Can foreign branch campuses be research universities?

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Can foreign branch campuses be research universities?

Many international branch campuses, or IBCs, are established by research-intensive universities in their home countries such as Monash University Malaysia and NYU Abu Dhabi. However, these IBCs are hardly regarded as research-intensive universities. IBCs are usually deemed as teaching institutions without sufficient resources to carry out intensive research.

There are various aspects that attribute to a lack of research focus among IBCs. The initial motivation to develop branch campuses is generally profit driven. British and Australian universities, two top IBC exporting nations, are confronted with continuous funding cuts from their governments and had to be entrepreneurial in search for additional sources of funding; therefore, the establishments of IBCs in emerging Asian and Middle East regions. In-depth research which requires substantial funding is thus not of significance.

Support from local host governments can be deemed challenging because IBCs are viewed as ‘foreign’ entities. As such, these host governments allow the development of IBCs primarily to meet the growing demand of higher education at the undergraduate level. Postgraduates courses are offered mainly to enhance professional skills. Therefore, coursework programmes as opposed to research programmes are offered in most IBCs.

Further, academics involved in the IBC exercises are predominantly fly-in, fly-out lecturers from the home countries who spend short periods at the IBCs delivering intensive courses, without tangible opportunities to conduct research. However, as the number of IBCs increase, some are becoming more permanent features of the local higher education landscape, particularly in Malaysia. Hence, it is a norm to consider that these campuses will start to have the capability and inclination to conduct research. The recruitment of academics from the home country will also be for longer terms. Also, some IBCs now even have some access to local host government research grants, particularly the Chinese and Malaysian governments as they begin placing emphasis on making these campuses more research-focused.

The ‘Triple-Helix’ model seeks to shed light on how entrepreneurial research universities function. The model needs three key factors working in concordance: government support, research-oriented human resources in universities and partnering universities.

When applying this model to examine IBCs, the partnership with industries is said to be the primary challenge in turning IBCs into research universities. This is however, not an exclusive problem of IBCs. National flagship universities across emerging countries encounter the same problem.

The inauguration of IBCs in industrial parks or special economic zones is not a testament to the development of a close relationship with industry despite the geographical proximity. Many of these special zones house multinational organisations who research and development departments are located outside borders. There is not a need for basic scientific research to be conducted locally.

Hence, while local governments can contribute with substantial funding to bring research universities and IBCs to their shores, as demonstrated by some of the wealthy Gulf countries, funding alone may not suffice to bring about university-industry partnerships.

Source: University World News

Join us in the upcoming QS-APPLE 2018 from 21-23 November 2018 in  Seoul, South Korea, as we discuss the topic on “Future Universities in the Asia-Pacific: The Changing Face of Higher Education”.