- The University of Groningen, one of the oldest and largest colleges in The Netherlands, has scuttled plans to create a branch in the Chinese city of Yantai. The satellite campus would have eventually enrolled 10,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. programs, but Groningen’s board cited “insufficient support” for the plan from the University Council, an elected body composed of half faculty and staff members and half students, Inside Higher Ed reports.
- Some University Council members cited concerns about restrictions on academic freedom in China and a lack of faculty support as a reason to veto the project. Others did not like specific details of the plan, including an insufficient budget, which they feared would lead to a lack of quality education at the Chinese satellite campus. In the end, the commission’s report said, “There are a number of risks that have not been sufficiently thought through,” and benefits for Groningen were too hard to quantify to justify the plan.
- Students members of the University Council gave the idea mixed reviews. Some worried that with the same degrees offered both in China and at home, a lack of resources to provide quality education in Yanhai could mean the value of a degree would stumble in Groningen, too. Students also had trouble with the issue of academic freedom, with plans to appoint a Chinese Communist Party secretary to the Yantai campus board. But overall, student leaders were supportive of the move, believing it “could lead to an influx of more and better students, more and better staff and research funds” as well as “opportunities to study in a high-quality program in China,” the report says.
The export of U.S. higher education internationally is one of Education Dive's trends to watch in 2018, and some American universities have found new, affordable ways to expand their international footprints. The University of Arizona, for instance, has been aggressively building micro-campuses that deliver collaborative degree programs to local students on the campuses of partner universities in countries including Mexico, Taiwan, the Philippines and Jordan. And in today’s political climate, in which international students may hesitate to come to the U.S. to study, looking at ways to bring the strengths of U.S. institutions to other countries remains an idea administrators are exploring.
But before colleges grasp too quickly to the idea of international campuses, and the revenue and recognition they might bring, the Groningen experience highlights pitfalls to consider. College leaders must determine the reasons they feel their programs would be a good fit for the country or area they seek to land in, and then give the project enough funding to maintain high academic standards. Even Yale University has struggled with the exporting idea, and its recently installed outpost in Singapore has repeatedly been accused of poor academic quality.
Universities also must also gain strong buy-in from faculty and students at their primary campus or risk losing both if they move forward with an unpopular plan. That likely means directly discussing the political climate of the country they seek to partner with, and whether that jives with the university's mission. Yale’s Singapore venture, for example, is the nation’s first liberal-arts college, and the Ivy League school struggles to mesh its values with the country’s strict free speech policies.