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15 unions worldwide have now signed an international agreement on defending education and employment standards in the context of global marketisation. Together, these unions represent more than half a million tertiary education workers around the world.

The deepening global recession and the cutting back of public provision will only give greater encouragement to a burgeoning private sector, making the international agreement only more relevant and important.

We are now turning this community of over 500,000 academics into something tangible.

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Branch Campuses: The Next Bubble?

Many universities and colleges in the mainly English-speaking developed countries are investing more and more of their resources into offshore operations, including branch campuses.  According to the UK-based  Observatory for Borderless Higher Education, there are now 162 branch campuses around the world, up by more than 40% since 2006.

Many of these “campuses” are joint-ventures and franchising arrangements with local providers. Despite the hype spun by university and college leaders, in most cases the motivation for these initiatives has been financial, not educational. And the product being sold hasn’t entirely been up to standards.

In a recent article in International Higher Education, Philip Altbach pulls no punches in calling out branch campuses for what they really are:

Let us be honest about branch campuses. With a few notable exceptions, they are not really campuses. They are, rather, small, specialized, and limited academic programs offered offshore to take advantage of a perceived market. Not surprisingly, the most popular programs offered are in business management and information technology — with fairly low setup costs and significant worldwide demand. Except where generous hosts…provide facilities and infrastructure, branch campuses become rather spartan places, resembling office complexes rather than academic institutions.

In the rush to establish these branch “campuses”, many institutions are risking their reputations and scarce finances on something that, like the stock market before the bubble burst, seemed like a sure bet even if the dirty little secret was that things were simply not sustainable in the long run.

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