Branch Campuses in UAE Come with Bogey of Western Culture

  • 19 September 2013

Some universities bring western values rather than focusing on producing doctors and engineers but the UAE which hosts nearly 40 such branches should focus more of the practical aspect rather than the cultural aspect, a regional conference on education was told yesterday.

Prof Phillip Altbach, director of the Centre for International Higher Education, Boston College, US, said it was still unknown how much international branch campuses bring their own academic cultures with them and what is the combination of academic culture from the home institution versus its adaptation to the place of operation.

Prof Altbach told the concluding day of the 4th annual conference on the Future of Education in the UAE, organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, their may be a relationship between home institution and quality on its overseas campuses. “We need to evaluate exactly how effective they are. One of the worries I have is can they attract teachers to come, not just for a weekend, but to live at the branch campus and infuse the culture of New York or Paris on the campus? We need to have those answers. I do believe in internalisation but with a cost-to-benefit analysis. The problem is that too often those involved only discuss the benefit and not the cost,’’ he said.

To a question on what is going to be the future of these universities, Prof Altbach said there was no way to predict the future. “Indian universities have flocked to Dubai mainly to make money but they also serve a purpose.

Regarding K12 education involving foreigners, he said that can be deeply problematic, but foreign educational institutions can play an important role at the same time.

Fatima Al Shams, deputy vice chancellor, administrative affairs, Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, said the effectiveness of branch campuses can be measured by how they are engaging in building research capability. “This is what we look for while evaluating their utility. Are branch campuses using the same way to teach students as the home institution? Paris-Sorbonne has the same programme, same faculty, same curricula etc. Internationalisation of education will widen competition and better serve the needs of the students. There will also be knowledge spillover and collaboration,” she said.

Prof Jason Lane, assistant professor, School of Education, University at Albany, the State University of New York, said the UAE has about 40 overseas branches all across the country and Dubai is the leading importer of branch campuses in the UAE. On their impact, he said economic contribution is important, as these branch campuses are also spenders and consumers. “ Another critical aspect is the developer of human capital since they attract staff from various parts of the world. They can also be a source of foreign direct investment (FDI) from other companies and countries.

They can provide help to local businesses and bring resources to the industry in terms of talent. They foster research and innovation and some of them are transforming into research institutions, the benefit of which spills over into the community. These institutions are creating research ‘ecosystems’ and that benefits local communities. They are building labs and state-of-the-art facilities. In many cases, governments partner with them and there is also incentivised collaboration. They train Ph.D students and therefore further build local talent. Universities are critical hub of knowledge and the focus is on making this knowledge economically viable. Apart from the knowledge spillover, there is also internship and corporate training and research projects.”

He added it was not all about economics and we must strive for an academic culture, which can be replicated in the host country. “Knowledge transfer happens in the form of faculties coming to host countries, which can build this culture. There is also a legitimacy issue for both the home and the host countries, since these universities represent the soft power that the home country has. Still, things are not all utopian and there are limitations as well. They can sometimes be costly to the host governments and may require changes in local regulations. Lack of local commitment could also be an issue. What is needed is total engagement with these universities as there could also be cultural clashes on a number of issues,” Prof lane said.