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.
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.