On the size of branch campuses

Biggest isn’t always best but it does tell you something

Looking at the latest University of Nottingham student statistics and the most recently published HESA data it struck me that Nottingham is now the UK’s largest campus university (ie if we exclude the Open University). However, it is important to understand that two of our campuses are not in the UK but in Malaysia and China. Both are integral parts of the University, they host University of Nottingham students who study on University of Nottingham degrees and are taught by University of Nottingham staff. And, as the recent QAA review of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China demonstrated, they do it all rather well.

Just to be clear about the numbers then. our latest figures show that we have the following number of students:

– University of Nottingham UK – 33,944
– University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) – 4,360
– University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) – 5,461

So nearly 44,000 students in total. Which makes Nottingham overall significantly ahead of the University of Manchester. Big deal you might say.

But the issue here really is about recognition that our campuses in Asia (and other UK universities who are more recent arrivals may say similar things) are integral parts of the University. The data on these campuses and other UK university students studying overseas is now collected by HESA and the only other source we have of overseas campuses from other countries is the OBHE survey, last published in January 2012.

This survey shows that two of the top 5 (in terms of size) offshore campuses of universities are in fact UNMC and UNNC. The OBHE top 10 is as follows:

Institution and total students

1 RMIT in Vietnam – 5,145
2 Monash University in Malaysia – 5,000 (approx.)
3 University of Nottingham Ningbo China – 4,536
4 AMA International University in Bahrain – 3,945 (2008-09)
5 University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus – 3,779
6 Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University – 3,240
7 Curtin University in Malaysia – 3,080
8 Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Botswana – 3,040
9 Wollongong in Dubai – 3,000
10 Monash University in South Africa – 2,685

Although accurate updated figures are hard to establish it would seem that as of now the top five is roughly the same but with Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University replacing AMA International in Bahrain and with UNNC still the largest UK branch campus. OBHE only has student number data for just over half of the 200 branch campuses it has registered – of the 77,448 students counted in 2010-11, just under 12% of these are University of Nottingham students.

Looking at the data in the 2012 survey on some of the other branch campuses often cited as examples of significant global activity, it is clear that they are much smaller operations. For example:

  • Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi – 606 students
  • UCL in Kazakhstan – 140 students
  • Carnegie Mellon in Qatar – 280 students
  • NYU in Abu Dhabi – 307 students
  • UCL in Qatar – 2 students

Others often referred to such as Duke Kunshan and NYU Shanghai do not formally open until later this year.

So, the University of Nottingham is the biggest UK campus university and is the UK university with the biggest international campus. Just to help with the sense of scale of operations, if UNNC were in the UK it would be around 120th largest HEI, slightly smaller than Cranfield and the University of Chichester but still larger than around 40 other UK HEIs, including SOAS, Abertay and Queen Margaret University. And combined UNMC and UNNC are bigger than around 60 UK HEIs and would be roughly 100th largest.

Just to add at a bit more perspective here UNMC is only 13 years old, UNNC has yet to celebrate its first decade. Both campuses have grown extraordinarily quickly and both have significant profiles in their host countries.

One more statistic. For every one of the last five years 100% of UNNC graduates have secured jobs or progressed to further study, many of the former to multinational companies with operations in China, many of the latter to leading universities around the world. It’s a KPI to be proud of.

This is the future. Significant and large multinational, multi-campus operations. Several other UK universities followed Nottingham’s lead in Malaysia. Others are now looking at China. The UK remains second only to the US (or third if we count France’s ESMOD’s 12 overseas fashion schools) in the number of branch campuses overseas according to OBHE. I’m sure it will continue.


How Much Do Branch Campuses Really Matter?

So, do branch campuses really matter?

The Chronicle of Higher Education carries an interesting piece on branch campuses by Ben Wildavsky:

What should we make of the news this week that Michigan State is closing its Dubai campus? In my view, not too much. If one satellite campus’s demise meant that others were bound to fail, MSU would never have ventured into the United Arab Emirates in the first place. It is no secret that foreign branches don’t always work out. The boom in U.S. branch campuses in Japan in the 1980s ended in a whimper, with only Temple University’s outpost left standing. In the late 2000s, a branch of Australia’s University of New South Wales didn’t last past its first year in Singapore when enrollment projections didn’t pan out. Early last year, George Mason also abandoned its small campus in the Emirate of Ras al Khaimah over disputes with its partner, the for-profit firm Edrak, over how soon the institution might reasonably be expected to turn a profit. And some branch campuses are stillborn; in 2005, the year before Nigel [Thrift] became vice chancellor, the University of Warwick abandoned its ambitious plans to create a satellite campus in Singapore amid faculty concerns over academic freedom and financial viability.

Yet other satellite campuses seem to be doing very well, thank you, from the University of Nottingham’s branch in Ningbo, China, to the assorted U.S. boutique elites, including Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, congregated on the edge of Doha in Qatar’s Education City….The bottom line: Branch campuses are at heart entrepreneurial ventures. Some will succeed, some will fail, and it will take time for universities to figure out which models, if any, are best replicated in which locations.

Many of these branch campuses are located in ‘education hubs’ (see previous post on this point), and enjoy substantial subsidies from ambitious governments. However, some campuses are different and, of course, I would argue that the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, rightly identified as successful above, and the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus represent something significantly different from the standard branch campus described here: they are integral elements of the University. So, in Nottingham’s case, even if not for others, these campuses really do matter.