Branch campus staff ‘less motivated and more likely to leave’

Study finds that employees at universities’ overseas outposts feel less supported than their home campus colleagues

April 17, 2017
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University staff at international branch campuses are less motivated and committed to their institutions than their counterparts at home campuses, a study has found.

A survey of employees at three home campuses and three branch campuses also found that staff at foreign outposts felt they had less support from their local managers and head office.

The paper, “The effects of employee commitment in transnational higher education: the case of international branch campuses”, was based on a survey of 502 teaching and non-teaching staff at three campuses in the UK, two branch campuses in the United Arab Emirates and one branch campus in Malaysia.

Participants were asked to rate (on a seven-point scale, where one is to disagree strongly and seven is to agree strongly) six key areas of their employment: organisational support, employee involvement in decisions, employee commitment, job-related behaviours, extra-role behaviours and turnover intentions.

The research, which was published in the Journal of Studies in International Education, then calculated a mean score for each area, broken down by campus location.

For example, while staff in the UK gave an average score of 3.01 for turnover intentions, which asked whether staff expected or intended to leave their institution in the next few years, this increased to 3.69 and 3.89 for staff at branch campuses in the UAE and Malaysia respectively (where a lower score indicates greater intention to stay).

Meanwhile, when it came to support from senior management, UK staff gave an average score of 5.54, compared with 4.81 and 4.87 for employees based in the UAE and Malaysia, where a higher score indicates greater support.

Stephen Wilkins, associate professor in business management at the British University in Dubai and lead author of the paper, said branch campus staff “reported often having no, or minimal, say in curriculum design and assessment, teaching considerably more hours each week than the equivalent staff at the home campus, receiving no time or support for conducting research, and being given inferior job titles and pay compared to the home campus staff”.

He said that the opportunities and rewards for staff employed at branch campuses were often less attractive than those offered at home campuses because the foreign outposts tend to lack scale and have to be completely self-funded. 

However, he said, branches of research-intensive universities that have grown to at least 3,000 students “have shown themselves to be much more able to offer an employment experience that is closer to that experienced at the home campus, in terms of things like class contact hours, support for research, and the total benefits package”.

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