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Universities Look East, Fueling Branch-Campus Boom

University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

Asia is fast becoming the world’s leading destination for branch campuses, raising questions about quality and control

When the Malaysian branch of Newcastle University of Medicine, or NUMed, accepted its first class of students three years ago, it did not have a campus. Based in a sprawling would-be industrial zone about ten miles northwest of Singapore, the site was little more than a patch of clear-cut soil amid groves of palm trees.

Despite the utter lack of facilities, the school was inundated with applications. This year, students entered their new 13-acre campus through a near-perfect recreation of the iconic neo-Jacobean Newcastle arches before continuing on to fully equipped laboratories and classrooms with state-of-the-art electronics.

The U.K-based school is one of the latest entrants into the thriving world of international branch campuses, or IBCs. Universities across the globe have now established well over 200 foreign campuses, up from 82 in 2006, according to the U.K.-based Observatory on Borderless Higher Education.

Some of these struggling IBC’s can be found in the United Arab Emirates, where the overall number of IBCs dropped from 40 in 2009 to 37 in 2011, but Asia is fast-becoming the world’s leading destination for new international campuses. In the same two-year period, Singapore saw a 50 percent increase to 18 total and China saw a 70 percent increase to 17 schools.

Branch campuses give schools a shot at building a global brand and attracting untapped talent, but may also threaten the school’s reputation — as Yale discovered when its plans to expand in Singapore drew fire from alumni and students alike.

“The world has become flat and institutions can no longer remain isolated within their own borders,” said Kevin Kinser, an associate professor at the University at Albany, The State University of New York’s Cross-Border Education Research Team. ”They have found it to their benefit to move outside of the traditional structures — some schools have good business models, and others are still struggling.”

With China strictly controlling entrance into its education sector, Malaysia and Singapore are pushing to become regional hubs for higher education, starting with IBCs. Hou Kok Chung, a deputy minister for higher education in Malaysia, says that his government hopes to establish as many foreign campuses as possible, as long as the original school has a high enough international ranking and a good reputation.

The country already has 7 IBCs, and is currently reviewing applications for 25 more. One of the first foreign universities brought into Malaysia was the University of Nottingham, a top-20 British school with a branch campus outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Although it only opened 12 years ago, the school already serves a student body 4,000-strong, says Christine Ennew, the school’s pro-vice-chancellor for internationalization. It has also developed a research portfolio heavy on agricultural sciences, a specialization that could not be replicated in its urban U.K. campus.

For established Universities, trans-national initiatives are generally a high-risk, high-reward gamble. There is much to be gained for a school that sets up in another country, and motivations tend to fall into some combination of four categories: public service, increased revenue, reputation, and overall internationalization of the university.

Administrators from NUMed, which operates as a non-profit in accordance with British law, readily admit to seeking all of these but financial gain. “We aspire to be a world-class university and the modern trend in higher education is to widen one’s global footprint,” says NUMed Provost and Chief Executive Officer Reg Jordan.

He said the Malaysian campus will help train Malaysia’s next generation of doctors, and cultivate a greater understanding of international medicine for Newcastle. “It is all about the perception of being a global university,” he said, adding that although Newcastle University is technically a nonprofit, it hopes to be able to make enough money in its Malaysia venture to self-fund continued expansion. (Time World)

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