2012 Global Forum: Conference report

                                     New Players and New Directions:
               The Challenges of International Branch Campus Management

                                     Kuala Lumpur, 25-26 April 2012


A range of practical considerations involved2012GFProgrammesmall in planning and operating campuses in other countries were discussed and debated at the Observatory’s 2012 Global Forum in Kuala Lumpur in April. One-hundred and twenty-five university vice-presidents, PVCs, branch-campus CEOs, regional directors, academics and representatives of governments and agencies gathered for the conference, entitled ‘New Players and New Directions: The Challenges of International Branch Campus Management’. The full programme, with abstracts and bio notes, is available HERE.

We believe the Forum was the first international conference devoted to international branch campuses (IBCs). One core purpose was to enable an engagement between expert practitioners and public officials from countries that host IBCs. Another was to provide a platform for analysis of the latest thinking in on IBCs. Both objectives were met.

Participating institutions included the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE), HELP University of KL; Stenden and Waterloo; SUNY Albany and Buffalo; UK universities such as Nottingham, Heriot-Watt, Middlesex, Birmingham City, UCL, Essex; Curtin, Newcastle and Wollongong from Australia; branch campuses such as Calgary-Qatar, EPFL Middle East, Westminster in Tashkent, NUMed, Reading and Southampton in Iskandar; companies such as INTO University Partnerships, Study Group Singapore, the Parthenon Group, and DIAC; and agencies such as UK QAA, Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority, Nuffic, DAAD, and the British Council in Malaysia.

Welcome and the Observatory’s IBC report

MoHE Deputy Minister YB Dato’ Hou Kok Chung opened the proceedings with a frank assessment of Malaysia’s position on HE internationalisation. He noted that the ministry was initiating a study to draw up IBC guidelines in response to a rapid rise in applications (some 25 pending) to set up both ‘pedigree and hybrid’ IBCs in Malaysia. These arose not just from the usual suspects but from universities in the Middle East, India and China – suggesting that the ‘south-to-south’ phenomenon discussed in the Observatory’s recent IBC report will continue to expand.

Dr Hou considered possible factors in this surge in interest, from a domestic supply/demand imbalance, to a conducive investment climate, to the search by foreign universities for revenue. He affirmed Malaysia’s aspiration for international hub status and noted that their 2012 target of 100,000 international students was close to realisation. He stressed Malaysia’s keenness to attract quality players and that the country would not become a ‘free-for-all’. Dr Hou noted Malaysia’s need for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and the absence thus far of interest from abroad in providing it. He hoped that a quality TVET IBC would be able to redress the lower value attached to those areas in Malaysia.

The Global Forum was designed to complement the data provided in the Observatory’s recent report, ‘International Branch Campuses: Data and Developments’. Report authors William Lawton and Alex Katsomitros provided a brief summary and a look at some of the student number data in the report, by both host and home (provider) countries. This was previewed in the April Borderless Report

Kevin Kinser from SUNY Albany, and co-author of a critique of the report, provided an informed response. He drew attention to the much-expanded cast of IBC host countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Botswana, Croatia, Finland, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Lesotho, Mauritius, Morocco, Nepal, Nicaragua, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, and Uzbekistan. He posited the beginning of a decline in cross-border HE in certain regions and asked how many new operations in these countries will continue when the subsidies run out.

Kinser compared the Observatory definition of an IBC with that of the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT) at Albany. Although they were not significantly different, there were 61 IBCs in the Observatory report not listed by C-BERT and 43 listed by C-BERT but not the Observatory. He noted, as did the earlier critique, the Observatory's decision to shift its own definition in order to capture the new dual-degree activity in China and the 'judgement call' that resulted in the apparently anomalous inclusion of the proposed Yale-NUS campus in Singapore. Did it matter? He concluded that they were starting to think of the emergence of the university as a multinational enterprise; or a geographically dispersed university; or a 'non-endemic academic institution… that embodies multiple forms of mobility: in people, programmes, and physical plant'.

The Parthenon Group’s TNE data

Karan Khemka, Head of Emerging Markets in the Mumbai office of the Parthenon Group, provided an overview of TNE based on original data from Brazil, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. On value and growth rates of TNE markets: in 2011, Vietnam had the fastest growth (revenue c$105m) while the two largest markets in revenue were Singapore ($520m) and Malaysia ($430m). India had more TNE programmes than the other countries combined but a total value of $150m and a lower growth rate of <5%.

As an explanation, Khemka contrasted the ‘payback periods’ for local vs TNE programmes. It took three times longer to pay back the cost of an Indian TNE programme, whereas in southeast Asia the payback period for TNE was not much greater than for local programmes. Further, the incremental cost of a TNE programme in Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia was less than the differential in salary that could be expected after completion. This did not hold true in India. Khemka concluded that the TNE market was ‘rational’ and that students purchased value; hence, the slow growth of the Indian TNE market. The intuitive idea that foreign universities should be at an advantage in countries with the greatest capacity deficits did not always hold.

One disagreement opened up during discussion was that the constraint to doing business in India was fundamentally political rather than economic – specifically, that foreign degrees were not recognised. Khemka argued that the most successful private programmes in India (from the Indian School of Business) were not recognised and that such government recognition in India had lost its authority.


                                      Jill C. Borgos of SUNY Albany and Andrew F. Ness from the Sheridan Institute of Technology, Ontario
                                                       with Lois Thornton and Carolyn Byrne of the University of Calgary-Qatar

                                                                                     (picture courtesy of The PIE News)

Starting and operating IBCs

A session on ‘setting up and operating IBCs’ also saw different points of view. Raj Gill from Middlesex in Dubai covered the full range of considerations before even embarking down the IBC course: demand in country and further afield, accessibility, local competition and feeder institutions, communications, reliability of electricity and internet, accommodation, climate, cost of living, perception of foreigners, recognition of qualifications, visas, health and other insurance, company law, taxes, QA procedures and odd restrictions (Dubai has an age limit for undergraduates). ‘Why bother’ included UK visa regulations, brand recognition, and revenue. He said that they were business ventures with partners, not academic projects.

Michael Worton from UCL offered the reasoning behind UCL’s ‘niche campus’ approach – indeed any approach, given that UCL decided against IBCs in 2006. He said that UCL explicitly did not run IBCs to make money but rather ‘to make a difference’. Financial drivers on their own were insufficient. UCL’s approach was risk-aware and ‘highly differentiated’: small, postgraduate only, commitment to research from the start, and outreach.

Advantages of niche campuses included focus, lack of threat to local universities, and ability to experiment and correct problems. The possible downside was a diminished student experience, especially when the home institution is located in a world city. But their four operations abroad had changed the way UCL ‘thinks and acts’ more in two years than anything had in the preceding decade.

Stenden, like UCL, has four branch locations. Robert Coelen articulated the benefits of IBCs as educational, quality enhancement, reputation enhancement, global social responsibility, research opportunities, networks, income, and access to the local community. The Stenden model mirrors the home campus when possible and requires academic sense in mobility between IBCs, unique opportunities in study, capacity in the curriculum to take advantage of the locale, several programmes and about 1000 local students.


A highly engaged session on staffing was led by research by Curtin University and Swinburne University of Technology (both with campuses in Sarawak, Malaysia) on ‘Recognising and Rewarding Leadership Roles in TNE’ as well as a case study of the University at Buffalo (SUNY) programmes at the Singapore Institute of Management (running since 1996).

Beena Giridharan from Curtin Sarawak looked at the issue of recognition and support for academics in TNE roles and staff perceptions of their own roles. Themes included the need for recognition of TNE responsibilities in workload and remuneration, tension with time needed for research and for interaction between onshore and offshore staff, ensuring equivalence of curriculum and assessment, English-language competency of offshore students, grading of student performance, and the demands of meeting QA requirements of two national systems.

The UB-SIM case study drilled down into the roles of administrative staff and the divisions of labour between academic staff from tenured faculty at UB to locally recruited instructors. The ideal attributes of staff were covered, as were salaries and benefits and orientation programmes. The in-country challenges were diversity, quality assurance and integration. Specific issues addressed were class size, lack of teaching assistants, scheduling, paperwork, provision and support for families, health issues, tax liabilities, and learning to deal with a younger (16-17) set of highly competitive students who were generally less familiar with a critical learning approach. Student expectations in relation to visiting and local staff were explored and the detailed guidance offered to the latter was outlined.


2012 Global Forum                                Carolyn Campbell from QAA and William Lawton with Ruth Moir from Heriot-Watt University                                                                                                                                               (picture courtesy of The PIE News)


The discussion covered using one’s own graduates as TAs, the challenge of maintaining continuity – and standards – when staff fly in and out, and the issue of training for management responsibilities at IBCs. John Wood at UB noted that some adjunct faculty stay at SIM for years, others go year after year, while local staff provide more continuity. This brought to mind an embassy model with diplomatic staff on rotation and locally engaged staff providing continuity in corporate memory.

Managing risk

'Managing risk and reputation' similarly elicited a good debate: on the nature of risk, how it can paralyse decision-making, the role of the media, and whether risk can actually be assessed. The differing fortunes of the LSE (the Libya episode) and University of Wales (validation programmes) appeared to suggest that it mattered more how adversity was handled than landing in it in the first place. i-graduate's Student Pulse was flagged as a tool that does measure brand equity; 'perception is the new reality' was one quip.

One interesting nugget that arose from the conversation was that some 40 IBCs in Japan collapsed in the 1990s. Financial meltdown was the trigger but a lack of long-term commitment between partners was also a factor.

What do governments want with IBCs?

'What do governments want with international branch campuses?' was the question addressed in a plenary with the Malaysian MoHE, Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), DAAD, and EPFL Middle East. Warren Fox of the KHDA said that Dubai wanted speed, quality, sustainability and economic diversification. For Malaysia, Datin Siti Hamisah couched it in terms of nation-building – through increasing access and equity, knowledge generation, capacity-building, including for research, quality assurance, strengthening local HEIs, and good governance in the sense of adherence to domestic regulations. IBCs were expected to be agents of innovation.

Beate Schindler-Kovats from DAAD described three main types of German TNE approaches: study programmes in partnership with foreign universities (60 or so in operation), German-backed universities (see our Turkish-German University interview in BR4), and IBCs (they count four IBCs while the Observatory definition included one in our 2012 report). Through these activities, national goals were couched in classic soft-power terms – the kind of diplomacy that fewer governments are willing to pay for. It encompasses the projection of 'made in Germany' education and research, the enhancement of the international reputation and reach of German institutions, and modernisation and capacity-building for foreign partners. Other elements were international staff and student recruitment and opportunities for German students abroad.

Franco Vigliotti discussed the not-for-profit partnership between the Government of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK, a small oil-free part of UAE) and EPFL, a Swiss technical university, to create a graduate research centre for PhDs, MSc in Energy Management and Sustainability, and executive education courses. The RAK government funds the operation as part of its long-term economic development strategy. Its specific goals were skills training for the local market now, improve local capacity-building and innovation in the short- to mid-term, and to capture the value of the innovation generated in the mid- to long-term. An interesting set of diagrams set out the direct correlation between national R&D spend and knowledge export.

The education hub phenomenon arose in this session – unsurprisingly, as the aspiration for hubs in many countries is the purest manifestation of government intervention in HE internationalisation. Higher education has long been an important component of the political and diplomatic toolkit, but now it is fully in the service of national economic development goals. Governments seek competitive advantage through the 'knowledge economy'. It is a long way from the idea of higher education partnerships as a means of expressing a universal humanitarian ethos.


       Andy Nicol of Hobsons and Guy Perring of I-graduate with Datuk Dr Paul Chen of HELP University (picture courtesy of The PIE News)

Unintended consequences

This was essentially the theme of the closing keynote from Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, of Albukhary International University. He expressed some 'unintended consequences' of HE internationalisation which constituted a challenge to its practitioners to think about what they do. Dzul's framework was the asymmetry of world economic and political power. He suggested that the widespread use of English was indicative of a regretful trend toward cultural homogenisation and that the race for 'world-class universities' in many countries embodied a single model of excellence that could result in the concentration of scarce national resources in few institutions to the detriment of a diverse HE system fit for diverse national purposes. HE internationalisation is obviously an evolving concept but it is not at all obvious that this evolution is helping to bring us closer to a more level playing field. This remains the case when emerging economies and their governments are active participants.

Hubs, quality, case studies

Data-rich case studies of the DIAC hub in Dubai and the Singapore Global Schoolhouse, from University of Newcastle Singapore, were unwrapped in a dedicated session. A set of case studies from University of Calgary – Qatar and Westminster International University in Tashkent was delivered and a session on quality had input from NUMed Malaysia, Heriot-Watt's new campus near Kuala Lumpur, and the Universities Quality Assurance International Board of Dubai.

Formal feedback from Global Forum participants has been positive. Links to media coverage are below. Links to all presentations are on our website HERE. Observatory members can access them when logged in; non-members can do so by taking a free trial membership and the relevant URL for doing so is provided when you follow the link above.


The Observatory team acknowledges with thanks the support of the sponsors of the 2012 Global Forum: INTO University Partnerships, The Parthenon Group, University of London International Programmes, Hobsons, and Dubai International Academic City. We wish also to thank Datin Ir Dr Siti Hamisah Bt Tapsir at the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education and Dr Rozilini Fernandez-Chung and her colleagues and students at HELP University for their enthusiasm and support. We are grateful for the guidance of our Advisory Board and for the support and input from our friends and colleagues at our sister company, the International Graduate Insight Group (i-graduate).


William Lawton

Media coverage of the 2012 Global Forum

Growth in foreign degrees – But are they worth it?, University World News, 27 May 2012

Emirates hosts the most international branch campuses worldwide: Report, The Gulf Today, 13 May 2012

Cross-national study is about to invade Asia, The Nation (Thailand), 13 May 2012

PERSPECTIVE: Rethink internationalisation, New Straits Times, 13 May 2012

OBHE event charts rampant growth of IBCs, The Pie News, 10 May 2012

UAE hosts highest number of International Branch Campuses worldwide according to the Observatory Report, AME Info, 5 May 2012

What internationalising universities can learn from big business, University World News, 29 April 2012

Internationalised learning at the branch campus – Enriching curricula, University World News, 29 April 2012

University College London – Big visions, small overseas campuses, University World News, 29 April 2012

Foreign Branch Campuses Turn Attention to Local Culture and Programs, The New York Times, 27 April 2012

New guidelines for international branch campuses mooted, University World News, 26 April 2012

Monash first in country to break into China’s university market, University World News, 25 April 2012