Academic Innocents Abroad

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

This is a “whatever became of?” blog. When old established universities opened branch campuses abroad in the first decade of this century, the education press was full of glowing coverage generated by university press releases but the news from abroad has slowed to a trickle, and it’s not because nothing is happening there.

Andrew Ross, in the latest issue of the Academe journal published by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) updates us on what happened when American academics decided to go international I n a big way. “The outcomes of this rush to go offshore were uneven,” Ross writes. “Many programs and campuses were shuttered after the projected student demand failed to materialize.”

“Others fell afoul of the notoriously tricky political beast that is the international joint venture, a business arrangement in which two partners pool resources but the home, or host, partner retains a majority (51 percent) ‘share’ in decision making, Under such circumstances, and especially in countries where the rule of law is only lightly observed, an initial ‘memorandum of agreement’ is more like a statement of intent.”

“Several branch campus plans were even aborted, most notably at George Washington University (China) and Bryn Mawr (Abu Dhabi), primarily because of faculty resistance at the home campus. Faculty opposition of this kind was particularly strong because, unlike the pioneer generation of study abroad programs, driven largely by curricular needs, this new paradigm of international education was almost wholly underpinned by fiscal decision making on the part of the executive administrator class.”

“By 2015, more than thirty branches had failed, and there was some evidence that the offshore boom was over, or at least past its peak. A survey conducted by the European Association for International Education showed a significant decrease in branch campus activity on the part of European universities, and especially in the United Kingdom, which had led the way.”

“Some operations had proved financially viable, but the growing list of casualties (a spectrum that includes Michigan State University in Dubai, the University of New South Wales and New York University in Singapore, Texas A&M University in Israel, University College London in Adelaide, Algonquin College in Saudi Arabia, Troy University in Sri Lanka, and George Mason University in the United Arab Emirates) had generated enough caution to slow the headlong rush. So, too, with a few notable exceptions, the hoped-for bounce in global university rankings had not really materialized.”

Go figure.