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

London (cools), Dubai (spirals down), and the state of global higher ed

Apologies for the slow pace of posts to GlobalHigherEd, but we’ve been overloaded at work of late in Bristol and Madison.

My undergraduate ‘Intro to the City’ class today focused on the ideas of Saskia Sassen, the prolific scholar based at Columbia University. We focused on Sassen’s ideas in relationship to the nature of global cities, and the operation of global city networks. Today’s class corresponded with some articles in the Financial Times about London (‘London cooling‘, 11 February 2009) and Dubai (‘Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai spirals down‘, 12 February 2009), both of which help students ground what Sassen writes about so insightfully.

londoncoverIn preparing some class handouts of both newspaper articles, I followed the London links in the FT article through to an informative 2008 report regarding London’s changing labour markets, and its relative position in relationship to the rest of the UK.  The report is replete with direct and indirect information about the nature of London’s education sector, and about the implications (e.g., high housing costs) when a city/country (over)valorizes financial services and in doing so creates a dynamic where other important services sectors (including higher education) get overshadowed.  The relationship between higher education, research, and the global city formation process, has rarely been examined, and is one topic we will explore further in 2009.

The Dubai article (‘Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai spirals down‘) in the New York Times is interesting as it examines what happens when a speculative ‘house of cards’ (a wanna-be global city) starts to crumble. I sent this article to a close friend who is CFO for a European TNC (with major investments in Dubai, amongst many other countries). His quick response via email: “a reminder that when something looks too good to be true, it is!  I never could understand how Dubai worked, and now we all know it’s because it didn’t work.” This article is approaching viral like status, and is one of the most blogged about articles this week (link here see we what Google’s blog search engine trawls up).

Now, if Dubai is collapsing, as it might be, what does this mean for all of the foreign and joint venture universities initiatives (e.g., Dubai Knowledge Village (which is hosting Boston University, Harvard University, London School of Business & Finance, Michigan State University, Rochester Institute of Technology), British University in Dubai, Duke University, University of Wollongong, American University in Dubai), tempted into Dubai via offers of subsidies and streams of grant income, potential student demand (including from expatriates based in the city and region), and the sheer glamour (and buzz) of operating in an ‘emerging market’ and fast developing global city? And what does it mean for the Indian migrant students profiled in Neha Vora’s 25 June 2008 entry ‘Globalized higher education in the United Arab Emirates – unexpected outcomes’?

While this is not something we are conducting research on, we would be happy to post guest entries (including entries from credible anonymous authors, if necessary) from people who have something insightful to say about the current situation in Dubai. Sadly we won’t be hearing much formal reporting or analysis from Dubai, despite its publicly stated desire to be a creative global knowledge hub, a hotspot of the knowledge economy.  As the New York Times reports:

No one knows how bad things have become, though it is clear that tens of thousands have left, real estate prices have crashed and scores of Dubai’s major construction projects have been suspended or canceled. But with the government unwilling to provide data, rumors are bound to flourish, damaging confidence and further undermining the economy.

Instead of moving toward greater transparency, the emirates seem to be moving in the other direction. A new draft media law would make it a crime to damage the country’s reputation or economy, punishable by fines of up to 1 million dirhams (about $272,000). Some say it is already having a chilling effect on reporting about the crisis.

Last month, local newspapers reported that Dubai was canceling 1,500 work visas every day, citing unnamed government officials. Asked about the number, Humaid bin Dimas, a spokesman for Dubai’s Labor Ministry, said he would not confirm or deny it and refused to comment further. Some say the true figure is much higher.

“At the moment there is a readiness to believe the worst,” said Simon Williams, HSBC bank’s chief economist in Dubai. “And the limits on data make it difficult to counter the rumors.”

Crises do have a funny tendency to highlight contradictions.

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!

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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