Since the University of Central Lancashire announced plans to open two new overseas campuses, some people have expressed their surprise that we are making two bold steps at such a turbulent time for the sector and for the economy.
One campus will open in Bangkok, Thailand in June 2014 (subject to the necessary approvals) and the other, in Pyla in Cyprus, will open its doors later this year.
Prompted by stories of other universities overreaching themselves and foreign ventures that have not delivered, some people have asked me if I am convinced that the time is really right to be expanding overseas.
But the decision to develop overseas campuses is an evolution of the university's long-term strategic position and part of a journey that Uclan began more than two decades ago.
Our commitment to international collaboration has seen us develop a network of some 125 international partnerships across the globe. We have been working with partners in China for more than 20 years, and for more than a decade the number of students enrolled for a Uclan degree in their home country has exceeded the number of international students enrolled at our Preston campus. The university has been significantly ahead of the curve in the development of its transnational education network, and today about 5,000 of the university's 35,000 students at home and abroad are international students. International collaboration is not new to us.
Campuses in Thailand and Cyprus are part of a gradual development of our overseas relationships, and the two locations have been carefully selected to act as hubs in what we see as key growth areas. The Bangkok campus will welcome students from across Southeast Asia. Similarly, Cyprus will act as a gateway between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, so we hope to be able to attract students from these areas to study with us.
The new campuses will help us to expand our international links and bring our world-class higher education, and Uclan's superlative student experience, to students in these regions.
It is important to remember that we are not simply franchising out our name for short-term gain, which is where ventures like this can easily go wrong: we are making a long-term commitment by establishing campuses that we control and maintain. There will be no difference in the standard of education whether our students are studying in Preston, Cyprus or Thailand - although there might be a difference in the climate.
At the centre of our university's strategy is a commitment to internationalisation. We are convinced that, as a higher education provider, it is our responsibility to prepare our students for the global marketplace and, as such, they need to be exposed to international experiences.
This underpins our motivation to open these new campuses. We have developed a commitment to our students called the Uclan Advantage, and a core component of this guarantees every full-time, UK undergraduate student enrolling in autumn 2012 the opportunity to obtain a global experience or study period abroad during their time with us. Students at Preston will be able to opt for time studying at one of the overseas campuses, and equally, students from those campuses will be able to opt to spend part of their study time in England.
The student bodies at both overseas campuses will be a mix of local students, those from neighbouring countries, expats and UK-based Uclan students, creating a vibrant international community that will help to prepare all our students, wherever their location, for the globalised workplace.
This blending of students from different countries and cultures - and, therefore, with different ideas - is central to this university's vision of higher education in the modern world. Our new campuses are the next step in our journey to making that vision a reality.