University College London is set to close its Australia branch within two years as part of a wider review of its overseas campuses.
UCL’s Adelaide campus is likely to be wound up in 2017 on the completion of research deals with energy and mining companies Santos and BHP Billiton worth about A$20 million (£10 million).
Support from South Australia’s regional government is also due to expire that year, which led the university to carry out a review of UCL Australia’s long-term sustainability.
It is now undertaking a consultation process with its staff about a “move away from a stand-alone presence in Adelaide”, although it says this is “not a fait accompli”.
Set up in 2008, Adelaide was the first UK university campus in Australia and was part of a network of overseas satellite campuses focused on postgraduate education, which was to establish UCL’s position as “London’s Global University”.
However, UCL is to cease its teaching in Kazakhstan by August this year and is also reviewing its operations in Qatar.
Michael Arthur, UCL’s provost and president, said in a message to the Adelaide staff last week that “emerging changes in UCL’s strategic direction” had caused it to review the future of its Australia operation, once marketed as an “integral part of UCL”.
In an apparent reversal of its previous overseas campus strategy, the university will instead work with elite universities in about five to eight major cities around the world, as it has done with Yale University since 2009.
To this end, UCL says that it has begun discussions with the University of South Australia on a potential engineering-based partnership that will continue the work of UCL Australia beyond 2017.
Dame Nicola Brewer, who was appointed as UCL’s vice-provost (international) a year ago, said in a message to staff in July last year that “relationships in Qatar need to be reviewed in light of a changed political context there”.
There is also no mention of any of its overseas campuses in UCL’s 20-year strategic plan published last July, which states that new international activity will focus on countries in the “Global South and East”.
Signalling a new direction following the arrival of Professor Arthur in 2013, the document emphasises how London will be the prime focus of UCL’s activity, stating that “London’s Global University” is “in London, of London and for London”.
Simon Marginson, professor of international higher education at UCL Institute of Education, did not believe his university’s stance signalled a wider retreat from branch campuses by UK universities.
The University of Warwick has announced plans for a campus for up to 6,000 students in California this month, while Heriot-Watt University has opened a £35 million campus in Malaysia following on from its Dubai campus.
“Adelaide is not the optimum site in Australia for an international university,” said Professor Marginson, who was previously professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne.
“It is a strong university town, but the population growth and state economy are moving slowly,” he said.