Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The International Branch Campus Trend

Perhaps you’ve seen articles about universities establishing branch campuses in other countries.  Check out this piece, which is the most informative I’ve seen on the subject:  It was written by Nigel Healey, at Nottingham Trent University.

Follow the links embedded in the article, and I think you’ll have a good overview of the trend.  Note that quite a few international branches have failed and, if you are associated with what I’ll call “domestic” branch campuses, you’ll also see that there are extra challenges that come with working internationally.

The article mentions that universities in the United States currently have 50 international branches and United Kingdom universities have 27.  Other countries have smaller numbers, yielding a total of well over 200, in all.  Of course, these numbers are probably a tenth of the number of domestic branches in the United States, alone, so the true impact of international branches is likely to be modest, at least in terms of numbers served or net revenue generated.  I suspect the fact that a number of “elite” institutions have gone the international route has done more to draw attention than anything else.

My own experience with international branch campuses is quite modest.  I’ve visited branches in Russia, Mexico, Hong Kong, and Canada, but all of these campuses were domestic, in the sense that the main campus was in the same country.  Still, the experiences were informative.

Ohio University, like most institutions has many international relationships and has offered programs in other countries, but we’ve not had anything I’d call an actual branch campus.  We did have a center in Hong Kong for more than 20 years, based at Hong Kong Baptist University, and that center reported up to me in my years as vice president.  We employed a small on-site staff and local faculty to teach traditional face-to-face classes.  We sent Ohio faculty to teach intensive courses in the summers and during the winter intersession we had at the time.  Hong Kong students also had access to online or correspondence courses.

I loved the Hong Kong center, and we learned a lot through the work we did there.  The center occasionally helped with other relationships in the region, but it was never highly profitable.  Eventually, the center closed, partly because of the emergence of online programs, but mostly because local universities expanded the opportunities they could provide in a way that cut into our enrollment.  I suspect other institutions may find a limited timespan for international branches, as well.  That doesn’t make them a bad idea, but it does suggest being careful about investment in facilities or in permanent local faculty.

Personally, I’m skeptical that international branches will bring the sort of enrollment and financial contributions that domestic branches often achieve, but there may well be other reasons to proceed, even if the branch is likely to survive only for a relatively brief time.  In any case, although the international story is interesting, I wish domestic branches and their good work were receiving as much attention as the international trend.