International Strategy for Higher Education Institutions

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Posted on by Vicky Lewis

How does this play out in international campus development?

Last year I participated in the seven-week Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the 'Knowledge Economy' MOOC, run jointly by University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Bristol. It covered a lot of really interesting ground and one element that sticks in my mind is a podcast by Gabriel Hawawini (INSEAD).

In this, Hawawini explores rationales for setting up an international campus. He articulates the key to the whole process (of determining whether to establish an international presence and in what form) as being about interrogating one’s own mission and raison d’être as an institution.

Relating developments back to institutional mission

It sounds simple. What does the institution want to achieve? Does establishing a presence abroad help to achieve this? This is applying the elementary principles of strategy development.

I wonder if it always happens this way round though or whether, in some cases, the idea of having a presence abroad comes first and is justified by reference to a particular institutional aim (e.g. to raise our profile in a key region) without going back and really exploring, debating openly and questioning how this would support the overarching institutional mission.    

Hawawini’s podcast shares INSEAD’s ‘realisation’ in the late 1990s that the world is more than Europe and that, if INSEAD wanted to develop truly globally employable managers, it had to extract itself from behind the ‘wall of Europe’.

His philosophy and approach are explored in depth in his working paper (The Internationalization of Higher Education Institutions: A Critical Review and a Radical Proposal). What really resonates with me is the notion of a ‘model of the truly global HEI whose mission is to learn from the world rather than teach the world what the institution knows’. This is such a critical shift from the usual mindset.

Questions of identity

Hawawini stresses that INSEAD wanted an Asia campus (not an Asian campus) and selected Singapore as a location because it wished to retain its identity as a multi-cultural international school and there was less risk of being assimilated into a dominant local culture in a small cosmopolitan city state such as Singapore.

He emphasises strongly that it is a ‘one school, multiple location’ model, not a branch campus model. For further exploration of this concept, take a look at Kratochvil and Karram’s April 2014 article From protégé to peer – measuring maturity at branch campuses .

This highlights a shift in terminology ‘to “multi-campus international universities” rather than “branch-campuses” or “off-shore” institutions’ and argues that this shift ‘represents a step in re-imagining international branch campuses as part of global institutions with multiple sites of operation, rather than merely an offshoot of a traditional campus’.

The article goes on to give examples of the characteristics of multi-campus international universities which have matured beyond the branch campus model – such as research engagement within the local context which can then be transferred to other campuses (learning from the world…); and reciprocal administration and quality assurance (as opposed to the kind of ‘parent-child’ approach typically adopted with traditional branch campuses).

I would add to this another point made by Hawawini about the campus having a role to play in supporting the mission and motives underpinning the host country’s education and development strategies. There’s an element of give and take here. The presence of an international campus generates significant benefits to the institution as a whole (or should do, if done properly) and it seems only right that it contributes in return to supporting the national priorities of the country which is hosting it.

Dealing with resistance

Hawawini mentions the initial concerns of employees and alumni regarding the dilution of institutional brand and identity. These reflect my own experience working with UK universities. I have encountered great scepticism (particularly on the part of academic staff). The international campus can be seen as being a ‘pet project’ of top management or sometimes even part of an empire-building agenda. And, on a personal level, having to get involved is seen as an unwelcome distraction from the ‘core business’ of research and teaching students at the home campus.

There are measures that can be taken to minimise the level of scepticism. In my view, the most important of these goes back to having an open debate with all stakeholders at an early stage about the core mission of the institution and whether / how this development has the potential to strengthen it. This will not completely dissipate the scepticism, but it will (a) generate some champions and advocates and (b) ensure that views are aired and objections flagged at a time when there is still an opportunity to rethink things.

Another approach is to demonstrate in practical terms how being able to undertake research in a different national / regional context can enrich the experience of staff and students at the home (or perhaps it would be better to say ‘original’ or established?) campus (see Kratochvil and Karram 2014).

I have also noticed that some individuals who are extremely sceptical when looking at the new development from a purely theoretical perspective (and firmly ensconced in the home campus environment) can change rapidly into passionate advocates once they have been to visit the new campus and experienced the excitement and opportunities associated with setting up a new initiative in a new setting.

Ultimately though, if developing an international campus is going to support achievement of institutional mission and become a tangible manifestation of some core underpinning values, institutions need to be prepared to take the plunge in the face of resistance (having carefully considered - and developed a framework to manage - the risks).

Mapping models onto missions

It seems that certain models for establishing an international presence correspond better than others to specific aspects within institutional mission. Going back to the INSEAD example, if a key driver was to ‘learn from the world’, then I can see that espousing a ‘one school, multiple location’ model is logically consistent with this.

So, is the adoption of a more traditional branch campus approach an acknowledgement of a different mission driven, perhaps, more by a desire to boost international profile? If so, how do we account for the argument (Kratochvil and Karram 2014) that what starts out as a typical branch campus (the protégé) may mature over time to become an equal member of a ‘multi-campus international university’ (the peer)?

Does this mean that the mission of the original institution has changed over time, influenced by the new campus? Or is there an acknowledgement that a period of nurturing needs to happen before an international campus can play a full and equal role within the institution’s international ‘family’?

If you’d like to discuss further…..

I’ll be at the British Council’s Going Global conference in London where I’m doing a Poster Presentation at 1445 Tuesday 2 June on 'Collaborating across organisational cultures to market your international campus'. It takes place in the Benjamin Britten Lounge on the third floor of the conference centre: poster PP3.07.

It would be great to meet anyone with an interest in international campus development – the theory or the practice!

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