International Campuses on the Rise

Study finds 43 percent increase in just three years -- with some shifts away from the "North-South" location patterns of home institutions and their outposts.
September 3, 2009

The number of international branch campuses has grown to 162, up 43 percent in just three years, according to a study released Wednesday by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, a British research institute that has been among the leaders in documenting the spread of this form of higher education.

Branch campuses are defined as institutions that have the name of and are run by a foreign institution, and that award full degrees from that institution -- so these figures do not include centers that are run for study abroad experiences for those from the home campus.

The international branch campus, the report says, is a relatively recent phenomenon: Only 35 of the campuses in the study existed prior to 1999. Branch campuses vary widely and involve leading universities. But they also have been controversial, with faculty groups warning that branch campuses may not always reflect the academic standards or missions of home universities. (And there are plenty of fans of branch campuses who agree that some are shoddy, and plenty of skeptics who agree that some are outstanding.)

The new report documents the continuation of some key trends with regard to these branch campuses. Anglophone countries, led by institutions from the United States with 78 such campuses, lead the way. The United States is followed by Australia (14), Britain (13), and France and India (each with 11). The United States not only leads overall, but also in spawning the new campuses, with American colleges and universities sponsoring 15 of the 49 created in the last three years.

By far the top host country for branch campuses is the United Arab Emirates, with 40 -- or about one fourth of the total. The report cites several reasons for this concentration: "The UAE has been able to attract more campuses than any other country, driven by its high student demand for tertiary education and a need to build a knowledge society and economy to reduce its dependence on the export of oil, and assisted by its wealth of oil income, which allows the country to set attractive funding and support ‘packages’ (such as tax free trade zones) for foreign institutions that establish a campus there." Further, the report notes that the government is considered stable and more "pro-Western" than many others in the region.

Other leading host countries include China (15), Singapore (12), Qatar (9) and Canada (6).

Where the report notes a key shift is in who is setting up shop where. The traditional model, the report notes, is "North to South" -- or colleges and universities in developed nations creating campuses in the developing world. That model is still the one that is most prevalent, describing 51 percent of the branches in the study. But as the slim majority suggests, other models are now reaching critical mass as well.

Thirty percent of branch campuses are now considered "North to North," with exporting and host nations both being considered developed nations. Much of the growth has taken place with branches in Singapore and Australia. While the United States is thought of as an export nation in branch campuses, it is now being seen in selected areas as a host for branches. An Australian medical school, for example, is setting up a program in New Orleans.

South-to-South branch campuses are also on the rise. The Observatory's study three years ago found only 5 such examples, but there are now 26, with source countries including Chile, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The key host country is the United Arab Emirates.

The report notes that while there have been a few notable closures of branch campuses, such as George Mason University's withdrawal from the United Arab Emirates. But over time, the study found only 11 examples of branches being shut down, 5 of them in the last three years.


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