April 2013 issue

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Going offshore

There has been a notable increase in the number of tertiary institutions setting up education posts overseas. Nicola Hancox explores the offshore campus model and the rationale behind their inception.

In the 1990s, in a publication called The Multinational University, I predicted that many universities would embrace the realities of globalisation and would engage much more with transnational education and create branch campuses,” asserts Professor Dr Maurits Van Rooijen at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) in the UK.

Indeed, Van Rooijen’s early vision has become a modern day reality. According to a report compiled by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, at the end of 2011 there were more than 200 degree-granting international branch campuses in operation around the world, and new faculties are emerging with growing regularity. The prestigious Xiamen University, China, recently revealed plans to open its first overseas post in Malaysia.

“In global business you can either move the products or make the mobility virtual,” says Van Rooijen. In LSBF’s case they have endeavoured to achieve both, establishing satellite campuses in Toronto, Canada, and Singapore and offering a distance learning platform which has over 12,000 subscribers.

University College London (UCL), UK established an international branch campus in Qatar in 2010, and according to UCL Qatar’s Brett Kershaw they had a clear strategy upon entering the Qatari market. He explains that they wanted to focus on high-level, postgraduate education with a major emphasis on research. Now one part of the world’s first physical ‘multiversity’ – Qatar Education City, which comprises eight international universities – it caters for highly qualified professionals in niche fields such as archaeology and conservation.

“Overseas campuses offer the opportunity for developing international student recruitment,” says a spokesperson at the University of Nottingham, UK – which has offshore branches in China and Malaysia. Indeed, as competition intensifies, the pool of students becomes ever more diluted. Moving a programme to foreign shores is therefore a viable solution, giving an institution greater access to a particular market.

The University of Calgary, Canada, was selected by the State of Qatar to offer a Bachelor of Nursing Degree programme and launched its campus (UCQ) in 2007. Today, there are 328 students enrolled at UCQ, 23 per cent of which are Qatari nationals. “The student population is made up of a variety of nationalities but they all reside in Qatar,” notes a university representative.

Emirati students form the majority of the postgraduate population at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), notes Peter Hawke. However, local students do not dominate the campus demographic entirely. India is the largest source of undergraduate students, along with Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and the former soviet republics (CIS countries).

Having welcomed its first cohort of master’s students in August last year, it is too early to identify trending source markets at UCL Qatar. However, 28 per cent of current enrolees are local students, says Kershaw, with international representation from the USA, Greece, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, China and the UK.

“Overseas campuses can offer a cost-effective means of accessing internationally accredited education in developing and dynamic locations,” relates Hawke. Indeed, the offshore education price tag is often lower than tuition at a parent institution. “Students have the added benefit of studying for a UK education while staying at home to save money on living expenses or be close to their families,” notes a spokesperson at the University of Nottingham.

As the first Australian tertiary institution to be represented in the Gulf region (est. 1993), Hawke says they originally specialised in English language preparation, but increased demand for academic programmes soon led them to change direction. “Over the past 20 years UOWD’s portfolio of programmes has continued to grow and we now offer 25 undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral research programmes, whilst maintaining our original services as a language training provider,” he notes.

Local students are keen to take advantage of the internationally renowned qualifications that are part of the offshore campus package. UOWD’s programmes are reviewed and assessed by the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Authority (TEQSA), the same national higher education regulator that audits University of Wollongong, Australia.

Students at University of Nottingham’s Malaysia and China campuses can expect the same academically rigorous programmes that its parent university in the UK provides, says a spokesperson. All campuses are reviewed by the Quality Assurance Agency [the independent body responsible for reviewing the performance of universities and HE colleges in the UK], they add.

The trend for offshore education shows no signs of abating. As Kershaw concludes, “There are more students studying abroad than at any time in history.” As such, institutions will increasingly look to spread their global reach and influence in any way they can.

Getting the marketing right

Focussing on the local market, a spokesperson at the University of Calgary – Qatar, says that they utilise local media advertising (newspapers, magazines, outdoor billboards) to attract new students. “We also attend career and educational and health fairs,” they add.

The University of Nottingham uses an array of marketing channels including open days, student fairs, school and college visits and overseas agents, as well as brochures and its website.

Programmes at UCL Qatar are relatively specialist, notes the university’s Brett Kershaw, therefore it has to be targeted in the way that it markets its provision. As well as a number of profile raising visits each year, UCL Qatar visits relevant departments at other universities with a view to establish collaborative ties.

As well as direct recruitment and utilising alumni, the University of Wollongong Dubai has built a solid network of student admission professionals who operate in the field to recruit students, says Peter Hawke.

Meanwhile, Professor Dr Maurits Van Rooijen at the London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) in the UK notes that the school aims to “get as close to students as we possibly can”. In conjunction with its partner agents, LSBF representatives travel to student fairs to promote international open days.

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