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The internationalization of higher education – Instalment 2

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By Margaret Adolphus

Creating a global brand

Instalment 1 of "The internationalization of higher education" considered how most universities are seeking to be international players in response to the demands of globalization.

Most do this by attracting students from abroad, by offering "international" elements in their curricula and classes in English, and through partnerships. However, a few institutions consciously seek to define themselves as "global universities". But what does this mean?

Dr David Pilsbury, chief executive of World Universities Network, a network of 15 research-intensive universities across five continents, believes that the notion of a "global university" is as yet ill-defined (Pilsbury et al., 2007). And John Wilson, head of Salford Business School in the UK, maintains that the term "globalization" is better applied to the world economy, and prefers to talk about universities being "international".

Some universities are consciously at the top of the league; global players by virtue of their continuing reputation. For them, being "international" may refer to the inevitable bias which comes from responding to globalization within their curriculum and research, and their ability to attract students and faculty from all over the world.

Speaking at a conference on globalization, Eric Thomas, vice chancellor of the University of Bristol, listed the requirements for an international university, which included:

  • "brand promotion" in major disciplines,
  • "excellence throughout" including finances, administration, governance and leadership,
  • an undergraduate curriculum that prepares students for a global world,
  • working with global companies (Morgan, 2010).

Research powerhouses

Instalment 1 alluded to ways in which the curriculum is being internationalized (see the section on "Creating the international experience at home"). Arguably, the most important factor in a global university is its research reputation. In this area, more and more universities are developing partnerships across institutions, countries and even continents, to address global problems.

For example, "Development impacts of climate narratives" is a programme which looks at the impact of climate change on poorer communities (see The main universities involved are the Universities of Cape Town, Bergen, Bristol, and Washington, Seattle.

Research partnerships do not just relate to "modern problems" – potentially less fashionable disciplines can receive a boost from the multiple disciplinary perspectives that many partners can bring, and hence attract more funding.

See, for example, CARMEN (the Co-operative for the Advancement of Research through a Medieval European Network) which is a worldwide network of organizations involved in research on the Middle Ages, the main partners being the universities of York, Bergen, Bristol, and Western Australia. This collaboration brings together arts, social and natural sciences, and aims to deliver global impact.

The common factor is a combination of excellence.

Creating a physical presence

A few universities are using physical presence to create a global brand, establishing portal or satellite campuses in other countries. To date this has mostly been in the Middle East and East Asia.

Take, for example, the University of Nottingham, which claims that,

" ... internationalization is at the heart of everything we do as a university".

It is certainly in the top tier – Nottingham was positioned 91st in the 2009 QS/Times Higher Education university rankings.

However, what caused it to be named, in 2006, higher education institution of the year by the UK's Times Higher Education was the fact that it had opened campuses in China and Malaysia.

Such developments are often welcomed by the receiving country. They mean that students can have an American/British education without leaving their own country, with all its cost implications and having to come to terms with a foreign culture.

Initiatives such as the Qatar Foundation help the countries that sponsor them to develop rapidly by importing educational resources from abroad, and combining them with their own systems to build a blend which includes the best of both.

Education City is the Qatar Foundation's flagship project. Here students can study medicine at Cornell, international affairs at Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth, and engineering at Texas A&M.
The above examples involve a single school or faculty. What differentiates initiatives such as that of Nottingham is its comprehensiveness.

Nottingham has created not just a single school, but an entire replica university, offering "the Nottingham experience" in China and Malaysia, with the same system of quality assurance as in the UK. The China campus in Ningbo even has the same signature architectural feature, the tall tower, as in the English campus.

In both cases, teaching and research reflect the concerns of the host countries: for example, in China, a research centre has been developed which looks at zero carbon and sustainable building technologies.

Image: Photo of Nottingham's Ningbo campus.

Nottingham's Ningbo campus

New York University, under its entrepreneurial president John Sexton, is well on the way to a similar expansion. Calling itself the "Global Network University", and claiming that "no university has greater global presence" (New York University, 2010), it has ten study-abroad centres in four continents, and more in the pipeline.

NYU Abu Dhabi will open in September 2010, offering a broad liberal arts programme and a full research university. It claims that admission will be highly competitive, and that faculty will include Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners (Hechinger, 2010), so standards will be maintained. Further plans are afoot for a campus in China.

Universities that create a global presence through real estate as well as through research, faculty, curriculum and reputation, are a phenomenon, not a template: they represent one, not the, model for a global university, despite the advantages of the arrangement to both themselves and the host country.

New York University, for example, is 52nd in the world rankings, a very respectable position (although it was criticized by Business Week for its low proportion of full-time faculty and high level of student debt), but it is number 11 in donations to US colleges. By 2007, Sexton had already raised over $3 billion, and he plans to raise a similar amount to improve the New York campus. The Abu Dhabi branch was bank-rolled by the emirate (Hechinger, 2010).

Publisher's note

The author is grateful to the following people for their kind help with this article:

  • Nicola Hijlkema, vice rector for international relations at the Estonian Business School, Estonia.
  • Angela Melley, faculty international student learning officer, Faculty of Law, Business & Social Sciences, University of Glasgow.