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Title: The challenges of managing an international branch campus : an exploratory study
Author: Healey, Nigel
ISNI:       0000 0004 5370 8336
Awarding Body: University of Bath
Current Institution: University of Bath
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis is a study of the challenges of managing an international branch campus (IBC) of a UK university. Branch or satellite campuses are not a new phenomenon. Within the UK, the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham and Southampton all began as university colleges of the University of London, teaching a prescribed curriculum and acting as an examination centre for the University of London. Ironically perhaps, over a century after London provided higher education to the provinces, at least 13 provincial universities currently operate branch campuses in the capital, including Glasgow Caledonian University and the Universities of Liverpool, Cumbria, South Wales and Ulster (Quality Assurance Agency 2014). Internationally, the University of Ceylon (now separated into the Universities of Colombo, Peradeniya, Vidyodaya and Kelaniya) was also set up as an international college of the University of London. After World War II, a number of Commonwealth university colleges of the University of London were established under the ‘scheme of special relationships’. These colleges offered University of London degrees and were provided with academic support to develop their systems and procedures so that they could eventually become independent. The group of Commonwealth colleges in the special relationship included the predecessors of today’s Universities of Ibadan, Nairobi, West Indies and Zimbabwe (Harte 1986). The current wave of IBCs is, however, different from the university colleges of yesteryear in two important respects. First, today’s IBCs are the private initiatives of UK universities, rather than part of a wider development policy agenda driven by the UK or a foreign colonial government. Second, the IBCs are privately owned, either wholly or jointly by the UK universities, rather than being public institutions set up by a government. This is reflected in the titles of the new IBCs which either position them as an extension of the UK university (eg, University of Reading Malaysia, University of Middlesex Dubai) or highlight the nature of the educational partnership (eg, International University of Malaya Wales, Xi’an Jaiotong Liverpool University). The common thread connecting today’s IBCs to the past is that they follow the historical 8 convention of teaching curricula designed in the UK and awarding the degrees of the home university. The 21st century version of the IBC is a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to the conclusion of the ‘Uruguay Round’ of trade talks and the establishment of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in 1995, non-tariff barriers effectively precluded trade in educational services in most markets. The oldest ‘modern’ IBC is the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, which was set up in 2000. Most of the UK’s IBC’s have been established only in the last ten years and a number ─ for example, the University of Reading Malaysia and Heriot-Watt University Malaysia ─ are still in their infancy. Building and operating an IBC represents a ‘brave new frontier’ for UK universities and this thesis sheds important light on the challenges involved. The international strategy literature provides a valuable conceptual framework within which to organise these challenges. The globalisation of business is far more advanced than that of higher education and the management models much better understood. Multinational corporations (MNCs) have developed sophisticated techniques for managing extensive networks of overseas subsidiaries and have dedicated functional departments to oversee the movement of labour, goods, services and capital across national borders. A fundamental challenge for MNCs is to determine how much to localise their product or service to meet the needs of each national market. Universities face the same dilemma with their IBCs. Should they be ‘clones’ of the home campus, providing an educational experience which is identical to that on the home campus? Or should they localise the curriculum and pedagogy to adapt to the learning styles and context of the host market? Unlike MNCs, however, UK universities are not huge corporations with HR and finance departments accustomed to dealing with transfer pricing, international tax issues and managing internationally mobile staff. They are stolid, UK-based organisations with a public sector ethos and a tradition of being managed by academics, rather than professional career managers. They are characterised by arcane governance structures, internal politics and glacial decision-making. More than half the UK universities (ie, 9 the former polytechnics and colleges of higher education) have been independent of local government control for less than 25 years and many still operate on the basis of employment contracts and working practices from this era. The scale of the IBCs relative to their UK campuses is, moreover, generally so small that the organisational ‘centre of gravity’ is overwhelmingly the UK-based operation. A second difference between MNCs’ subsidiaries and IBCs is that, despite the advent of GATS, higher education remains a highly regulated sector. UK universities are subject to oversight by the national Higher Education Funding Councils, the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). When they establish IBCs which provide UK degrees, the IBCs are subject to the same scrutiny by the QAA. At the same time, IBCs are regulated by the equivalent bodies in the host country, either arms-length organisations like the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) or the host Ministry of Education. Governments in many countries subsidise higher education, either indirectly by providing students with grants or loans to contribute towards tuition costs or directly by subsidising universities or operating them as part of the public sector. To control the cost to the taxpayer, they often impose enrolment caps; to meet public good objectives, governments may use a range of levers from moral suasion to purpose-specific grants to steer universities to admit students from underrepresented backgrounds or undertake research in particular areas. At the very least, IBCs must compete with subsidised, regulated local universities, but often they themselves are subject to the same regulation and control. Because of these two important differences between MNCs and universities, the focus of this study is on the challenges of managing an IBC as perceived by the IBC managers. While there is a well-developed literature on principal-agent theory, much of the international strategy literature on localisation approaches the problem from an organisational perspective; that is, it couches the challenge to the MNC as an entity of determining the optimal degree of localisation. In the case of an IBC, the senior management of the home university may similarly take a view, in principle, of the optimal degree of localisation of the curriculum. But because the management systems of a UK university are so underdeveloped in terms of controlling a small IBC thousands of kilometres away, and because there are other equally powerful stakeholders in the 10 host country involved, it is the IBC manager in situ who has to balance these competing demands. This study uses critical realism as the conceptual framework. This is because IBC managers are operating in the context of hard objective, external facts (government regulations, enrolment targets, financial budgets), but they nevertheless have to construct their own understanding of their objectives within the context of the wider social structures and power relations. For IBC managers, they are working in an alien culture where they may not speak the local language or fully comprehend the social norms and conventions. They have to work out what they think are the agendas of the host government, their joint venture partner and their competitors and what they believe their students want. They also have to interpret the home university’s objectives, which may be vague or ambiguous given the differing objectives of the most senior leaders (eg, the pro vice-chancellor teaching and learning is likely to take a different view from the chief financial officer about the objectives of the IBC) and the shifting political alliances in the senior management team. Using semi-structured interviews with IBC managers, mostly in their own offices at the IBC, this thesis finds that the managers feel pressure to localise the staff base, the curriculum (broadly defined to embrace content, pedagogy and assessment) and research. This pressure emanates from five main clusters of stakeholders: the home university, the joint venture partner, the host country (government, regulators and employers), competitors and students.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (D.B.A.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available