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New Era in International Higher Education

New Era in International Higher Education
May 18, 2005

In the not too distant past, international education at many colleges was about sending students abroad and welcoming foreign students to American campuses.

Such efforts are alive and well, to be sure, but an announcement Tuesday by Georgetown University that it will be opening a campus in Qatar -- to which students will be admitted and will graduate with degrees from Georgetown's foreign service school -- reflects what some see as a dramatic shift in how American colleges interact with the rest of the world.

"We're all international today in some ways already," John J. DeGioia, Georgetown's president, said in an interview Tuesday. "We've got students coming from all over the world. We have faculty members doing research in 44 countries."

But he said that the movement to open a full, degree-awarding campus abroad reflected a desire to be "global," to consider changes that might come from offering a Georgetown education in another country, primarily to students from other countries. "I don't think we quite know yet what it will mean to be global," he said. "I think we are going to find out."

Georgetown's operations, which will be financed entirely by the Qatar Foundation, will be in Education City, which is already home to degree-granting campuses of Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Texas A&M, and Virginia Commonwealth Universities. A state-of-the-art teaching hospital is also being built as part of the Cornell program, which is affiliated with the university's medical school. All of these programs educate non-American students who will receive degrees from American colleges -- without any requirement that they step foot in the United States.

And the programs -- all initially focused on professional training of various types -- are now starting to offer joint registration in some cases, creating a much broader educational environment for students.

While Qatar has been experiencing an unparalleled education boom, other countries are also seeing the American style of college either arrive or grow. Also on Tuesday, Carnegie Mellon announced plans to award master's degrees at a new campus in Adelaide, Australia. George Mason University is opening a campus in the United Arab Emirates. American University of Beirut, which has been in the business of educating students from the Middle East for more than a century, is experiencing a surge in applications. New "American University of (fill in the blank)" institutions are opening or growing in many other countries. Some, like the American University of Sharjah, have ties to American colleges -- in this case to American University.

Several major players in for-profit higher education are also expanding efforts to build campuses all over the world. Kaplan, Inc. announced Tuesday that it had purchased the Asia Pacific Management Institute, a business school in Singapore and Hong Kong.

And several American colleges are expanding their ties to universities in China. If these efforts are not quite in the Qatar model (for one thing, China can't write large checks with the ease Qatar can), they involve joint degree programs and in some cases may soon involve full campuses. The University of Montana, for example, is planning to open a campus for Chinese students, awarding bachelor's degrees, starting in the fall of 2006.

"I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Education City is a glimpse at the future of higher education," said Jeffrey S. Lehman, Cornell's president, who has been heavily involved with building its outpost in Qatar and creating new programs in China.

Lehman said Qatar is unique in many respects. "There are very few people in the world with the ability, the inclination, and the wealth of natural resources" of Qatar's royal family, he said. So outside the region, "things will happen more haphazardly, more organically."

But he thinks some characteristics of American involvement in Qatar will end up replicating themselves. One is partnership, in which American universities end up working together. The arrangements Cornell and other universities originally made with Qatar were bilateral, but now all the universities are working together. Lehman said that in the future, that may be the pattern from the start. Cornell's next Middle East venture after opening a branch of its medical school in Qatar was a joint project with Stanford University to study life sciences in a new research center on the Israeli-Jordanian border.

"I don't think we can assume any more than one country or one university has the answers," he said.

Another lesson of the Qatar experience is that demand for American-style education remains high -- even in a region where U.S. foreign policy is sometimes unpopular. Officials of all of the campuses in Qatar, as well as those at other American institutions in the region, report significant increases in applications from year to year. Texas A&M saw applications for its engineering program (in which there are 60 slots) go to 700 from 200 over the last year.

John Waterbury, president of the American University of Beirut, said, "U.S. higher education still has tremendous brand recognition," and campuses in the Middle East have the added appeal for many families who would hesitate to send female children to the United States, but still want them to have an American higher education.

Universities are also finding that their faculty members end up staying abroad longer than they expected. Christina Lindholm, dean of Virginia Commonwealth's Qatar campus, said that her institution originally assumed that people would work there a year or two. In year seven, three faculty members have been there from the start, and several others are in their fourth or fifth years.

The growth in full-fledged campuses abroad comes, post-9/11, in an era when it is difficult for many foreign students to get visas to study in the United States. But those building the new campuses are divided on whether there is a relationship between the visa problem and their new ventures. DeGioia, of Georgetown, said that his institution has seen increases in foreign enrollments, so that had nothing to do with his interest in opening a campus in Qatar.

But Terry Weidner, who is leading Montana's efforts to open a campus in China, said that visas were a big issue. "Part of this was frustration of not being able to get visas for students who wanted to come here," he said. "This was a great way to get some things done in reaching these students, and it will be a great base to operate in the rest of Asia."

Montana's campus, which awaits approval from Chinese authorities, will eventually enroll 2,000 students and have about 50 faculty members. Instruction will be in English, with a mix of American and Chinese faculty members, with the latter primarily being people who were educated in the United States. Hiring will be done by academic departments in Montana. A special feature of the campus, Weidner said, will be "language mentors": American students, one for every 10 Chinese students, who will live in the dormitories, interact with the Chinese students in English, and have the chance to learn Chinese.

A consortium of Chinese and American businesses is financing the campus, which will not receive any Montana tax dollars.

Cornell is going with another model in China, with various joint degree programs involving time in Ithaca and in China. In a program started last year, for example, Chinese students will spend two years at China Agricultural University, then two years at Cornell -- and will get dual degrees.

All of the activity has drawn a range of reactions from international education experts. Some note that past programs along these lines -- although not financed as well as today's efforts -- flopped. And a key challenge for the Americans will be that other countries are ahead of the game. Monash University, a leading Australian institution, for example, is already well established in Malaysia and South Africa. Others are deeply concerned about quality issues, not so much with the institutions that are involved in these efforts as with fly-by-night institutions abroad that try to look American, but aren't really American.

D. Bruce Johnstone, director of the Center for Comparative and Global Studies in Education, at SUNY-Buffalo, said that the opening of campuses abroad by places like Georgetown was a major advance for the regions getting these institutions. In terms of quality, he said, one need look at both the institution's home and new campuses. "A Georgetown degree in Qatar should look an awful lot like a Georgetown degree at Georgetown," he said.

That will be true for Georgetown, he predicted. But he said educators should be wary of arrangements where "it's simply an American university lending its name."

Some educators with expertise in the Middle East are less than enthusiastic about the trends. One, who asked not to be identified, said, "Can these institutions really issue fully equivalent degrees without a resident faculty of the same caliber" as they have at home? This educator added that the American colleges would not be going to Qatar "if the money were not very good."

The profit motive is a sensitive issue for many of the American institutions going abroad. Without exception, the universities have assured faculty members that local budgets aren't being cut to support programs abroad, and public institutions want legislators to know that no public funds are being used. But beyond that, few details are released. DeGoia of Georgetown said that he couldn't have advocated the program if it would have cost the university money, but that this was not a driving force.

Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education, at Boston College, said, "All of these programs have a goal of making money, and that's something to think about." But he added that the financial incentive didn't mean that the programs were bad -- and that they in fact can be quite positive. Altbach cited the changes that may come to Qatar or other places for "becoming education meccas," and the expanded opportunities available to students -- especially women who couldn't come to the United States.

Altbach said that while these programs will be a new option for some students, the "gold standard" will remain study in the United States. "The students want more than the degree. They want the culture here," he said.

He also said that most of the American degrees being offered abroad were limited in that they are professional and are not part of a broad American institution. All of the Qatar institutions focus on professional training of one kind or another. He said he hoped to see more liberal arts education provided in the future.

Georgetown officials say that their Qatar campus is a step in that  direction. Students in the university's foreign service program -- in Washington or Qatar -- will have the same requirements in literature, philosophy, history, theology, economics and government.

One American institution has exported the liberal arts exclusively. Bard College, through a partnership with St. Petersburg State University, runs Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the first liberal arts institution in Russia. Most classes and most students are Russian, but Bard helped devise the curriculum and continues to work closely with the college. Students receive joint degrees -- about 50 will receive degrees in this June's graduation.

Susan Gillespie, director of Bard's Institute for International Liberal Education, laughs about the reports that some colleges are making big bucks from running campuses abroad. Aside from foundation grants Bard has raised, the college hasn't been getting money for its efforts.

"We think the world needs this. It's an example for educational systems," she said. "The basic driving motivation is about globalization and understanding and sharing with each other."

While Bard may not profit from its efforts, it, too, is looking at growth. Gillespie said that the college is currently doing exchanges with Sun Yat-Sen University in China, and that Sun Yat-Sen sent a team to look at Smolny. It's too early to tell if the Smolny model can be adopted in China, but Gillespie said that is definitely a possibility. The Chinese educators, she said, "are very interested in creativity."

 

 

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