Branch campuses of Western universities in the Gulf are not meeting students’ expectations, according to a study that claims that the “mere transplantation of Western models of education” in the region is not an effective strategy to create “superior” value for students.
The paper, “Sustainability of Western branch campuses in the Gulf region: students’ perspectives of service quality”, published in the International Journal of Educational Development, surveyed more than 200 students at branch campuses in Qatar. It found that students were “dissatisfied” with all major services at the institutions, including academic, administrative and facility services.
Shahid Nakib Bhuian, professor of marketing at Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University and author of the paper, says that the importation of Western models of education at the branch campuses led to students forming a “high expectation” about all aspects of service quality – due to Western universities' reputation in providing up-to-date and effective training of students for employment – but adds that this was not met.
The largest gap between students’ expectations and perceptions was around reliability of service.
This is “indicative of a serious weakness of branch campuses’ abilities to deliver dependable and accurate services to students”, Dr Bhuian says.
The second biggest gap was related to responsiveness, with students claiming that they were disappointed with the attitudes and promptness of administrative staff at the campuses.
A report published earlier this year found that Qatar spends more than $400 million (£304 million) annually on hosting the branch campuses of six leading US universities.
Dr Bhuian concludes that students’ disappointment with these overseas outposts is “problematic” because “branch campuses cannot compete with universities abroad without creating and delivering a superior service quality”.
He advises that the campuses must listen to students’ feedback and involve them in the development and delivery of all processes, while “student-oriented” staff should be hired and trained to “become culturally sensitive and aware about the importance of service quality”.
“The sustainability of Western branch campuses in the Gulf region is uncertain,” he adds.
“Most branch campuses are operating at below capacity and far-off from reaching the break-even point. Already a number of campuses have shut down and a few others are reviewing for withdrawals.”