Overseas branch campuses still have potential for growth, says study

Moocs and capacity-building projects with partners in developing countries are also expected to expand, a European University Association report finds

July 12, 2015
Students on inflatable boat on beach
Source: Corbis
Offshore: expansion strategy

Overseas branch campuses are the least common internationalisation activity undertaken by European universities, but one of the strategies with the greatest potential for growth, according to a study.

In a survey conducted by the European University Association, just over one in eight (13 per cent) universities said they have an offshore campus, putting it at the bottom of a list of 14 internationalisation trends asked about. However, the same proportion of institutions said they plan to develop one.

Other initiatives that are near the bottom of the list but have potential to grow are massive open online courses (Moocs) and other types of online learning, currently carried out by 21 per cent of institutions but planned by a further 29 per cent, and “capacity-building projects” with partners in developing countries, carried out by 54 per cent of respondents and planned by an additional 17 per cent.

Student exchanges and staff exchanges were the surveyed institutions’ most common internationalisation activities, undertaken by 96 per cent and 92 per cent respectively, followed by student work placements or internships (86 per cent) and participation in international higher education networks (85 per cent).

The report, Trends 2015: Learning and Teaching in European Universities, was based on responses from 451 higher education institutions across 46 countries.

A recent study by the European Association for International Education found that just 1 per cent of university employees said they had witnessed a substantial increase in branch campus activity at their institution in the past three years.

Overall, internationalisation was rated as highly important by 69 per cent of respondents to the Trends 2015 survey, up by 8 percentage points since the previous EUA survey five years ago, making it the second most important development after quality assurance initiatives.

An overwhelming number of respondents (92 per cent) added that internationalisation has enhanced teaching and learning at their institution, with mobility of students (66 per cent), mobility of staff (43 per cent) and international collaboration in learning and teaching (41 per cent) cited as the main contributors to this improvement.

The survey also revealed that university rankings are becoming increasingly influential for institutions, with a third of respondents citing league tables as “highly important”, a rise of 10 percentage points since the 2010 survey.

Institutions that claim to operate primarily on the worldwide stage and in the European space are much more interested in rankings (42 per cent and 49 per cent respectively) than are those focused on serving their regional or national community (19 per cent and 33 per cent respectively).

League tables are also more important to primarily research-focused institutions (33 per cent) and those with both teaching and research orientations (34 per cent) than to those that are primarily teaching-oriented.

However, research-focused institutions are less interested in cooperating with other higher education institutions than the average respondent from the overall sample (42 per cent against 58 per cent) and are the least worried about growing competition (25 per cent compared with 40 per cent of all respondents).


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