a detailed, intellectually substantive case for establishing a liberal arts college in Southeast Asia, siting that college in Singapore, and allowing a foreign government to finance it.  This address must honor liberal principles and demonstrate the respect for the intelligence of stake-holders—Yale faculty, Yale alumni, and, not least, Yale’s prospective partners in the PAP government and at NUS and the wider tax-paying Singapore public—that has all too often been missing in Yale’s public statements on the Yale-NUS college.  In his treatment of the Yale faculty and in his prolonged failure to articulate a serious rationale for the Yale-NUS college, Yale’s president has long since disqualified himself from giving any such address. Perhaps Yale’s much respected provost, the dean of Yale College, or a member of the Yale Corporation can be tasked to prepare and deliver this address on Yale’s behalf.

2.  Yale must make public the documents setting out all terms agreed upon by Yale and the PAP government, any of its ministries and departments, statutory boards, NUS, sovereign wealth funds, or government-linked corporations.  This includes not only terms relating to academic freedom at the planned college but also terms relating to governance of the college, to the funding of the college, and to compensation to be paid to Yale, to its Officers, or to any of its other personnel.

3.  In order to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest at Yale, Yale must make public the full record of all payments for consulting and other services, all research funding, and any complimentary plane tickets and hotel accommodation rendered to any Officer of Yale University or member of the Yale Corporation during the past fifteen years by any Singaporean government ministry or department, statutory board, university, sovereign wealth fund, government-linked corporation, or putatively independent organization financed primarily by the PAP government.  The tardy statement, clearly drafted with excruciatingly hair-splitting care by Yale’s lawyers, on the financial ties of three current or former fellows of the Yale Corporation released by the university on 1 April—which must have been a pretty panicky Sunday—is not adequate.[10]

4.  Yale must replace four of its appointees to the ten-member Yale-NUS College Governing Board.[11]  Members to be replaced are Yale’s president; Vassar College president Catherine Bond Hill, a Yale-trained economist whose significant international experience was in Zambia (a reality that has left many Singaporeans made aware of it both dumb-founded and offended); and Roland Betts and George W. Bush’s ambassador to China Clark Randt, two plutocratic alumni of Yale College with no record of involvement in Southeast Asia or in education in this region.

Already a member of the governing board, Yale’s University Secretary and vice president—a real listener who is exceptionally well informed in the field of international education—can easily shoulder its president’s duties as a member of the board.  The loss of Messrs Betts and Randt may have an impact on the governing board’s ability to raise funds for the new college, but early indications are that NUS can do so quite effectively with Yale’s name alone.

The replacements for these four Yale appointees to the Yale-NUS College Governing Board ought to include, first, two members of the Yale College faculty chosen for fixed terms through a transparent process and, second, two individuals with Yale affiliations and demonstrated understandings of Singapore and Southeast Asia and their educational contexts.  And—what a thought!—these appointees might even include a Singaporean or two not selected by the PAP government or by NUS.  It is not clear, in fact, why Yale has filled none of its slots on the proposed college’s governing board with Singaporeans or other Southeast Asians. Lack of imagination or of effort offers one likely explanation.  Ignorance of Singapore and Southeast Asia among Yale’s leadership may have left it unaware that the university counts among its alumni, for example,

  • A Singaporean on the faculty of a major American business school, who also earned a degree at Cambridge, taught at America’s finest liberal arts college (Swarthmore), pioneered the study of Singapore’s industrialization strategy, is a leading scholar of Southeast Asian business, and in 2004 co-authored the opinion piece in The Straits Times that originally advocated the establishment of a liberal arts college in this country;
  • A former Philippine Secretary of Education, former university president, former head of the secretariat of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization, doctoral student of Harry Benda’s, and visionary advocate of accessible tertiary education in Southeast Asia who studied five decades ago at the Ateneo de Manila University when it already offered an undergraduate program in liberal arts in Asia;
  • An influential Malaysian alumnus of Yale College who has served as the United Nations’ first Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, taught briefly at Yale and for many years at NUS’s sister institution the University of Malaya, and has published and edited dozens of books in the field of political economy;
  • And Singapore’s leading legal and constitutional historian, holder of a Yale Law JSD, author of a landmark biography of Singapore’s first, liberal chief minister, and hugely active and effective former president of the Singapore Heritage Society.

These are but four possibilities for appointment to the governing board of the proposed Yale-NUS college.  There are many, many others. The point, simply, is to see Yale represented on the board of the Yale-NUS college by men and women who understand the context in which the college will operate and who know what they are doing.  Only thus can Yale be a reliable partner for NUS.

5.  Yale must establish on a site as close as feasible to NUS’s Kent Ridge campus a completely Yale-funded (no PAP-government-subsidized rent, either) research center with a director drawn from the Yale faculty on a two- or three-year term.  This director will serve during his or her term as a member of the faculty of the Yale-NUS college with a reduced course-load, but Yale will pay her or his salary.  The center will coordinate the activities and research of Yale faculty and graduate or professional students from all schools of the university, and of Yale College undergraduates, relating to Southeast Asia and to the region’s place in the broader Asian and global contexts.  It will serve as an outpost of genuine Yale in the region and an always open window on the Yale-NUS college.  It will serve as an arena for contact between Yale faculty and students on the one hand and Singaporean and Southeast Asian scholars and intellectuals not introduced to Yale by NUS administrators on the other.  Finally, this research center will help give Yale and its faculty the stake in Singapore and Southeast Asia without which the university cannot be NUS’s reliable partner over the long term.  As for its funding, well, rather than raising money for the Yale-NUS college, Messrs Betts and Randt can devote themselves to fund-raising on this new center’s behalf and to recruiting other Yale alumni to helping them.   Perhaps the new center could be named for one of the eminent Southeast Asianists whose tenure at Yale have epitomized its historical seriousness about the region.

Michael Montesano (3 April 2012)

Selected References

Barr, Michael D.  “Marxists in Singapore?” Critical Asian Studies XLII, 3 (2010): 335-362.

Benda, Harry J. Continuity and Change in Southeast Asia.  New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies Series No. 18, 1972.

Fairbank, John K., Edwin O. Reischauer, and Albert M. Craig.  East Asia: Tradition and Transformation.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

Gerschenkron, Alexander.  Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective: A Book of Essays. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962.

Goh Keng Swee. The Economics of Modernization.  Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004.

Goh Keng Swee.  The Practice of Economic Growth.  Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004.

Goh Keng Swee.  The Wealth of East Asian Nations. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004.

Gomez, James.  Self-Censorship: Singapore’s Shame.  With a foreword by Philip Jeyaretnam. Singapore: THINK Centre, 2000.

David Halberstam.  The Making of a Quagmire.  New York: Random House, 1965.

Handley, Paul M.  The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.

Lee, Edwin.  Singapore: The Unexpected Nation.  Singapore: ISEAS, 2008.

Linz, Juan J., and H. E. Chehabi, eds.  Sultanistic Regimes. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Seow, Francis T.  To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison. New Haven: Yale Southeast Asia Series No. 42, 1994.

______.  Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary.  New Haven: Yale Southeast Asia Series No. 55,


Teo Soh Lung. Beyond the Blue Gate. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Centre, 2010.

Wolters, O. W.  History, Culture, and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives.  Revised edition. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 1999.

Zakaria, Fareed and Lee Kuan Yew. “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew.” Foreign Affairs LXXII, 2 (1994):  109-126.


[7]Even a cursory reading of the collected speeches and writings—many touching on higher education—of the brilliant and inexhaustible Dr Goh Keng Swee, the creator of many of the institutions central to PAP Singapore’s success as a “late” developer, immerses one in a thoroughly Gerschenkronian world.

[10] It needs to be acknowledged that this requirement will in all likelihood force Mr Charles Goodyear to resign from the Yale Corporation, as his ability to reveal the financial terms under which he left Temasek Holdings may well be constrained.  Mr Goodyear was for some years a senior executive of the holding company for Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, a firm with historic ties to Yale alumni that was closely associated with the late General Suharto’s New Order dictatorship in Indonesia.  He is, thus, perhaps the only individual in a leadership position at Yale who understands how the rough, serious Southeast Asian game is played.  He is a focused, bright, personable man who also, that is, knows where the bodies are buried in this part of the world.  For Yale, his resignation from the Corporation would be a real blow.  For Yale’s president Richard C. Levin, however, it would bring a certain poetic justice, for he has acknowledged that his project in Singapore is very much related to fundamental issues of university governance; see http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/feb/20/cancelled-faculty-meeting-reinstated-following/.  (It should also be noted that, a week or so ago, I tested this need for transparency regarding previous financial ties to Singaporean entities with two Singaporeans whose sharp critical faculties testify to their fine educations in NUS’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.  Their understanding of Singapore Inc. led them to consider the need obvious and logical.)

Graphic feed: CREATE – an international multi-institution research campus in Singapore/Asia

Source: National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Republic of Singapore.

Note: Further information on the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) is available via the CREATE Project Brief.

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


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.


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

Collapsing branch campuses: time for some collective action?

The process of denationalization, which Saskia Sassen amongst others has been attempting to analyze, is clearly not a seamless process, even when implemented by well-resourced institutions and knowledgeable people. While Sassen’s main concern is with the denationalizing impulse within nation-states (e.g., ministries), denationalization is also associated with pushes beyond the national scale by institutions in other sectors, including higher education.

When universities reorient from the national to the global and decide to open up a branch campus, for example, they are faced with a whole host of options and questions related to values (the guiding principles), geographical imagination (scales to work at), capabilities (moving from vision to implementation and governance), level of engagement (the depth of linkage question), and mechanism for entry (ranging from franchising (yes, this term is used) through to fiercely independent campuses with replica faculty working conditions).

gmurakLast week’s higher education media journalists allocated significant attention to the collapse of George Mason University’s campus at Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) in the United Arab Emirates. Here are a few of the key articles:

Link here for the GMU announcement, and here for a pre-set Google weblog search on the topic. GMU’s Provost (Peter N. Stearns) also had this to say, in a refreshingly open and honest way:

Closing the RAK Campus

By this point many people in the Mason community will know that we have decided to close the Mason operation in Ras al-Khaimah as of the end of this semester. Negotiations with our funding partners in RAK broke down both over budget levels for the current year and over changes our partners sought in reporting structures. We concluded that the result would not allow us to sustain the academic quality to which we’re committed and indeed might affect our accreditation. The decision having been made, we are working hard to live up to the obvious responsibility we have to our students there (about 120 of them), giving them as many options as possible including facilitating their coming to our campus here to complete their work. It’s a messy and distressing process.

As negotiations began to break down, I had several days of self-castigation, wondering what I could have done better to help prevent this unfortunate result. Then this week our University Relations office, trying to get me ready for the questions that might arise at a press conference, included the stinger, “Who at Mason is most responsible for the failure of the RAK campus.” That would be me. I know of several errors in judgment I committed or was involved in, that may have had some impact on the slower-than-expected enrollment growth (which was the clearest area where what we were trying to do broke down somewhat). I certainly know of several things I would do differently in a similar undertaking in future, including making sure we were well enough funded at the outset to hire a manager at our end to oversee the project. I also believe that it is important to admit mistakes (and to be forgiven for them, as long as they don’t pile up unacceptably). I’ve never cared for a leadership situation that either pushes toward denial of error, or assumes that any error will be seized upon without mercy. But I further believe that it’s vital not just to admit, to learn from, but also to get over. So we’re working hard on cleaning up the RAK residuum but also looking to other projects, including some in the global arena, that are pushing out in really promising directions.

This is an issue we have written and spoken about before, and it is one that national associations (e.g., the American Council of Education (ACE)) are starting to pay attention to.  See these ACE reports, for example:

Yet, despite the production of these informative reports, and associated discussions in Washington DC, I can’t help but wonder why there is not more collective action to understanding the pros and cons of the branch campus development process, with guides and courses to assist. In the GMU-RAK case everyone — the host government, the university, and the students — loses. You would think, given the scale of the endeavors underway (especially in the Middle East, and Asia to a lesser degree) that at least one information-packed website would have been developed, or one short-term executive education-style course would have been set up. Yet there is nothing, nadda, zip. GlobalHigherEd probably has more information than any other open-access website (at least in English) yet it is woefully undeveloped, dependent as it is on our spare time (which is in short supply right now).

If I could create the dream resource for the administrative entrepreneurs in universities considering branch campuses, it would consist of a 2-3 year long program of periodic one week courses run by INSEAD (developer of the most successful new campus in a distant location (it is actually their second campus, versus a ‘branch campus’)) to deal with the strategy and negotiation elements, in association with regional (area studies) experts. It is worth adding that Gabriel Hawawini and Arnoud De Meyer (now at the Judge School of Business, University of Cambridge) guided the INSEAD campus into existence. I recognize that INSEAD is only a business school, but they have thought through all aspects of the development process, and have situated the issue within a broader context regarding both strategy and the political economy of development in host nations. INSEAD also has a track record in developing resilient campuses and programs abroad. INSEAD might also draw in expertise from the University of Warwick, which developed the most comprehensive planning process yet; one that led them to decide, in 2005, to not develop a Singapore-based branch campus for approximately 10,000 students.

If I could create the dream resource for the officials and politicians considering hosting branch campuses, it would consist of a 2-3 year long program of periodic one week courses jointly run by INSEAD, the OECD’s Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE), the International Association of Universities (IAU), and 1-2 key national associations of universities (e.g., ACE) from likely source countries. This rather heterogeneous grouping would have the capacity to deal with the range of issues host governments need to consider when devising and implementing this form of capacity building development strategy, while being distant enough from the process to critique host government’s fixation with importing ‘brand names’ above all else. My research on the development process in Singapore also generated a feeling that host governments have a challenging time understanding how universities in other parts of the world function (both formally and informally). Even senior ministerial officials with overseas degrees lack sufficient knowledge and perspective: they were, after all, only students during their time abroad.

Finally, the courses would be heavily subsidized by the governments of both source and host countries, the World Bank, and the OECD, thereby drawing in both curious and committed stakeholders. It would also result in the production of a comprehensive open access web-based portal on all aspects of the development process; a permanent resource, if you will, for governments and universities reflecting about this issue. While it is to be expected that consultancies like the Washington Advisory Group will attempt to profit from this development process, insights on the development process need to be circulated much more widely in the public sphere.

George Mason University’s campus in Ras al Khaymah has collapsed. Similar collapses have happened in Malaysia, South Africa, Singapore, and several other countries. How many more messy failures like this do we need? Why can’t we deal with this issue in a collective way, one sensitive to the viewpoints of all parties associated with this complicated development process, yet one that recognizes that capabilities to ‘reach out’ in new ways need to be systematically enhanced.

Kris Olds

From sifting and winnowing, to the University in Exile, to Universities in Dangerous Times

As one of us (Kris) walked towards a College of Letters and Science Curriculum Committee meeting yesterday afternoon I passed by Bascom Hall, the central administrative building of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A memorial plaque at the main entrance to Bascom Hall states the following:

Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.

The plaque makes reference to a celebrated 1894 case regarding Richard T. Ely (pictured above in 1910), director of UW-Madison’s then School of Economics, Politics and History. Ely’s work was equated with “utopian, impractical, or pernicious doctrines”, and he was being vigorously attacked at the time. In the end his job, genuinely on the line, was saved.

The Ely case, and the principles expressed in the Board Of Regents 1894 ruling (part of which are quoted above), become one of the foundations of academic freedom in the United States; a principle and practice that, while not perfect, plays a fundamental role in the capacity of US universities to be prolific producers of knowledge, and of innovations.

The production and circulation of knowledge is not always a straightforward matter. The capacity to speak ‘truth to power’, or simply to search for the ‘truth’, on issues as basic as bridge collapses or the causes of cancer, let alone labour rights, social inequality or torture, is not guaranteed: it has to be maintained, discussed, preserved, protected, symbolized, institutionalized, memorialized, and fought for.

In this historic context, the intertwined forces of globalization and neoliberalism, and the associated restructuring of higher education and research, are generating a series of challenges for advocates of academic freedom. For example, the establishment of branch campuses and overseas programs is generating a series of fascinating deterritorializing tendencies, an issue one of us has written about in the Singaporean context*, and which remains surprisingly unexamined in the rush of changes in the Middle East (especially Qatar and UAE) right now.

It is thus noteworthy that a conference – Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times – will be held at The New School in New York City on October 29, 30, and 31, 2008. As the organizers of the conference state:

Over three days, the conference speakers will explore: how the trends and challenges that face universities in the US and abroad today may affect the core values of academic freedom and free inquiry. These current trends include rapid globalization, changes in the geo-political arena, modes of financing, the extension of higher education franchises, the rise of collateral institutes and research centers, the relationship between specialization and integration, regime change, and other conditions of duress.

With reference the historic foundations of academic freedom, at least in the US, the conference is also a “major part of the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the University in Exile, a remarkable haven of academic freedom and free inquiry”. As The New School puts it, the University in Exile was conceived by its first president (an economist), Alvin Johnson, and it:

rescued and employed European intellectuals and artists who had been dismissed from teaching and government positions by the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini. More than 180 scholars and their families found refuge here, including Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer and economists Karl Brandt and Gerhard Colm. Nobel prize winner Franco Modigliani was one of its first students. In 1934, the University In Exile—renamed The Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science—received authorization from the Board of Regents of the State of New York to offer master’s and doctoral degrees, and began publication of its international journal of the social sciences, Social Research, still one of the most influential academic journals in the United States.

Speakers at the October conference, 75 years later, include Ira Katznelson (Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History, Columbia University), Bob Kerrey, President, The New School), Craig Calhoun (President, Social Science Research Council; University Professor of the Social Sciences, New York University), Arjun Appadurai (John Dewey Distinguished Professor in the Social Sciences, Senior Advisor for Global Initiatives, The New School), Deepak Nayyar (Distinguished University Professor of Economics, The New School for Social Research; Former Vice Chancellor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi), Robert M. Berdahl (President, Association of American Universities; Former Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley), Hanna Holborn Gray (Former President, University of Chicago), Anthony W. Marx (President, Amherst College), Charles M. Vest (Former President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), and Joseph W. Westphal, (Provost, The New School; Former Chancellor, University of Maine).

These are challenging times, and it will be interesting to see how effectively this stellar line-up of speakers and panelists grapple with the topic Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times. How will they, for example, relate thinking about academic and free inquiry to the many non-university spaces, or hybrid (their term is “collateral”) spaces, associated with contemporary knowledge production? And what of the deterritorialization of academic freedom in places like Qatar Education City, Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse (where Hanna Holborn Gray’s university has a formal legal presence via the Chicago Graduate School of Business) or NYU Abu Dhabi? Will discussions engage in the grounded practices associated with important initiatives being undertaken by NYU-based Scholars at Risk (SAR) and the Institute of International Education (IIE). Finally, how will they engage with the less tangible governance forces shaping free inquiry that we have been tagging, in GlobalHigherEd, under the ‘audit culture’ umbrella.

Path dependencies are being generated right now across the globe regarding how free inquiry is being re-conceptualized, and protected or inhibited. The timing for such an event could not be better given the fast pace of changes underway, and the importance of not forgetting initiatives like the University in Exile.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

* Olds, K. (2005) ‘Articulating agendas and traveling principles in the layering of new strands of academic freedom in contemporary Singapore’, in B. Czarniawska and G. Sevón (eds.) Where Translation is a Vehicle, Imitation its Motor, and Fashion Sits at the Wheel: How Ideas, Objects and Practices Travel in the Global Economy, Malmö: Liber AB, pp. 167-189.

Globalized higher education in the United Arab Emirates – unexpected outcomes

Editor’s note: today’s guest entry has been kindly prepared by Dr. Neha Vora. Dr. Vora recently received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Irvine. As of Fall 2008, she will be Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at Texas A&M University. Her current research focuses on the dynamics of race, class, and gender in the United Arab Emirates and how they affect the large Indian migrant population. By focusing on the overlaps between state and expatriate discourses, she considers how migrants, who officially do not have access to citizenship or permanent residency, are often participants in the production of forms of exclusion and exploitation in contemporary Dubai. Dr. Vora also holds an MA in Women’s Studies from San Francisco State University. Her next research project will focus on the recent influx of American Universities into the Gulf Arab States, including Texas A&M!


In 2006, I was in Dubai conducting research among the large Indian migrant community in that emirate. Several of my younger informants, it turned out, had attended branches of US-accredited universities, which were a relatively new arrival in the Gulf States. My research, which focused on forms of identity and belonging among differently situated South Asians, was mainly concerned about the question of what it means to belong to a place like the UAE, where despite family histories that sometimes go back generations, one has no access to citizenship or even permanent residency. I started to notice that almost all of my informants, while staking certain historical, cultural, and geographic claims to Dubai and the UAE, vehemently denied any desire for formal belonging. In fact, the exclusion of the UAE’s overwhelmingly non-citizen population was predicated in many ways on the participation of non-citizens themselves. However, one group of informants differed greatly in how they spoke about their status in the UAE, and these were the young people who had attended foreign universities in the Gulf. They were actually quite politicized. They spoke of themselves as “second-class citizens” and expressed anger at what they felt to be systemic discrimination against South Asians in the Gulf. And, surprisingly, they attributed their awareness of their own exclusion directly to their university experiences, at schools like American University of Dubai, University of Wollongong, and American University of Sharjah, among others.

In the last decade, the options for higher education in the Gulf have expanded. Higher education is one of the major focal points of non-oil development in the Gulf States, and it is of particular importance to the rulers of the United Arab Emirates. The American University of Sharjah (AUS), for example, is affiliated with American University in Washington, D.C. and confers a degree equivalent to a US four-year university. The proliferation of colleges like AUS (pictured to the right, courtesy of the AUS website) means that a large number of expatriate middle-class children, who used to have to go abroad for higher education (usually to India, Australia, Canada, the US, or the UK), are increasingly able to stay in the UAE through the time of their college graduation. Therefore, many South Asian young people I interviewed, unlike their parents or even their slightly older counterparts, had not previously considered the reality of perhaps having to migrate to another country to find work, settle down, and start a family. Here, I consider briefly how the recent influx of American and other foreign universities into the Gulf works to produce Indian youth as both parochialized South Asian and neoliberal transnational subjects, who in turn reinforce Dubai’s economic growth as well as the divide between citizen and non-citizen in the UAE.

Many scholars have connected the globalization of American universities with other trends in the university system geared at profit-making enterprises (see for example Altbach 2004; Morey 2004; Poovey 2001). In addition, there has been an increase in “market” language to speak about the university—students are considered “clients,” educational offerings “products,” and extracurricular and other options “value-added.” The marketization of education is by and large seen as a negative by American academics, who lament the contemporary commodification of higher education, part of which is indexed by the increasingly transnational nature of universities and the neoliberal orientation of international curricula. Gulf-based projects such as Education City in Qatar and Knowledge Village in Dubai seem to be prime examples of these processes, particularly in light of recent WTO negotiations to further liberalize the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which specifically includes higher education as a commodity service.

Gulf governments, faced with large demographic imbalances between citizens and expatriates, who make up the majority of the workforce in many countries, find foreign universities attractive because they provide educational opportunities for citizens that make them competitive both at home and abroad, and because they will potentially generate—after large initial investments—non-oil revenue. Foreign universities are also attractive to expatriates, who are barred from attending state schools. However, these students, particularly those who have spent their lives in the Gulf, are simultaneously inculcated into parochial national identities and an exclusion from the UAE nation-state. In addition, and perhaps conversely, the globalized American university, lamented by scholars as an erosion of the liberal ideals of the university, is providing space and opportunities for unexpected liberal politicizations and calls for rights by South Asian young people in Dubai.

When I asked Indian and Pakistani young people who attended these schools to talk about their childhood experiences, I learned that they grew up almost exclusively in South Asian social and cultural circles. Their family friends, their neighborhoods, their own friends, their schools, their leisure activities—these all produced for them a sense of Dubai (pictured here) as an Indian or Pakistani ethnic space in which they did not experience a lack of citizenship or belonging. Only in the university setting, when they began to interact with Emiratis and other expatriates, often for the first time in their lives, did they seem to develop a greater sense of the citizen/non-citizen hierarchy and the fact that they were in fact foreigners in their home. The university was a space in which all students were technically on equal footing—they had equal access to facilities, they excelled based on grades and not ethnicity, and they interacted socially with a wide range of different nationalities and ethnic groups. However, it was the very space of the academy that highlighted to my informants their difference from other groups, for they experienced direct racism and practices of self-entitlement from their peers.

While primary and secondary education in the UAE tends to follow national lines, higher education is very diverse. AUS, for example, is home to students from over seventy nationalities. For almost all of the students at universities such as this one, diversity is experienced up close in ways that it has not been before, even though they have lived their lives in a very international space. In Dubai, social, cultural, geographic, and work spaces are very segregated and defined by systemic inequalities. By entering a university space that is modeled, in most cases, on American academic institutions, these young people are placed on equal footing, at least theoretically. However, my informants recounted many incidents that made the transition into this type of egalitarian space very interesting and sometimes difficult. All of the young people whom I spoke to about being South Asian in Gulf universities told me that the thing they found most difficult was the behavior of Emirati and other Gulf Arab nationals. In our conversations, they spoke of incidents in which “locals” would cut in front of them in the cafeteria line, would expect them to share their notes and even their homework, and would speak in Arabic in mixed Arab/non-Arab social gatherings in ways that made them feel excluded. It is unclear just to what extent the social hierarchies outside of the university impact what goes on in the university itself, but while students are afforded more equality than they would be under the UAE’s legal system or in the workplace, there are inevitably ways in which these distinctions between groups seep into the university setting. AUS is an excellent example. The university, with which I was affiliated during my fieldwork, was definitely more open to the study of expatriate groups in the UAE than national universities would have been. AUS seemed happy to sponsor my residency and the professors I spoke to in the International Studies department were interested in my topic. However, after spending many days at AUS, I began to see some unique entanglements of American academic ideals and UAE societal structures.

While AUS has a stated policy of non-discrimination, houses students of all nationalities together, and attempts to enforce egalitarianism in terms of grades and even rules against cutting in line, the staff and faculty pay structures are still nationality-based. Of course the university has an official stance on fairness, but several people I spoke to at the university, both white and Indian, told me that Indians get paid less for the same jobs, particularly administrative positions. The low-wage work such as landscaping and cleaning is almost 100% done by South Asians.

Because AUS is in Sharjah, it also follows some of Sharjah’s strict decency laws. Men and women are housed in separate dormitories on different sides of the campus and women have a curfew that they have to follow or they are reported to their parents. In addition, tank tops and short skirts are banned from campus, as is any public display of affection between men and women. In the classroom itself, which often has members of the ruling families as students, faculty members do practice a certain amount of self-censorship. They do not criticize social and economic hierarchies in front of their students because they never know how influential or connected their students might be. While American universities exist in the Gulf, tenure, if available, is tied to US home universities, and jobs are bound to visas that can be revoked at any time for any reason. Classes at these universities teach Islamic cultural history and Gulf Studies, but they do not provide much information about expatriate communities or their histories in the Gulf. Professors also told me how divisive the classroom can become when they broach topics such as migration, so they tended to tread very lightly or avoid such topics altogether.

Experiences such as the ones above, inside and outside of the classroom, were the focus of my informants’ narratives about their feelings of being “second-class” in the UAE. Ironically, it was the egalitarian platform of the university, and not the segregated environment of their childhoods, that showed them the realities of inequalities in the UAE. For these young people, then, the university experience was doubly unsettling—they had to face the impending realities of perhaps settling outside of the Gulf, and they had to face the knowledge that they did not belong in the place where they felt most at home.

This personal politicization is an unintended consequence of the private university system in places like Dubai. So, as more and more South Asian migrants raise their children in Dubai, and my informants themselves start families in the Gulf, what impact will the growing number of international universities have on the Indian community? These young people were among the first to experience not having to go abroad for higher education, and despite their sense of being temporary, many were settling down (without feeling “settled”) in Dubai. In fact, some had already procured jobs in Dubai or taken over their fathers’ businesses. The sense of insecurity and the idea that they would have to move abroad did not translate to an actual move in many cases. However, the tenuousness of their lives in Dubai hindered actual assertions of political belonging.

I left Dubai feeling that the “system” was less fixed than I felt when I arrived. The differences in politicization between young Dubai-born Indians and those in their parents’ generation were stark. These young people spoke of citizenship and rights with a sense of injustice and entitlement, and in so doing, they laid claim to Dubai in ways their parents did not. The opportunity to remain in Dubai uninterrupted, as it becomes the norm for middle-class South Asian families, might increase these feelings and lead to forms of resistance and activism that the young people I interviewed did not presently consider a possibility. And the demographic impacts of expatriates who are educated in the Gulf are unclear. On the one hand, citizens have access to more education and training; on the other hand, expatriates who do not ever have to leave may begin actively to assert belonging in the domains they previously accepted as unavailable to them, like the nation.

Neha Vora

Debating NYU Abu Dhabi and Liaoning Normal University-Missouri State University College of IB

The globalization of higher education is associated with a wide variety of trends and impacts, though these obviously vary across space, system, and type of institution.

One of these trends is institutional and program mobility; an emerging phenomenon we have paid significant attention to in GlobalHigherEd, including via these recent entries:

Two fascinating articles have emerged this past week that dig into this broad topic with a focus on some of the organizational challenges of institutional and program mobility.

NYU Abu Dhabi

The first article (no subscription required to access) is in New York Magazine (21 April 2008), and it examines relatively intense debates about NYU Abu Dhabi, an initiative that we profiled in October (the entry was partly inspired by INSEAD‘s strategic thinking about globalization of higher education models for higher ed institutions). The New York Magazine article includes a variety of critiques of the NYU Abu Dhabi initiative, mainly from within NYU itself. The critiques focus on:

(1) The dilution NYU’s ‘brand name’, lucidly captured in this quote by influential NYU professor Craig Calhoun (who is also President of the NY-based Social Science Research Council):

Many professors fear that, as sociology professor Craig Calhoun puts it, NYU is “creating a second-tier version of itself,” spreading itself too thin and turning the university into an academic chain restaurant—“a conglomerate with a number of wholly owned subsidiaries.”

(2) The forging of a relationship with an authoritarian political regime; an issue intertwined with concern about academic freedom, and possible problems given the sexual and religious identities of NYU faculty, students, and eventual visitors (e.g., conference attendees from Israel).

(3) The treatment of foreign labour in Abu Dhabi; labour inevitably to be used to construct the NYU Abu Dhabi campus, as they were for the iconic Palm Jumeirah in Dubai.

(4) President Sexton’s leadership style vis a vis the decision-making process, and the subsequent planning process, which is captured in this quote:

To many faculty, the Abu Dhabi project embodies the worst of John Sexton’s indulgences and the short-sightedness of his glory-seeking ambitions. Mary Nolan, a history professor who has been teaching at the university for almost 30 years, describes the Abu Dhabi project as “a quintessentially Sexton operation. He thinks he has some sort of a missionary calling, but he operates in a very autocratic manner. Deans are kept on a very short leash, and faculty governance has been absolutely gutted.”

In some ways these are criticisms that are to be expected given the ambitious nature of the initiative, and they remind us of the debates underway in the University of Warwick (UK) about a possible campus in Singapore (before Warwick pulled the plug in 2005). However, the article is noteworthy in that the critiques regarding NYU Abu Dhabi are emerging part way through the planning and implementation process such that some faculty clearly feel there is an opportunity to ‘stymie’ the initiative.

The New York Magazine article is also fascinating for it conveys, in a subtle way, the intermingling of the two geographies of NYU Abu Dhabi:

  • A vibrant and brash global city situated in the United States, which is where an equally vibrant and brash higher ed institution is embedded, and,
  • A fast changing Middle Eastern city, and emirate, that is using the capacity of a developmental state to create a post-oil development imaginary, economy and society.

Thus the NYU Abu Dhabi initiative is, regardless of its strengths and weaknesses, an outcome of the articulation of two forceful and strategic developmental agendas that will inevitably complement and contradict for these disparate geographies are starting to be brought together. This said, while NYU is led by a powerful president (Sexton), he has much less capacity to direct, to guide, to lead, to govern, than do Abu Dhabi’s political leaders. Moreover, unlike globally active service firms (e.g., law firms, accountancy firms), faculty for higher education providers, least of all tenured faculty, cannot be forced to work at an overseas campus. Relatively flat hierarchies in Western universities mean that organizational behaviour is vastly different than in globally active private sector service firms. So while Sexton’s critics are using the firm/franchise analogy to voice their concerns about the transformation of NYU’s institutional culture, and possible damage to the institution’s reputation (brand name), Sexton is in a seriously constrained position, vis a vis the implementation process. Bringing a foreign/overseas/branch campus to life is a challenge few university presidents have experience with, partly due to organizational and other resource limitations.

If NYU Abu Dhabi is clearly an experiment in formation, as we think it is, we certainly hope that both boosters and critics, at least in New York (where a greater density of insightful analysts are based), are documenting this experiment so that others can learn from the development experience.

LNU-MSU College of International Business

Meanwhile, over in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a joint venture between Liaoning Normal University in China, and Missouri State University in the United States, known as the LNU-MSU College of International Business, is the recipient of some forthcoming (2 May 2008 ) and very illuminating coverage from Paul Mooney (the Chronicle’s China correspondent) with input from Beth McMurtrie. The article (subscription required to access) outlines a series of problems, including unresponsive faculty, unqualified contract faculty (2/35 with a PhD), faculty turnover (nearing 50% last year), inadequate equipment for science courses, flagrant student cheating, English and Mandarin language skill inadequacies, inadequate distance communications systems, and on and on it goes…

Where is the quality assurance dynamic and effect, you may ask? Even this is inadequate, as this lengthy segment from the Chronicle article outlines:

All overseas degree programs run by American universities must be vetted by their accreditors, in this case the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Karen J. Solomon, associate director of the commission, calls the LNU-MSU venture “very interesting and promising.”

She expresses surprise at the complaints that students and faculty members made to The Chronicle. For example, she says, it was her impression that a large number of faculty members from Missouri had been to the Dalian campus to work with students.

“The university is making a pretty big commitment in time and people, which is better than other programs,” she says.

Ms. Solomon acknowledges that the commission has not yet sent anyone to visit the campus, and that she relies on reports of its progress from Missouri State administrators. But, she adds, AACSB International: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business has reviewed the program in Dalian, and “we take that into consideration.”

However, Jerry E. Trapnell, executive vice president and chief accreditation officer for AACSB International, the primary accreditor of American business schools, says his organization has never visited or even reviewed the program.

The accrediting group’s last visit to Missouri State was during the 2002-3 academic year, he says, at a time when AACSB International was reviewing programs on a 10-year cycle. The bachelor’s-degree program in China had just started and did not yet have any students, says Mr. Trapnell, and his association does not review associate-degree programs.

AACSB International plans to review the LNU-MSU program during Missouri’s next scheduled review. Mr. Trapnell says the association is switching to a five-year review cycle, so he’s not yet sure when Missouri State’s turn will come up.

“There’s a whole bunch of things I’d be looking at,” says Mr. Trapnell, including academic quality, admissions, program-review mechanisms, and student and faculty qualifications.

Although he cannot speak specifically about the China program, Mr. Trapnell says his association expects that half of a degree program’s faculty members should have “significant experience,” which he defines as holding a doctorate and having extensive work experience in the field.

“That would be a concern,” he says when told of the lower qualifications of the instructors in Dalian, “because one of the things we worry about is that the school is expected to deploy qualified faculty.”

MSU administrators are likely to be busy this week answering questions about their failure to deliver, if the indicators in the Chronicle article are even half true. It is also worth noting that LNU-MSU is attempting to hire right now, as this 31 March 2008 advertisement in the Chronicle conveys. In case you are wondering, 8000 RMB is US $1,144.57 per month. Given the comments above from Jerry E. Trapnell, executive vice president and chief accreditation officer for AACSB International, this advertisement is clearly pitched at the wrong audience (MA degree holders alone). Yet given the salary and working conditions, could they actually attract quality PhD holders?

While it is highly unlikely that NYU would ever go down the MSU path, both articles shed light on the globalization of higher education development process, highlighting how much of a challenge it is for universities to move beyond MoUs and Agreements to establish and then effectively govern new forms of global networks. One dimension of this challenge is that many universities are having a difficult time facilitating intra-institutional ‘buy-in’ (aka a sense of ownership and commitment) from the people who bring universities to life, for good and for bad – their core faculty. Yet if core faculty don’t buy-in, grand visions, or even modest visions (like those hatched by MSU administrators), are much more likely to have problems, and perhaps fail to deliver. This is, of course, one of the reasons institutions like the OECD and UNESCO are becoming involved in the governance of transnational higher education (e.g., see the guidelines on ‘Quality provision in cross border higher education’). Yet these are early days on this front, as the LMU-MSU case clearly demonstrates.

Kris Olds

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

UK-China partnerships and collaborations in higher education

Both China (PRC) and the Hong Kong SAR offer an expanding and highly competitive market opportunity for overseas higher education institutions (HEIs). As noted in a recent report commissioned by the British Council (UK-China-Hong Kong Transnational Education Project), a number of UK HEIs are providing hundreds of new ‘international’ degree programmes in Hong Kong and China.

According to the Hong Kong Education Bureau, in January 2008 there were over 400 degree programmes run by 36 different UK HEIs in Hong Kong. On the one hand, UK HEIs can be seen to work as independent operators, offering a number of courses to local students registered with the Hong Kong Education Bureau under the ‘Non-local Higher and Professional Education (Regulation) Ordinance’. At the same time, UK HEIs have also initiated a series of collaborations between UK and Hong Kong HEIs. These collaborations are exempted from registration under the Ordinance. In January 2008 there were over 150 registered- and 400 exempted-courses run by 36 different UK HEIs in Hong Kong.

These are a relatively recent phenomenon – according to the British Council Report, more than 40% of joint initiatives in Hong Kong were begun after 2003. Overall, the UK is a significant provider of international education services in Hong Kong, providing 63% of ‘non-local’ courses (compared to 22% from Australia, 5% from the USA and 1% from Canada). These links were bolstered by the ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Education Cooperation’ signed on 11th May 2006 by Arthur Li (Secretary for Education and Manpower HK) and Bill Rammell (Minister of State for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning UK). The memorandum aims, amongst other things, to strengthen partnerships and strategic collaboration between the UK and Hong Kong.

UK HEIs’ involvement in delivering HE in China is ostensibly less well developed. However, in 2006, UK HEIs provided the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education) with information on 352 individual links with 232 Chinese HE institutions or organisations. Some recent significant developments with respect to international ‘partnerships’ with Chinese institutions include Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU), located in Suzhou in China, and The University of Nottingham Ningbo, which is sponsored by the City of Ningbo, China, with cooperation from Zhejiang Wanli University. Other examples of UK-China international partnerships include: Leeds Metropolitan University and Zhejiang University of Technology; Queen Mary, University of London and Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications; The Queen’s University of Belfast and Shenzhen University; and the University of Bedfordshire and the China Agricultural University.

In 2006, the QAA conducted audits of 10 selected partnerships between UK and Chinese HEIs in order to establish if and how UK institutions were maintaining academic standards within these partnerships. The main findings are that:

  • nearly half (82) of all UK higher education institutions reported that they are involved in some way in providing higher education opportunities in China;
  • there is great variety in the type of link used to deliver UK awards in China, the subjects studied and the nature of the awards;
  • in 2005-06 there were nearly 11,000 Chinese students studying in China for a UK higher education award, 3,000 of whom were on programmes that would involve them completing their studies in the UK;
  • institutions’ individual arrangements for managing the academic standards and quality of learning opportunities are generally comparable with programmes in the UK and reflect the expectations of the Code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education (Code of practice), Section 2: Collaborative provision and flexible and distributed learning (including e-learning), published by QAA.

The map profiled above was extracted from this report. A similar exercise was carried out in 2007 on partnerships between 6 UK HEIs and Hong Kong HEIs.

These practices and partnerships exemplify the international outlook of many UK HEIs, and underscore the perceived (significant) role of China in their future planning and policies. Unlike Hong Kong, China is seen as market ripe for expansion, with substantial unmet demand for higher education that will only grow into the future. China is by far the biggest ‘source’ country of international students globally, and UK institutions are increasingly recognising the possibility of taking their educational programmes to the students.

Johanna Waters

Education cities, knowledge villages, schoolhouses, education hubs, and hotspots: emerging metaphors for global higher ed


One of the rationales for the establishment of the GlobalHigherEd blog last September was to highlight and then archive information (e.g., see ‘Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes‘) about the construction of new globalizing knowledge spaces, especially when multiple institutions (and often firms) from different countries are brought together within one space. These may take the form of a branch/overseas/foreign campus, a joint research centre, or perhaps relatively deep transnational linkage schemes (e.g., joint and dual/double degrees, or international consortia of universities).

Examples of such knowledge spaces include:

  • Dubai Knowledge Village (which is hosting Boston University, Harvard University, London School of Business & Finance, Michigan State University, Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • Bahrain Higher Education City (announced December 2006)
  • Kuala Lumpur Education City (which is working with, in the first instance, Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Singapore’s ‘Global Schoolhouse’ (which is hosting or collaborating with Johns Hopkins University, MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, INSEAD, University of Chicago, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Technische Universität München, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, Cornell University, Duke University, Karolinska Institutet, University of New South Wales (RIP, 2007), ESSEC, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, IIM Bangalore, SP Jain Centre of Management, New York University, DigiPen Institute of Technology, Queen Margaret University)
  • Incheon Free Economic Zone (which is working with, in the first instance, State University of New York at Stony Brook and North Carolina State University)
  • Education City Qatar (which is hosting Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University, Northwestern University, Texas A&M University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medical College). See this flyover of Education City Qatar to give you one sense of the nature of such a space.

There are other such centres of actual or planned knowledge production (including Abu Dhabi, which is hosting INSEAD, Johns Hopkins University, MIT, New York University, and the Sorbonne), but these will have to suffice as a basis for today’s entry.

It is important to note that in addition to these knowledge spaces, individual university campuses of significant scale (e.g., King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)), and associated developments that are more geographically dispersed (e.g., foreign university campuses in China and Vietnam), are increasingly receiving attention from stakeholder organizations, such as the American Council of Education (ACE), the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), and media outlets including the Chronicle of Higher Education, Insider Higher Education, and the New York Times. In all cases these observers have, more often than not, taken to using terms like “hotspots” (e.g., in the ACE report pictured to the right) when describing the emergence of new spaces of knowledge production, regardless of whether they are functioning or not.

Over the last several years both of us have noted the intense interest in these new knowledge spaces, especially from traditional knowledge producers (and associated stakeholders) who have dominated the global higher education landscape. People and the institutions they represent are curious and concerned, and in the process they react to, and they produce, novel concepts including metaphors like “hotspots” as they make sense of the fast changing context.

Even developing a basic mapping of this changing context is a challenging task, a point Kavita Pandit made in Boston this week at a conference one of us (Kris) is attending. Tangible developments aside, it is also easy to miss “seeing” these initiatives for they tend to sit outside of our geo-politico/economic and methodological nationalist (and statist) frameworks for understanding higher education, a point Arjun Appadurai has insightfully made in speeches and writings. This said, a small number of scholars are doing their best to break down the national holdings, if we can use this term, that guide our analytical and research imaginations, with respect to higher education (broadly defined).

In this relatively long entry we want to highlight one fascinating dimension of the development process that we have been taken for granted – the metaphors that are associated with many of these new knowledge spaces.

Metaphors and their uses

Metaphors such as education city, or global knowledge hub, are tropes that enable us to “reduce the unfamiliar to the familiar” (Smith and Katz, 1993: 69). Familiar examples of economic metaphors that guide our economic imaginaries include trickle down, rising tides, trade wars, rollercoaster, flat earth, invisible hand, and creative destruction.

Metaphors are key elements in the production of discourses, including discourses about the changing nature of higher education, urban and regional development processes, and so on. Yet we take metaphors for granted.

While some scholars have spent their lives analyzing the nature of metaphors, there are three basic points we would like to emphasize when thinking about the metaphors associated with the types of globalizing knowledge spaces we briefly highlighted above.

First, everyone uses metaphors because metaphors are effective and necessary in projecting views, in constructing arguments, in enabling the transformation of the thinking of others, and in generating anxiety. As Cornelissen et al (2008: 9) suggest, in relationship to thinking about organizational behavior:

Metaphors connect realms of human experience and imagination. They guide our perceptions and interpretations of reality and help us to formulate our visions and goals. In doing these things, metaphors facilitate and further our understanding of the world.

Thus, the development of metaphors like education city, knowledge hub, knowledge village, and global schoolhouse, imply an initiative that is associated with (a) the production of knowledge (which is more than information), (b) education providers (broadly defined), and (c) geographical proximity (up to the scale of “the city”). These metaphors reflect the relativization of scale (see one previous entry on this in GlobalHigherEd), where higher education systems are increasingly being denationalized; reshaped, as it were, by forces and actors that are thinking at, and operating at, scales other than the national. Thus these new development initiatives are imbued with territorial development objectives; objectives associated with the building of knowledge economies and societies

In conveying a message, such metaphors simultaneously serve as vehicles to destabilize our taken-for granted assumptions, to create the shock of the new, to generate anxiety. As Don Miller (2006: 64) notes, for example:

The face of the metaphoric new is one of strangeness, even of disconcerting incongruity. It upsets the established order. New metaphors may well enthuse those ready to pursue difference; but they frighten others wanting to maintain some existing order of things.

The target of such a message includes the media, and especially universities that have not yet stretched their institutional fabrics out across space, either in the form of joint/dual/double degrees, or branch campuses. Senior international officers for Western universities, for example, are increasingly being asked to reflect upon the pros and cons of linking into these new knowledge spaces. The presence of such metaphors creates a legible and identifiable target for concern, for deliberation.

Second, metaphors need to do work, they need to struggle, and they can be left open to critique and ridicule, incomprehension, or internal contradiction, if not effectively developed. This ties into a more general point about the production of hegemony, of truth. As Nietzsche (1909: 173-188; cited in Miller, 2006) puts it:

What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthromorphisms – which, after long usage, seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding: truths are illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions.

Leaving aside debates about the construction of ‘truth’, it is clear that some of the metaphors developed and circulated, to date, have done more work than others in creating a legible and coherent understanding of what is going on, or what might be on offer. Thus we see some highly effective metaphors (e.g., Qatar Education City), which have come to be accepted, and legible in higher education circles in the targeted West, while others are ineffective, and perhaps far too broadly constructed. Incheon Free Economic Zone, for example, is a state planned development zone which is supposed to include a:

global center for cultural and intellectual exchange,” explains Hee Yhon Song, founder and former head of the College of Northeast Asian Studies, in Incheon City, and a key broker in the new agreements.

Mr. Song predicts that Incheon could eventually play host to more than 40 research institutes and at least seven foreign campuses, luring students from across the region. Eventually, he and others believe, South Korea could be the center of a regional government, along the lines of Brussels in the European Union.

Incheon, though, lacks a knowledge-based economy metaphor. “Free economic zone” smacks of export processing activities (factories), yet another ‘iconic’ world trade centre building, and somewhat sterile industrial landscapes. This said, these are early days in the Incheon’s development process, both materially and discursively. And on another level, might Free Economic Zone be a more accurate metaphor for what is going on in this era of academic capitalism, at least in some of the development initiative that are bubbling up around the globe?

Other metaphors that are perhaps too vague, and not legible at a transnational scale, include “global schoolhouse”. “Schoolhouse” is an troublesome metaphor in many countries for it implies primary level education only. Another common metaphor, “education hub” (as in Hong Kong Education Hub) is left open to critique for it can just as easily imply flow through, and tunnel/vacant/vacuous just as much as its other meaning (centrality of “activity, region, or network”).

Yet one place – Singapore – that has employed both of these problematic metaphors, succeeded in achieving its discursive objectives when it created an exemplary metaphor: “Boston of the East”. As Rear RADM (NS) Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, put it in 2000:

Our vision, in shorthand notation, is to become the Boston of the East. Boston is not just MIT or Harvard. The greater Boston area boasts of over 200 universities, colleges, research institutes and thousands of companies. It is a focal point of creative energy; a hive of intellectual, research, commercial and social activity. We want to create an oasis of talent in Singapore: a knowledge hub, an “ideas-exchange”, a confluence of people and idea streams, an incubator for inspiration

In short, metaphors are necessary, but not all metaphors work equally well in attempting to bring to life such development initiatives.

Third, metaphors are political, in the broadest sense of political. They are strategically deployed to structure and interpret events, development processes, development projects, and so on (Kelly, 2001). This leads the human geographer, Trevor Barnes (1996: 159), to argue that:

The more general point is that we must continually think critically about the metaphors we use—where they come from, why they were proposed, whose interests they represent, and the nature of their implications. Not to do so can lead us to be the slaves of some defunct master of metaphors.

So, while metaphors provide “color and entertainment” (Czarniawska-Joerges and Joerges, 1988), while they are designed to convince, and while they work (and fail), they also conceal as much, if not more, than they profile.

Take Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC), for example. KLEC builds upon the successes of Education City Qatar in generating a legible space for the siting of foreign universities in Malaysia, in and around the national capital and the Multimedia Super Corridor that Timothy Bunnell has so ably assessed. KLEC, though, is primarily a property development vehicle. KLEC’s key strategic partner TH Properties Sdn Bhd., a national property development firm is a subsidiary of Lembaga Tabung Haji, an established financial institution. As KLEC notes:

TH Properties’ most significant development to date is Bandar Enstek. Bandar Enstek is strategically located just 8 minutes from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) and 10 minutes away from the Main Terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). It is only 38 minutes from the Kuala Lumpur City Centre via the ERL and a mere 5 minutes from the Sepang F1 Circuit. It is a RM9.2 billion integrated township set over 5,116 acres of prime land. Expected to be fully completed in 2025, Bandar Enstek will be home to 150,000 residents who will enjoy high quality communications infrastructure, fixed and wireless connections included, to support unlimited broadband applications provided by TH Properties’ technology partner, Telekom Malaysia Bhd.

Education and property development, or education for property development? How many other education cities are in reality for-profit residential or industrial property development vehicles, first and foremost?

Other exclusions from, or obfuscations generated by the education/knowledge production metaphors include the fact that some of the so-called hotspots, especially in Saudi Arabia, have substantial security infrastructure to prevent attacks on faculty by Al Qaeda. Or exclusions related to the gendered or disciplinary structure of such knowledge spaces, for they are, and will inevitably be relatively masculine, and selective with respect to disciplinary offerings. But a more (perhaps!) accurate metaphor like Science and Engineering Dudes from the US Ivy League Hub just does not do it.

Or take the case of Qatar and Singapore, two ambitious global education hubs that proudly include highly ranked universities like MIT and Carnegie Mellon University, while (by accident or design) letting universities like Calgary and Queen Margaret fend for themselves in the producing their own global identities via their concurrent attachments to these two fast developing knowledge spaces. What forms of strategic selectivity are at work? Or in other terms, who is flying pre-paid business class to the Boston of the East, and the Boston of the Middle East?

Concluding comments

The globalization of higher education is continuing apace, and metaphors are being produced, projected, and consumed; they reflect, guide and construct our economic and higher ed imaginaries. And there is no sign we can do without them.

But if the “world needs a multitude of new metaphors leading us to a better future” though “metaphor, like life, is full of risks” (Miller, 2006: 65), are we happy with the existing metaphors that exist in relationship to these globalizing knowledge spaces? If metaphors have to work, perhaps we should also be doing more work on the metaphors too, for they are important dimensions of this fascinating development process.


Barnes, T. (1996) Logics of Dislocation: Models, Metaphors, and Meanings of Economic Space, New York: Guilford.

Cornelissen, J.P., Oswick, C., Christensen, L.T., Phillips, N. (2008 ) ‘Metaphors in organizational research: context, modalities, and implications for research – introduction’, Organization Studies, 29(7): 7-22.

Czarniawska-Joerges, B., and Joerges, B. (1988 ) ‘How to control things with words. On organizational talk and organizational control’, Management Communication Quarterly, 2(2): 170-193.

Kelly, P.F. (2001) ‘Metaphors of meltdown: political representations of economic space in the Asian financial crisis’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 19(6): 719-742.

Miller, D. (2006) ‘The politics of metaphor’, Theory, Culture and Society, 23(2-3): 63-65.

Smith, N and C.Katz (1993) ‘Grounding metaphor: towards a spatialized politics’, in M. Keith and S. Pile (eds.) Place and the Politics of Identity, London: Routledge.

Kris Olds and Susan Robertson

New coverage of Western universities in the Middle East and South Korea

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s forthcoming 28 March issue has another profile of globally-oriented higher ed development initiatives in the Middle East. The relevant (subscription required) entries are:

One week earlier South Korea received similar thematic attention via:

While it is beneficial to see all of this coverage, it is worth noting that such articles (often the most intensely circulated of all if you watch the ‘most emailed’ lists) repetitively generate anxiety in many Western university campuses that are revising their internationalization strategies, but with no substantial ‘overseas’ presence. Coverage gets circulated, debates ensue, and positions emerge including:

  • is this a modern higher ed variant of the Klondike gold rush (serious anxiety…)?
  • is this fool’s gold (yes, no, yes, no…)?
  • is this an unreachable destination (look at that list…)?

and so on.

At another level, some within deliberating universities might argue that this phenomenon is the outcome of authoritarian ‘developmental states’ luxuriating on the top of a structural wave, fueled by the intertwined effects of a global fossil fuel boom and the conflict in Iraq. These are states, though, that are cognizant of the fact that fossil fuels (and economic boom times) will not last forever.

Regardless of views on this phenomenon, these new global knowledge spaces reflect the diffuse effects of the attractiveness of the US higher education system, in particular, to elites in countries that are seeking to rapidly transform their societies and economies for the knowledge economy, while concurrently branding said societies and economies. The attractiveness of this model is also, in a fascinating way, quite disconnected from the turmoil associated with other elements of US geostrategic maneuverings in the same region.

Kris Olds

ps: the Chronicle helpfully included the following list of initiatives in the Middle East, though the list is not comprehensive.


Doha, Qatar

Carnegie Mellon University
Opened: Fall of 2004
Offers: B.S. degrees in computer science, information systems, and business

Georgetown University
Opened: Fall of 2005
Offers: B.S. in foreign service

Northwestern University
Opens: Fall of 2008
Will offer: B.S. in journalism and communication

Texas A&M University
Opened: Fall of 2003
Offers: B.S. in chemical, electrical, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. In 2007, added master’s programs in engineering and science.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Opened: Fall of 1998
Offers: B.F.A. in communication design, fashion design, and interior design

Weill Cornell Medical College
Opened: Fall of 2001
Offers: A two-year pre-med program, followed by a four-year medical program, under separate application, leading to an M.D.

Abu Dhabi, UAE

INSEAD Business School
Opened: Centre for Executive Education and Research in the fall of 2007
Offers: Executive-education courses

Johns Hopkins University
Opens: Summer of 2008
Will offer: A graduate program in public health

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, affiliated with MIT, will recruit faculty members, train instructors, and design curricula.
Opens: Fall of 2009
Will offer: Graduate education and research, with a focus on science and technology, particularly alternative energy

New York University
Opens: Fall of 2010
Will offer: Full liberal-arts curriculum, undergraduate and graduate

Opened: Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi in October 2006
Offers: License, master’s, and doctorate degrees (following the European system) in 10 departments

Dubai, UAE

Boston University Institute of Dental Research and Education, Dubai
Opens: July 2008
Will offer: Graduate dental training

Harvard University
Opened: 2004
Offers: Continuing-medical-education courses through the Harvard Medical School Dubai Center Institute for Postgraduate Education and Research

London School of Business & Finance
Opened: December 2007
Offers: Executive M.B.A. and executive-education programs

Michigan State University
Opens: Fall of 2008
Will offer: Full liberal-arts curriculum

Rochester Institute of Technology
Opens: Fall of 2008
Will offer: Initially, part-time graduate courses in fields like electrical engineering, computer engineering, finance, and service management. By 2009, graduate offerings will be full time and will include applied networking, telecommunications, and facility management. By 2010, expects to welcome undergraduates.

Ras al Khaymah, UAE

George Mason University
Opened: 2005
Offers: B.S. degrees in biology; business administration; economics; electronics and communications engineering; geography; and health, fitness, and recreation resources

Sharjah, UAE

American University of Sharjah
Opened: 1997, originally operated by American University (in Washington, D.C.), now independent
Offers: Bachelor’s degrees in the College of Arts and Sciences, College of EngineerIng, School of Architecture and Design, and School of Business and Management, as well as eight master’s programs