The Decline of Overseas University Branch Campuses

Universities open campuses in foreign countries, with mixed results.


An article recently published in University Affairs, an online news source for Higher Education in Canada, has reported that overseas branch campuses may no longer seen as the once believed answer to obtaining an “international education” without leaving home.  Branch campuses enable students to have a coveted “study abroad” experience, obtain a high quality education and graduate with a globally respected and recognized degree or certificate from a Canadian institution, without ever having set foot in Canada.   A less expensive option, to be sure, especially for students from low income households.   It does make sense in many ways, but the idea is not without flaws.  

Whether it is the University of Calgary in Qatar, York University in India or the University of Waterloo in Dubai, there are some common problems that seem to affect all branch campuses including the lenghth of time required to set up shop on foreign soil, facing tough competition from the US, UK and Australia, as well as high running costs.  The main problem and biggest challenge, according to UA, however is low enrollment.  Any university needs students to run.  The Universoty of Waterloo, for example, is reportedly closing its Dubai campus in late 2013 for just this very reason.  

So what does it all mean?    The histories and reputations of universities and colleges in Canada take years, not to mention thousands of graduates and  ample marketing funds, to cultivate.  What works for one country, especially the “home” country, may not work abroad.    Perhaps it is simply that  education, unlike some businesses, requires the participation of the whole community to be successful.  Perhaps international students, who come to our shores to obtain degrees, are simply coming for so much more than a peice of paper.  Experiencing our society, meeting our people and frequenting our businesses and learning to understand Canada and Canadians should really count for something in this day and age.   I do believe that this is one of the mains points of promoting internationalization, loosening borders and encouraging our young people to become global citizens.  Study abroad may not be the only way to achieve these goals, but it surely must be the easiest.

Sheri Love-Yasue


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