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

NYU Abu Dhabi: realizing the global university?

Is New York University (NYU) going the furthest with respect to realizing the global university (a term we’ve borrowed from a Worldwide Universities Network conference this coming November)? It might be doing so, and the contrast between NYU’s approach, and what most American universities choose to do, is jarring. Regardless of whether you agree with NYU’s approach or not, it is worth taking note of. Why?

Virtually all American universities proclaim that they are pushing forward on an ‘internationalization’ agenda, though in reality it most often means they welcome foreign students and visiting scholars, are supportive of study abroad schemes, and have a program in place to internationalize curricula. Many American universities sign memorandum of understandings (MOUs) with foreign universities, with large American universities having hundreds of these MOUs ‘on the books’: in reality, though, what do they mean? Many (not all) have limited resources provided to institutionalize MOU-related linkage schemes (e.g., a program officer), fund exchanges (for faculty and students) across national borders, or formalize ties (even in a virtual sense). Some American universities have started joining international consortia (see Lily Kong’s recent entry on consortia) though it is clear that some consortia member universities are still grappling for ways to “make it work”. The reality is most American universities are somewhat complacent, masking their uncertainty or reticence with loud proclamations about internationalization while not really pushing forward, especially in new and innovative ways.

In sharp contrast to the complacency that is often evident in the US, NYU is pushing the boundaries. Last Friday New York University announced that their planned campus in Abu Dhabi would go ahead. The official press release includes these two extracts:

This will be the first comprehensive liberal arts campus established abroad by a major U.S. research university. It is projected that a first class of students will enroll in 2010….

The development of NYU Abu Dhabi is a major step in the evolution of NYU as a “global network university” – a university with a teaching and research presence around the world through sites connected to the main campus in New York and to one another, drawing in scholars and students of talent from around the globe.

This is not an unexpected announcement, as we noted on 2 September. Further context on this development is also available here in a GlobalHigherEd entry by Amy W. Newhall (Executive Director, US Middle Eastern Studies Association), and these entries in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. We’ve also pre-programmed Google searches for media and blog coverage on the NYU Abu Dhabi topic – whenever you revisit this entry, just click on media, blog, and web (which includes Arabic language sites) and you’ll get near real time search updates (subject to Google’s search engine limitations).

NYU is amongst the most assertive universities in the world with respect to establishing institutional bases in other countries. These bases include:

And now NYU is going further with the Abu Dhabi campus, one that will have comprehensive program and course offerings.

The interesting thing about the NYU approach to realizing the global university is that it is exploring how to stretch its institutional fabric out across global space. One way to conceptualize of this development process is by positioning NYU within the following model to the globalization of higher education:


This model was developed by Arnoud De Meyer, Patrick Harker, and Gabriel Hawawini when they framed the development of the Wharton/INSEAD approach to the globalization of business education, including the development of INSEAD’s Singapore campus (De Meyer guided the campus into existence). There are alternative models, including some discussed in the American Council of Education’s 2007 report Venturing Abroad: Delivering US Degrees Through Overseas Branch Campuses and Programs, but we will stick with this one now. [INSEAD recently announced that it too was establishing a base in Abu Dhabi, with a new centre for executive education and research]

While this blog is not the place to go into the detailed aspects of the De Meyer/Harker/Hawawini model, it is worth noting that the Import model is the classic approach to internationalization in Western universities; the one US universities overwhelmingly rely upon. Most research-intensive universities in the US also exhibit elements of the Export model, with faculty traveling overseas to teach in special courses, or via distance learning technology. The Partnership model is becoming a common mechanism to further the internationalization objective of many foreign universities in Asia and the Middle East, including NYU (prior to the new campus announcement). This model is typically pursued via the exchange of students and faculty, via the joint operation of teaching and research programs, and via the provision of intellectual leadership or consultancy in the establishment or restructuring of research and teaching programs, departments, schools and indeed entire universities.

NYU Abu Dhabi is reflective of the adoption of the Network model. The Network model is the least utilized of all of the globalization of higher education models given the scale of effort and resources required to pursue it, and concerns about failures (e.g., RMIT in Penang (1996-1999) or UNSW Asia in Singapore (2007-2007)) which damage reputation and ‘brand name’. In this model, global networks are created via the merger of geographically separate institutions, or else the establishment of new campuses in other countries. One of the key principles underlying the establishment of a genuine network of campuses is their functional integration with a relatively intense sharing of material and non-material resources, and a relatively flat hierarchy with respect to the quality of the multiple campuses and their respective roles in knowledge production. The Network model requires an undeniably significant commitment of up-front resources (hence NYU’s need for support from the state in Abu Dhabi), and it is the most risky of these four models. Once commitment is made to implement the Network model, though, and the campus begins to operate, and it is effectively managed in a supportive structural context, flows of what might have been viewed as “proprietary knowledge” occur across space between the campuses (according to De Meyer, Harker and Hawawini), and between the NYU and various segments of society in Abu Dhabi, and the broader Middle East. The new campus will also enable NYU to forge ties with students, faculty and other people (including business people) who are reticent about traveling to the US, especially given frequent problems with acquiring US visas, and hassles at US airport immigration desks.

This is an experiment worth watching, whether you agree with the value of the Network model or not, or with the particular way NYU is globalizing itself. In subsequent entries in GlobalHigherEd we’ll also attempt to explore some of the underlying forces that are bringing the network model into being, and some of the implications of this model for capacity building in host territories, as well as the refashioning of core principles (e.g., academic freedom) that have traditionally been conceptualized in a national/territorial sense. We’ll also include some profiles of universities (e.g., Sciences Po and the University of Warwick) that are attempting to blur these models, or even turn them inside out.

Kris Olds

Further Reading:

American Council on Education (2007) Venturing Abroad: Delivering US Degrees Through Overseas Branch Campuses and Programs, Washington DC: American Council on Education.

De Meyer, A., Harker, P., and Hawawini, G. (2004) ‘The globalization of business education, in H. Gatignon and J. Kimberly (eds.) The INSEAD-Wharton Alliance on Globalizing: Strategies for Building Successful Global Businesses, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olds, K. (2007) ‘Global assemblage: Singapore, Western universities, and the construction of a global education hub’, World Development, 35(6): 959-975.

A creative combination: adding MBAs and art schools together to increase innovation

Earlier this month Financial Times reporter, Ursula Milton, wrote an interesting article on how MBA administrators are re-tailoring their programs to respond to firms’ needs to be more creative and innovative. The result of this trend has been for MBA administrators and art school chiefs to develop some very interesting collaboration. Introducing design-based principles into business planning and development is expected to ratchet up levels of innovation in firms, while also bringing art schools more directly into the economy.

One collaboration cemented earlier this year in Barcelona was between Art Center College of Design located in Los Angeles, California and ESADE – a leading Spanish business school. In ESADE’s press release, ESADE’s Director General Carlos Losada commented.

Market globalisation is creating unparalleled trends and opportunities, and even entirely new industries. As a result, we need to be at the cutting edge of things to come up with new management models and ways of understanding business. Art Center College of Design, a world leading center on creativity and design, will enable us to develop new multidisciplinary scenarios, and broaden our perspective on originality and innovation.

Art Center’s foray into Barcelona, Europe’s ‘design capital’, is intended to enable Art Center to extend its footprint into the Mediterranean region. This College clearly also has global ambitions, and is an institution worth watching as various strategies are pursued to realize nations’ and regions’ ambitions to become knowledge-based economies.

The FT reports that one of Art Centers’ longest running joint venture is with INSEAD Business School which has campuses in France and Singapore. Since 2005 small groups of design students have been enrolled for a term in one of INSEAD’s strategy electives. There, MBA and design students work together on ‘problem’ – bringing their respective skills to the table and sharing insights from the learning process.

Collaborations like these are intended to produce ‘innovation managers’ – people who can see a gap in the market and creatively design a solution. However, they also suggest that if universities are to respond to the demand for greater levels of innovation – in what recently in the UK the Sainsbury Review called ‘the race to the top’ (see our report last week) – then universities will also be required to think in more radical ways about curriculum pathways that bring together studies in science, technology and creative arts.

Susan Robertson