Branch campuses exploit ‘desperation’ for financial gain, conference hears

Powerful public universities are manipulating the “desperation of people whose university systems [have been] completely demolished” to make a “fortune” from overseas branch campuses, a senior university leader has claimed.

June 18, 2011

Adam Habib, deputy vice-chancellor of research, innovation and advancement at the University of Johannesburg, told a conference in Toronto on 16 June that on a recent tour of American universities, he was struck by how many were setting up campuses overseas.

“I was struck by how many really manipulate the desperation of people whose university systems are completely demolished and utilise that opportunity to make a fortune so that they can pad the balance sheets,” he said.

Professor Habib said that this was “not simply an American problem”, but one that afflicted all unequal relationships across and inside continents. He pinned the blame on the move away from state support for higher education around the world.

“It is a problem that is increasing the more [universities] behave as private institutions, the more the state withdraws, the more we move towards a deregulated environment.”

This was not because university presidents were bad people, he added, “but because the system which demands that they run the balance sheets at a profit forces them to behave in ways that fundamentally violate the social value [of a university]”.

Professor Habib was speaking at the WorldViews conference on media and higher education, organised by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

Addressing delegates at the event at Ryerson University, he said that universities’ social role was increasingly under threat, and that this was the “big question” the media and the sector itself should be asking.

“We can simply say that universities have no social value, the job is to make money, the job is to run as for-profit institutions, so don’t judge us as any different to anyone else,” he said. “That is a legitimate point of view...But don’t claim credibility for the social goals on the one hand and then behave in the most aggressive neo-liberal manner on the other hand.”

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