Are US universities retreating from international ventures?

It seems there is a “new caution” for US universities overseas

Seattle P-I has a piece on what looks like a slowdown in the international activities of US universities:

High-profile and expensive failures of Middle East branch campuses run by Michigan State and George Mason were a wake-up call. Suffolk University recently closed a campus in Senegal after concluding it would be cheaper just to bring the students to Boston. The University of Connecticut dropped plans for a campus in Dubai amid criticism of the United Arab Emirates’ policies toward Israel. Plans for a University of Montana campus in China never panned out, and Singapore’s government shut down a Johns Hopkins University biomedical research center.

Even elite schools still pushing forward, like Duke, Yale and New York University, have faced resistance from faculty concerned about finances, quality and whether host countries like China, Singapore and the UAE will uphold academic freedom.

The result: a new era of caution, particularly toward a model that once looked like the wave of the future. Some experts say branch campuses — where a U.S. university “plants a flag,” operates its own campus and awards degrees in its own name — are falling from favor.

“The gold rush mentality of the 2000s is over,” said Jason Lane, a professor and co-director of the cross-border education research team at the State University of New York-Albany. His data show 60 U.S. institutions with 83 overseas campuses in 39 countries. But the number of new international branch campuses peaked at 11 in 2008 — just before the financial crisis — and only four have opened since.

Caution is certainly advisable. However, the real caution here is against a view of internationalisation of university operations which sees it as a “gold rush”. No institution should see developing a presence in another country as an income generating activity as a response to a time of financial challenge. Whilst some universities have been extremely generously supported by host governments, most notably NYU and the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi, for most the dowries are much smaller. And, as previously argued here, internationalisation, and the establishment of an international campus in particular, is a long game. There are no get rich quick schemes here. The article goes on to note that:

Instead, schools like UCLA and the Universities of Michigan and North Carolina have opted for more of a soft-power approach — a range of partnerships often starting on the departmental or school level where the home university is less invested but also offering an easier exit strategy if things go south.

But surely such partnerships are part of the everyday life of internationally engaged universities – it’s not about choosing one strategy over another but rather different facets of a genuine approach to international partnership. Again, this is about building long term and enduring partnerships which will, ultimately, be of benefit to all.

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1 thought on “Are US universities retreating from international ventures?

  1. Pingback: Branch campuses: cut or grow? « Registrarism

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