International branch campuses- some surprising developments

Some new and rather surprising branch campus developments

The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education’s new report on international branch campuses (IBCs), entitled ‘International Branch Campuses: Data and Developments’, was released on 12 January and is covered in a previous post. The report included a list of 37 planned branch campuses, most of which are due to open this year or in 2013.

In the intervening six weeks the Observatory reports that it has come across more planned branch campuses in a range of countries, including Cyprus, Egypt, Italy, Malaysia, Thailand and UAE. More than a dozen are identified including this perhaps rather surprising one in Italy:


Ningbo University
, China, will set up a campus in Florence, to open in September 2012. This is the second Chinese branch campus abroad, the first being Soochow University in Laos, and the first South-to-North operation coming from China. As noted in the Observatory’s report, South-to-North is here to stay and more are expected to launch over the next few years.

The project was negotiated at the local rather than the national level. According to University World News, Florentine officials said that there was no need for authorisation from the Italian government and the campus would not be regulated under Italian higher education law. This highlights two aspects of the Italian higher education system – a high level of devolution, with local authorities playing an active role in higher education policy, and a lack of flexibility at the national level. The mayor of Turin revealed in a recent interview with La Stampa that he wants to attract foreign universities and is in touch with American universities.

Ningbo’s campus in Florence will mainly target Chinese students, and the first courses will be in art and culture. Chinese students started coming to Italy only recently and now constitute the second-largest national group of students in the country. Italian commentators have also noted the forging of ties between Italy and China across many sectors, which can be interpreted in various ways in the light of the crisis in Europe and growing anti-European sentiment in Italy. Others point towards a closer relationship between China and the EU.

Fascinating stuff and challenges the expected view of western universities opening branch campuses in the east.

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Keeping it in the family: Italian academia

Italian academia is a family business according to new statistical analysis

A previous post noted a report highlighting the problems of nepotism in Italian universities. More detailed information has recently been published including statistical analysis which reinforces this point. The analysis focuses on the frequency of last names in disciplines and institutions and suggests “rampant nepotism” according to the piece:

Unusually high clustering of last names within Italian academic institutions and disciplines indicates widespread nepotism in the country’s schools, according to a new computational analysis.

By comparing the frequency of last names among more than 61,000 professors in medicine, engineering, law, and other fields, University of Chicago researcher Stefano Allesina found the pattern to be incompatible with unbiased, equal opportunity hiring. The analysis, published online in the journal PLoS ONE, refutes the notion that recently publicized cases of academic nepotism in Italy were isolated incidents.

“It’s not a few bad apples, it’s really bad,” said Allesina, PhD, assistant professor of ecology and evolution. “I found that in many disciplines there are much fewer names than you would expect to find at random, indicating a very, very high probability of nepotistic hires.”

In recent years, several scandals have hit Italian academia over the hiring of close family members to prominent faculty positions at public universities. At the University of Bari, nine relatives from three generations of a single family are on the economics faculty, several newspapers reported last year. The chancellor of Sapienza University in Rome was recently investigated by an Italian news program after the hiring of his wife, son, and daughter to medical faculty positions.[See earlier post on this.]

To measure the full magnitude of nepotism in Italian academia, Allesina turned to a public database created by the Italian Ministry of Education. Included was first and last name information for over 61,000 tenured professors from 94 institutions, along with their department and sub-discipline.

Allesina used the pool of last names to run a simple analysis of name frequency. More than 27,000 different last names appeared at least once in the dataset, and Allesina sought to test whether certain names appeared more often than expected in a given field. So he programmed the computer to conduct one million random drawings from the pool of names to see how probable it was to obtain the number of last names that exist in the real-life data.

For example, of the 10,783 faculty members working in medicine, 7,471 distinct last names were found. But in one million random drawings from the full pool of names, Allesina’s program never came up with fewer than 7,471 unique names, indicating an improbable frequency of last names indicative of nepotistic hiring.

The pattern is uneven across disciplines though, with this approach demonstrating the highest likelihood of nepotism in areas including industrial engineering, law, medicine and geography. According to hte study the fields with the distribution of names closest to random – and thus with the lowest likelihood of nepotism – were linguistics, demography, and psychology. Not good news for higher education in Italy.