Academics who work at UK universities’ international branch campuses face “losing their autonomy” and reducing their chances of moving back to their home institutions in the future, a study has found.
Michael Clarke, principal of Global College Malta and author of the recently published book Working Abroad in Higher Education: If Only I Knew?, said that working at such campuses “wouldn’t be a good career move for anyone” and academics who do so are “short-changed in many ways” compared with those in the UK.
His comments were based on face-to-face interviews with 14 academics, all of whom had worked at universities in the UK and then moved to the institution’s branch campus located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In an interview with Times Higher Education, he said that academics who had made this career move found that their overseas role was more challenging and demanding than working in the UK and that their jobs were almost entirely focused on teaching. He added that the curricula for students at the branch campuses were generally devised by those working at the main UK campus, which sometimes meant that they were not culturally relevant or sensitive to the student market in the UAE.
“Only about 20 per cent of academics in the UK have worked abroad before. The international curriculum should be devised by those working abroad,” he said.
He added that the heavy teaching loads of academics at branch campuses mean that they do “hardly any research”, and therefore are not suitable candidates to supervise master’s students on their dissertations. He suggested that branch campuses should provide greater investment and support for the professional development of their staff, which would also enhance the brand of the UK university.
“If they started doing research, they could bring that into their teaching and learning,” he said. “At the moment they are just taking [presentation] slides [designed by UK academics] and regurgitating them. The facilities are obviously below par compared with the UK. How do they keep themselves up to date? Academics are losing their autonomy.”
He continued: “The majority said it would be difficult to return to higher education in the UK simply because their international experience is not valued. They feel that instead of going back as a senior lecturer they might [be demoted] to a lecturer.”
He added that the challenges faced by the academics who he interviewed included “settling in” to their new role abroad, their “work-life balance” and teaching international students, which was a different experience from teaching overseas students in the UK.
“The learning system [in the UAE] is different,” Dr Clarke continued. “Students there learn memorisation; we learn critical thinking. One academic had been teaching for more than 30 years in higher education in the UK and she struggled with the students there.”
A previous study conducted by Nigel Healey, pro vice-chancellor (international) at Nottingham Trent University, found that leaders of UK universities’ international branch campuses often have little managerial experience and rarely receive enough support from their home institutions.