Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Models of Internationalization

Every day more and more colleges and universities talk about becoming “global” or “international”? But why is this taking place? And what does this really mean? The impact of globalization on higher education is often overlooked, but globalization pervades university development at both a programmatic and structural level. It affects not only how and what they teach, but their alumni bases, research capacities, and donor targets.

Universities began to explore ways of becoming more international in the 1990s. In response to substantial state and federal budget cuts, many institutions began to examine alternative revenue sources for meeting escalating operating costs and rising enrollments (Coleman, 2003).

On the heels of American business, a sector that had already established a regular international presence in manufacturing and worldwide sales, several colleges and universities embarked on the diversification and internationalization of their campuses through increased student/faculty exchanges, international student recruitment, institutional partnerships and collaborations, along with the creation of offshore degree-granting programs.

From the widespread expansion of study abroad destinations on contemporary American campuses to the aggressive recruitment of international faculty and students, American educational institutions appear to be intent on framing themselves as major players in the international game.

In addition to inviting and sending visiting delegations and scholars around the globe, universities are adjusting their missions and curricula to adapt to the changing educational landscape (Coleman, 2003).

Branch Campuses?

Although most of America’s 4,000-plus institutions of higher learning don’t have intentions of opening up campuses abroad, a number of American, British, Canadian, and Australian universities have eagerly embraced the branch campus model of expansion (Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/14/2009).

From Dubai to Singapore and from Qatar to Tokyo, American universities have, in the last few decades, been active in signing agreements with universities, corporations, and organizations committed to placing the stamp of American educational prestige on their soil.

Although the practice of scholars and students crossing borders to obtain higher levels of training and education is certainly not new, the influx of American branch campuses in the Middle East, Singapore, China, and Japan is unprecedented in the history of higher education.

There are currently 78 degree-granting branch campuses in various regions of the world–the majority in China and Qatar (Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/14/2009). Branch campuses are normally funded in part or in full by host governments or organizations trying to strengthen and supply the domestic higher education market with brand-name American institutions.

For instance, in Education City in Qatar, the government has agreed to completely underwrite the costs of construction, faculty salaries, and other operational expenses to lure the likes of Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Cornell Medical School to establish degree programs in their country. In Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, NYU’s recent declaration to establish a degree-granting campus in 2010 is an unequivocal indicator of the future direction of like-minded universities (Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/28/2008).

Columbia as well as a few other universities (Harvard and Chicago have similar programs) has pursued a different sort of model from the one discussed above. It created global “centers” instead of degree granting programs. The Centers still extend the Columbia brand, but instead serve as intellectual platforms to facilitate the advancement and integration of student, faculty, and alumni research, collaboration, innovation, and intercultural awareness.

Now this is a newer model that Columbia is pioneering – but it seems to be sufficiently managing reputational risk while simultaneously strengthening its brand abroad. By fall of next year, Columbia will have four locations: Beijing, Amman, Mumbai and Paris. The plan is for each of them to interconnect and create a global network. Will this project work? I guess the answer is: hopefully, but its strength will lie in its ability to recalibrate its expectations for itself and its interactions with the international community.

It is an interesting concept -- the idea that that a university can transplant itself and recreate itself thousands of miles from its home base. Is it like McDonalds, where franchises can just pop up all over the world, or is there something more complex about extending one’s intellectual and reputational resources? These are all things to think about as universities begin to define what it is they mean when they say they are “internationalized”. But whether erecting a branch campus in the Middle East or making study abroad a compulsory element of the undergraduate experience, the internationalization of higher education, in all its diverse forms, will continue to be a critical component of the mission statements of America’s higher education institutions.


1. Coleman, David (2003). Quality Assurance in Transnational
Education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 7(4), 354-378.

2. Chronicle of Higher Education, 3/28/2008.

3. Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/14/2009.

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