Overseas growth exposes Brits to knowledge vacuum

September 2, 2010

Lecturers at UK universities are coming under pressure to create course materials tailored to students on overseas campuses.

As the number of British universities operating overseas outposts grows, academics report being asked to demonstrate expertise in unfamiliar areas and without support from local specialists.

One institution with a branch campus overseas is Newcastle University, which opened a medical school in Malaysia's Iskandar development in 2009.

Jean Adams, lecturer in public health at Newcastle, said: "We've been asked to produce a curriculum that is applicable in Malaysia and Newcastle. When case studies are used, there should be two - one Malaysia-based and one British-based - and all students are expected to see both...

"The problem is that we're public health academics in the UK, with expertise in public health problems in the UK. We have little insight into issues in Malaysia, so it is hard to think of case studies that would be applicable there."

Eileen Kaner, director of the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle, denied that developing cross-cultural materials was official policy.

But she said it "would be a positive move to develop a more international focus to our public health teaching".

Teaching staff on UK-led overseas campuses are seconded from Britain, recruited internationally or hired in-country, but the preparation of course materials varies.

Christine Ennew, pro vice-chancellor for internationalisation at the University of Nottingham - which has campuses in China and Malaysia - said: "If we have a given module taught in the UK, Malaysia and China, it needs to deliver the same learning outcomes, quality and coverage of topics, but we don't need the teaching to be identical in each location... There is a need to contextualise.

"If you are teaching financial and monetary policy in Malaysia, it does not make sense to teach UK policy."

Cat Davies

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