QAA warning over UK international branch campus definition

Standards watchdog calls on universities to beware misleading students about overseas facilities

June 12, 2014

UK universities must be careful not to mislead students about their “international branch campuses”, which are often little more than an office and teaching rooms, the standards watchdog has warned.

In its first report on transnational education offered by UK universities in the United Arab Emirates, the Quality Assurance Agency says that only two of the 11 institutions listed as UK branch campuses would meet the definition of a “campus”.

“Only two providers, Heriot-Watt and Middlesex, are readily recognisable as branch campuses [offering] the range of facilities a student would expect of a campus in the UK,” according to the Review of UK Transnational Education in United Arab Emirates, published on 4 June.

For instance, the University of Exeter’s campus in Dubai comprises an office and a small self-service library, with teaching rooms hired when required, the QAA says.

The University of Strathclyde’s Business School, which runs MBAs in Dubai, had no rooms of its own, using spaces within another higher education institution.

Many UK branch campuses, such as those run by the London Business School and Manchester Business School, were actually “administrative campuses”, with an average of just 200 mainly part-time students.

These maintained “some level of physical presence in the form of an administrative office and establishment”, but had no permanent local academic staff, with core teaching done by “fly-in, fly-out” staff.

Others listed as UK branch campuses were almost entirely run by local higher education institutions, with UK awards attached to their programmes, the QAA adds.

The University of Bolton’s branch campus in the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah was staffed entirely by academics from other institutions, the report continues.

About 15,000 students currently study some form of UK higher education in the UAE, with Heriot-Watt (3,500 students) and Middlesex (2,700) the largest UK institutions.

Given the range of student experience on offer, “institutions should consider the expectations they are raising in promising a global campus experience”, the QAA warns.

It adds that “the most effective branch campuses realise that, if the UAE centre is a campus in the full sense, then it must run like one with the full range of supports including pastoral, careers and social facilities”.

Although the QAA says it is happy that standards on branch campuses match those found in the UK, it suggests that institutions do not do enough to foster the research-led environment found in many UK universities.

“Institutions can do more to introduce a UK academic culture [by] engaging branch campus staff in academic governance and quality assurance, and encouraging a culture of scholarly enquiry,” the report says.

Locally recruited part-time and fixed-contract staff should also be given the support offered to full-time, permanent employees, such as staff training, it adds.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the QAA, said that the report was timely as “UK transnational education is set to increase”.

He said the reports on transnational education “intended to inform students, support institutions and maintain the good reputation of UK higher education worldwide”.

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Reader's comments (4)

The University of Exeter delivers a part-time EdD TESOL pathway from the Knowledge Village in Dubai, which has been commended by the QAA reviewers for a number of 'positive features' ( The THE article implies that this activity has been advertised as an 'International Branch Campus', but that is simply untrue.
Except that it is listed as one of the 21 international branch campus on offer at the Dubai International Academic City ("21 international branch campuses in one convenient location"). Admittedly, not by Exeter. When David Willetts has suggested we should have more TNE students instead of international students coming to the UK, I think it's right we acknowledge that these things are entirely different, in terms of services provided (as the QAA points out)
Some very interesting observations here. However, the definition issue has been flagged much earlier in the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education report on IBCs published in 2012. In fact, they have excluded Exeter. I think that the join consideration of the QAA review report and the OBHE IBC report could give some very interesting conclusions.
This should have been picked up a long time ago, Middlesex set up its campus aomost ten years ago, as did Heriot Watt!!

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