Western destinations like Australia, Canada, the UK and the US have been the preferred choice for many Asian students seeking to study abroad. As the competition for international students intensifies and the political climate in some of the leading destinations becomes less welcoming, institutions are adapting and offering innovative ways of engaging with international students.
One way is through international branch campuses (IBC). A recent report on international branch campuses, Trends and Developments, 2016 by Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) and Cross-Border Education Research (C-BERT) identified that in 2015, there were 249 IBCs around the world, enrolling 180,000 students.
Of the total IBCs, more than half (132) were operated by just three countries — the US (78), the UK (39) and Australia (15). And Asia was host to 66 or 27% of all IBCs — China (32), Singapore (12), Malaysia (12), China (Hong Kong SAR) (5), and South Korea (5).
Although small in numbers, IBCs are one of the most resource-intensive commitments for a university aiming to internationalize and engage with students in the region. At their core, IBCs offer a foreign degree for students while remaining in their home country or region. IBCs change the direction of mobility. Instead of a student traveling abroad to earn a degree, the campuses go overseas.
Students at branch campuses have chosen to earn a degree globally but at the local cost. These ‘glocal’ students can be domestic or international. For example, Chinese students studying in international branch campuses of foreign universities in China. The other type of ‘glocal’ student is international — Indian students, say, studying at Chinese universities.
The opportunity to earn a foreign degree at an IBC comes with its own set of individual expectations and corresponding institutional approaches to meet those expectations. Research indicates that the reputations of Western universities result in students forming a high expectation about the quality of service from international campuses. Word-of-mouth can be an effective marketing tool for IBCs, but it can also have negative effects if students are not fully satisfied with their study experience.
Emerging ‘glocal’ student expectations at IBCs
A recent session at the 12th annual Asia-Pacific Association of International Education (APAIE) conference March 20 to 23 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan brought together senior leaders from three campuses to discuss how they are engaging with Asia through their campuses.
Tony Downes, provost & CEO of the University of Reading Malaysia, noted that: “Students — and especially their parents — expect the education and experience we provide to be as much like studying in the UK as we can make it.”
Min Park, dean of administration at George Mason University Korea, concurred that it is important to students and parents that the faculty from the home campus teach the courses. Often students want the same quality of education that the American campuses provide, she said.
Jean Chen, executive dean of the International Business School Suzhou at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University China, noted that many students and their parents want to use their experience at an international campus to go abroad for further education and to earn a post-graduate degree.
Addressing ‘glocal’ student expectations at IBCs
Downes noted: “The way we are trying to address the expectations about education and student experience is to bring several faculty — and professional support staff — from the university in the UK.”
Min suggested that they are working towards setting the “realistic target and goals and communicate with the constituencies [parents, students, government] openly and transparently to share those challenges as well as vision and planning to overcome those challenges.”
Jean said they constantly aim to provide clear channels of communication that engage local and central authorities and the home campus in the UK. This allows not only work toward a common vision but also sets the right expectations.
Many countries in Asia offer strong potential for engaging with ‘glocal’ students through international branch campuses. However, meeting the high expectations of students and families will be a long-term endeavor. As more students graduate from these campuses, their experiences and careers will also help provide a better example of what to expect.