US university plans dozens of overseas ‘microcampuses’

Arizona argues delivering dual degrees in branded space is more sustainable than opening a traditional branch campus

May 23, 2017
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Rather than build its own brick-and-mortar branch campuses, the University of Arizona is embarking on a plan to open more than 25 “microcampuses” at international partner universities over the next three years, creating a network that it hopes will be capable of educating more than 25,000 students around the globe.

Arizona’s plan is for each of the microcampuses to offer at least one, and in most cases several, dual-degree programmes in which degrees are conferred by both Arizona and a partner university. Each microcampus will be housed at the partner university, which agrees to provide classrooms and a UA-branded space.

“The idea of a microcampus, it’s in part in response to the failures of traditional models of international education, a lot of which have focused on mobility and others on international branch campuses,” said Brent White, Arizona’s vice-provost for international education and a professor of law.

“This is essentially a dual degree offered on the campus of a partner university, and so it incorporates elements of a dual-degree programme, elements of what a campus would be, and elements of what a research centre might be at a global location,” Professor White continued.

Arizona’s first microcampus, at Ocean University of China, in Qingdao, is two years into offering a dual undergraduate degree programme in law.

A second UA microcampus location, at the American University of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, opens this month and will offer dual-degree programmes in business administration, civil engineering and law.

The university is announcing its next 11 planned microcampuses, where it hopes to begin offering dual-degree programmes with its partner universities in 2018. Those partner universities are:

The announced microcampuses are predominantly located in Asia and the Middle East, but Professor White said that the university will aim to develop microcampuses in other parts of the world, including Africa and Latin America, in the future.

Professor White said that for each of the newly announced locations Arizona has identified degree programmes that it is likely to offer. The microcampuses are pending approval by Arizona’s accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission, as well as any needed local regulatory approvals. Arizona’s first two microcampus locations at Ocean University of China and at AUPP already are approved by HLC as “additional locations”.

Dual-degree programmes are a common model in international higher education, but Arizona’s approach is unusual in seeking to leverage these programmes to create branded hubs – what it has calling microcampuses – around the world.

“This is not a one-off,” said Professor White. “This is not somewhere in the world where we offer a dual-degree programme, but the idea is to have a network of microcampuses, and that’s important because we want to enable global mobility for our students. So if you’re in a law programme in China, we want you to be able to continue that programme in multiple locations.”

“They also become platforms for other types of internationalisation,” Professor White continued. “The microcampus itself becomes a platform for lots of things we care about for comprehensive internationalisation, including faculty training, providing opportunities for students to study abroad on short-term experiences, for internships and other forms of engaged learning.”

Arizona also expects the microcampuses to make money. “We expect it to be a revenue-positive model for our partners and for the U of A and to provide good value to students,” Professor White said.

For the first two microcampuses, tuition fees, to be shared half and half with the partner universities, will be $9,000 (£6,927) per year at AUPP and $10,000 per year at Ocean. This is substantially less than fees for international students who come to Arizona, which this year was $32,900, and, of course, much less than the total annual estimated costs for international students, which Arizona estimates to be about $50,000.

The programmes may still be out of reach for many students – $9,000 is still a lot of money in Cambodia, where the minimum wage for a textiles worker is $153 per month – but Professor White argued that it’s a good value for an international education and a UA degree.

“We put tuition at a price that makes sense to the local market in the sense that it’s at least accessible to the middle class that wouldn’t be able to come to the United States to study, but the tuition also has to cover our expenses,” Professor White said. “I think we’ve done our best to balance increasing greatly the accessibility of a US degree and making sure that the model is financially sound.”

This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on Inside Higher Ed.

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