International branch campuses are expanding to include non-traditional countries

Over the past decade a number of universities have opened branch campuses overseas – Nottingham’s campus in Ningbo, China and NYU’s branch in Abu Dhabi are perhaps best known – bringing the total to nearly 220 campuses worldwide. That trend has continued, with universities beginning to move into previously untried territory to establish teaching centres and branch campuses. Lancaster and Strathclyde universities both signed an agreement in May 2009 to establish campuses in Pakistan’s first ‘knowledge park’ in Lahore. Lancaster already has links with Pakistan, having taught joint degree programmes in Business, Computing and Engineering in conjunction with COMSATS Institute of Information Technology since 2010, and has a branch campus in Accra, Ghana, underway. Many of these campuses have been explicitly designed to attract international students who might not be in a position to travel to Europe or the USA for their education – a move that has been timed to fit with the projected expansion in the number of students entering higher education in Asia and Africa. Aberystwyth University, for example, followed Middlesex University in opening a campus in Mauritius in 2014, with the first intake beginning their degrees in accounting, business, and management in 2014–15. A number of US universities are working together with Tunisia’s Université Montplaisir Tunis to open a $100m US university near Tunis. Education provided at the university will be based on the US model, and students will spend two years studying in Tunis and then two years at the US partner universities, graduating with a double degree. Other universities have prioritized expanding into non-traditional countries to provide study-abroad opportunities for their existing students, such as the University of New England’s new campus in Tangier, Morocco. UNE students will be able to spend a semester or year studying Arabic and Moroccan history and culture in Tangier, and the university’s Moroccan programmes aim to develop students’ understanding of Middle-Eastern and North African culture and politics.

While branch campuses remain a popular facet of institutional international strategies, there have been a number of high profile closures. It is worth highlighting that most of these closures were free-standing and primarily self-funded campuses, in contrast to the new campuses profiled above, which are to be opened in conjunction with local partners. Over the last six years a number of well-known American, Australian and UK international branch campuses ceased operation, with Johns Hopkins in Malaysia closing and UCL re-evaluating their base in Australia. In most cases closures have been related to economic and political changes or falling enrollment numbers, while others have been impacted by changing government policy and the withdrawal of financial support by the host government. UCL chose to withdraw from its Adelaide campus after economic and political challenges led to a change in Australian government policy and a subsequent loss of support. Others have faced domestic pushback from faculty members and administrators for varying reasons, ranging from disquiet over the political environment surrounding the new campus to concern that focus on developing campuses overseas weakened the education provided at the home campus. Both Yale University and New York University faculty have expressed dissent at overseas expansion plans, while domestic politics in Russia are creating roadblocks to MIT’s planned project in Skolkovo, Russia.