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Overseas Outposts

February 15, 2007

In December, New York University announced that its Tisch School of the Arts was opening a branch campus in Singapore that will offer an M.F.A. in film production. The branch -- which will be the first NYU division to award a degree outside New York -- is part of a growing trend of colleges opening such units overseas.

While other American institutions have opened branches in Singapore, Qatar and elsewhere, it has been difficult to quantify the movement because of a lack of common definitions and reporting requirements -- and because of so much change in the field. Some branches have died, as was the case with a Johns Hopkins University program in Singapore.

New data from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education -- a London-based research unit of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and Universities UK -- provide evidence that growth of branches is taking off at a rapid pace, isn't restricted to the United States, and is shifting models of finance. Most reports from the Observatory are available only to institutional subscribers, but officials agreed to provide the new study on branch campuses, some of which was discussed at this week's meeting of the American Council on Education.

The number of branch campuses grew to 82 last year, from 24 in 2002, the last time a study was conducted. Because there are no worldwide reporting requirements, the report acknowledges the possibility that it may be undercounting. Its definition of branch campuses -- which would exclude study abroad centers, for example -- is that an academic unit is operated in the name of a foreign institution, and students at the branch receive a degree from the foreign institution.

American institutions account for just over half of branch campuses in the study, followed by Australia (12 percent), and Britain and Ireland (each with 5 percent). Universities in Western industrialized nations are setting up almost all of the branches, the report says, although there are a few institutions from India and Pakistan operating in Dubai. While American institutions were first in moving into this area, and some of the countries seeking branches have placed a priority on attracting American universities, the report says that Australian and British universities have been moving rapidly in recent years.

About one third of the branch campuses offer degrees in only one subject -- unlike their home campuses -- and the remainder offer more than one. Business and technology are top course offerings, and the average enrollment last year was 1,083.

The report notes three funding models for branches: funded by the institution setting up the branch, largely funded by the host government or other entities in the host country, and branches where facilities are provided by the host country or entities there. The evolution of branches seems to be away from the first model, which was more popular with early branch campuses, and toward the other models. While the last model is used only by 28 percent of branches, all but one of those branches were established in the last six years, suggesting that this model is increasing in popularity.

Some countries may hit a saturation point for branches, but that's far from the case elsewhere. The report concludes that "there is little to suggest that branch campus development has peaked."

 

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