EXPORTING AMERICAN HIGHER EDUCATION
Russel C. Jones, Ph.D., P.E.
Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
A variety of circumstances has led to a decrease in the
number of foreign students enrolling in American universities, leading to
disruption of previous benefits to US universities and to
For many decades prior to 9/11, higher education institutions in the United States attracted large numbers of foreign students, particularly at the graduate level. These students met several needs of the institutions and of the US, particularly in the sciences and engineering where domestic students were increasingly scarce. And many returned to their own countries, either immediately or after getting valuable work experience in the US, to become leaders in government and commerce.
After 9/11, the flow of international students to US higher education institutions decreased dramatically, both because many of them, particularly from the Middle East, no longer felt welcome, and because visa processing delays made timely access difficult. This has had a damaging effect on financial and human resources at US universities in the short run, and perhaps a more important damaging effect on the beneficial impact of graduates of the US higher education system abroad in the long run.
Recognizing these negative impacts, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling convened a meeting of university presidents at the US State Department in April 2008 to discuss options for returning to an increased positive impact globally of graduates of US style education. Discussion focused heavily on exporting American style higher education abroad through a variety of mechanisms such as branch campuses, partnerships with foreign institutions, distance education, and quality assurance assista
The increased interest in having
The global demand for post secondary education is
increasing substantially as countries such as
For decades, US higher education institutions reaped significant benefits from enrollment of foreign students, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. At the undergraduate level, income from out-of-state tuition payments provided important financial resources, as well as providing diversity of perspectives in the classroom and on campus. At the graduate level, foreign students typically filled teaching assistant and research assistant positions, providing necessary classroom and laboratory support for faculty members.
Graduate students from abroad have been particularly important in engineering and science, at a time when too few American students chose to enter these difficult fields of study. And the foreign graduates of master’s and doctoral programs in engineering and science have provided a necessary and desirable flow of employees to American firms – particularly those in the high tech sector.
American educated graduates have returned to their home
countries in large numbers in the past, providing the human capital to supply
needed government officials, leaders for industry, medical professionals, etc.
The residual link between such graduates and the
But all of these positive benefits of large numbers of
foreign students at American universities have been eroded by significant drops
in the number of such students. One major reason is the fallout after the
terrorist attacks of 911. Many potential students from areas such as the Arab
world are fearful of how they would be received in the
In addition, rapidly developing countries such as
One bright spot in this scene is the desire of many
developing countries to emulate the
Forms of US
A branch campus typically requires its own buildings in the foreign country, and this feature adds considerably to the startup and operating expenses. This financial commitment, and the other expenses such as relocating and maintaining an appropriate faculty pool, often leads US universities to seek financial support from the government or investors in the foreign country in which a branch campus is to be started. A recent study by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education identifies three models for branch campuses: fully funded by the institution; eternal funding; and facilities provided. 6 The study indicates that institutions are increasingly reluctant or unable to carry the entire risks associated with establishing a branch campus in a foreign country, leading to increasing use of the second and third models.
A branch campus of George Mason University, opened in the UAE emirate of Ras al Khaymah in 2005, became the first American educational venture to collapse. The campus suffered from low enrollments, and was beset by problems revolving around administration, academics and identity. It announced closing in 2009 when its local partner began to cut back on its financial support.10
Another typical model is a
Distance education is yet another model – albeit less effective in providing an immersive US-style education. With current global communication technology, a range of distance education vehicles is available – up to and including full two-way video conferencing. Time zone differences can be a problem for live delivery, and local administration typically needs to be provided.
At a less intense level, US higher education representatives often provide consulting advice to foreign universities or governments on how to develop educational programs in the American model. Such consulting covers the spectrum from curriculum development to quality assurance program development to government policy guidance.
As US universities get experience in the Middle East, and their experiences are reported, new potential collaborations are being examined more closely. US university leaders are now avoiding hastily done agreements, and are seeking to develop overseas partnerships that are both broad and deep.11
Any development of American-style education in a foreign country runs the risk of educating students in a way or at a level that creates an elite class that is not well connected to the local culture and needs. And if too much adaptation to local conditions is made, does the education retain the fundamental elements which make it an American education?
As noted above, staffing foreign programs with faculty
members from the home
Home campuses in the US can be positively affected as faculty members have the opportunity to gain international experience. In the current economic climate, assignment or transfer of faculty members to foreign campuses can relieve home campus budgets, and perhaps avoid layoffs.
Developing necessary enrollments to justify the offering of foreign programs, and provide sufficient income to maintain them, is a major issue. In many developing countries, the majority of secondary school leavers are poorly prepared to handle American-style university level programs. Lack of adequate preparation in math and science is typical, and the ability to study advanced material in English is often lacking.
Maintaining home campus quality standards over time, as curricula are adapted to local needs and faculty members are recruited specifically for the foreign program, can be difficult. And maintaining accreditation, both US and local, thus becomes an issue. Care must be taken to assure that home campus accreditation, both regional and specialty (such as ABET) is not jeopardized by branch campus operations.
For foreign countries, the presence of
For host country students there is the opportunity to earn
a foreign degree at home: expenses are lower due to not having to pay living
expenses in a foreign country, there is little disruption of family and work
life; and tuition charges are generally lower or paid by the host country. 7
One concern raised is that the rapid expansion of foreign
campuses in regions such as the
Another concern is that most agreements to construct and
operate a foreign campus are reached at the highest levels of the offering
university, often involving the president. But success requires the active
involvement of faculty members who will design and deliver curricula,
collaborate on research projects, and vote degrees. Without faculty support, a
university will not be able to deliver on its promises of an American style
educational experience. 9
In addition, other countries frequently embrace cultures
and business practices that would never be tolerated in the
The circumstances that have made it difficult for many
foreign students to travel to the
Madeleine Green, Venturing
Abroad: Delivering US Degrees Through Overseas Branch Campuses, American
Council on Education,
Madeleine Green and Kim Koch, International
Partnerships: Guidelines For
and Universities, American Council on
Madeleine Green, Kevin Kinser and
Peter D. Eckel, On the Ground Overseas:
William C. Symonds et al,
“Colleges: The Newest U.S. Export”, Business Week, 9 February 2004.
Philip G. Stack, “Venturing Abroad: Delivering U.S. Degrees through Overseas Branch Campuses
and Programs”, Planning for Higher Education, 36(3):
Line Verbick, “The International
Branch Campus: Models and Trends”, International Higher Education, Number 46, Winter2007, p14-15.
Grant McBurnie and Christopher
Ziguras, “The International Branch Campus”, http://www.iienetwork.org/page/84656/,
Burton Bollag, “
9) Lawrence S. Bacow, “Planning a Branch Campus Abroad Can End Up a Boom or a Bust”, http://www.agbonline.org/2008/august/.
Andrew Mills, “Failure of George
Mason U.’s Persian Gulf Campus Sparks Concern About Overseas Ventures”, Chronicle
of Higher Education, 6 March 2009.
Karen Fischer, ‘U.S. Colleges Get
Serious With Partners Overseas”, Chronicle of Higher Education, 27 February 2009.
Russel Jones is Advisor to the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He previously served as founding president of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the UAE. His career in higher education in the United States included faculty member at MIT, department chair at Ohio State University, dean of engineering at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, academic vice president at Boston University, and President at University of Delaware.