Recruit more home staff to foreign hubs, report urges

Quality warning for overseas campuses that fail to export 'institutional culture', writes John Morgan

April 7, 2011

Universities with overseas operations risk reputational damage if they rely on foreign staff and fail to recruit academics from the home campus, according to a new report.

Academics are reluctant to work in their universities' overseas partnerships or branch campuses because of existing teaching and research workloads, a staffing study for the UK Higher Education International and Europe Unit (IEU) and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education has found.

As a result, institutions are hiring international staff or staff from the nation hosting the campus - a potential problem for universities claiming to replicate the quality of their home campus abroad.

A Guide to Offshore Staffing Strategies for UK Universities, by John Fielden of CHEMS Consulting and Erica Gillard, an independent consultant, refers to "the risk that an institution that has 90 per cent of its academic staff from outside the home campus may not have developed an institutional culture that can be integrated with the home campus".

The report says that across seven overseas operations set up by UK, US and Australian universities where staffing figures are available, only 7 per cent of academics are from the institution's home nation.

It concludes: "Getting staff of the right calibre for offshore operations is one of the key elements in protecting a university's reputation for quality in the country concerned...Managers and human resource specialists are having to acquire the skills and techniques of multinationals; if they fail to do so, the risks of reputational damage are high."

Mr Fielden said: "The managers we spoke to were very happy with the quality (of international and local staff) they had been able to recruit. But that is not the same as being happy with their ability to deliver something comparable to the UK experience."

Recruitment may come under the spotlight as more universities establish overseas campuses or partnerships.

Middlesex University recently confirmed that it will open a campus in India this autumn - its third such offshoot alongside those in Dubai and Mauritius.

And the University of Essex said last year that it would consider developing courses at "global hubs, which could potentially include the United Arab Emirates, South East Asia and South America".

The IEU report looked at overseas operations set up by nine institutions, including Glasgow Caledonian University (in Oman, China and Bangladesh), RMIT University (in Vietnam) and Texas A&M University (in Qatar).

While the University of Nottingham originally planned "to draw staff equally from local, international and UK sources" for its campus in Ningbo, China, the proportion of its staff from the UK is 4 per cent, the report says.

On pay, it notes that locally recruited staff from nations such as China or India "will usually receive less than the home or international staff".

It urges universities to maintain some oversight of overseas staffing from the home campus.

The report cites one unnamed UK university "with several campuses overseas" where staffing decisions are taken entirely at the branch campuses, and "no UK staff are expected to work on these campuses".

"This is an extreme example of a devolved environment where the staffing policy could give rise to concerns over the quality of teaching and the student experience," the report says.

It adds that the risks to quality "may be worsened where the objective of the (overseas) activity is largely financial, because if a branch campus is given both autonomy (on staffing) and clear financial targets there is a risk that it may cut corners on quality".

It notes that "creating a research environment offshore is proving to be a problem", partly because of the difficulties foreign universities face in establishing credibility with research funders in the host nation.

The report also highlights the University and College Union's concerns about "staff operating in countries where there are no trade unions (such as Dubai and Singapore)".

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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