Navigating the increased internationalisation of Higher Education


Although ethnic and cultural diversity enhance the student experience, and certainly provide a valuable source of revenue for many institutions, there must be a ceiling (albeit unofficial) for numbers from individual countries or universities risk dissipating the student experience upon which their reputations have been built. The answer may be the international campus which combines the brand and ethos of the mother institution with the affordability, availability and flexibility of a local centre.

The trend toward greater internationalism has been encouraged by governments and many institutions over recent years. Students from the Far East in particular, now come in large numbers (78,715 from China alone in 20121), benefiting from good educations and an excellent work ethic. Of particular appeal are the Russell Group of Universities (and those with first rate reputations) but the very thing that attracts these students – the British university experience – would be compromised and lose some of its value if too many of one nationality were allowed to dominate.

The subsumation of British higher education into the melting pot of diversity is, however, a long way off. Not only are admissions teams keenly aware of the limitations of recruiting international students in large numbers but in fact, to meet  diversity targets, not all who meet the qualification standard can be accepted from one country because places also need to be made available to other nationalities. The policy that was to create equality has therefore inadvertently created discrimination. Thankfully, there are alternatives.

Taking the mountain to Mohammed is not new in higher education. The University of Nottingham has its Malaysian campus; New York University has one in Shanghai, and Yale NUS College in Singapore. They are not alone. Nor is the process one of empire building and it has certainly never been one-way. In the case of Malaysia, its government had formulated an ambition to be a major higher education destination by 2020 and saw international university campuses as key to delivering on this pledge.

Making the decision to build a campus abroad is, however, only half the battle. An international campus must be seamlessly integrated into a global brand offering. Nottingham has always promoted its “one university, multiple campuses” philosophy and this was subsequently rolled out when it opened a further campus in China in 2004.

Above all, these new establishments should never appear to be outposts of a distant empire but an enhancement to the overall student experience offered. Exchange opportunities between campuses and countries help to embed a global campus into the psyche of the university and the transfer of students between the two will be mutually beneficial.

There are other alternatives to consider. If the principle goal for higher education is to be truly global, to engage learners from many countries in a cost-effective, controllable and flexible manner, then online and open learning cannot be ignored. Yet, for many, distance learning may deliver an academic qualification but it cannot boast any kind of student experience. The friendships and contacts developed over years of study and enhanced by a good alumni office are not comparable to a solitary learning experience.

Lastly, while the benefits of an international campus are evident, it is important to consider the lifecycle of this model: the opportunities in the Far East will not last forever. While established campuses should, if well-managed and integrated, retain their attraction, Asian universities are learning from us all the time and may well consider overseas development themselves in the future. The continued flow of students is inevitable.

1. UK CISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs): Top Non-EU sending countries: China (78,715 2012) India (29,900), Nigeria (17,620), USA (16,335)