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Adventure, not money, a ‘key driver’ for branch campus staff

Written by: Simon Baker
Published on: 23 Dec 2021

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Source: iStock

University staff who go to work at branch campuses abroad are motivated mainly by the desire to experience other cultures and to leave poor working conditions in their home sectors rather than by money, a study has suggested.

Two researchers based in the United Arab Emirates surveyed 72 academic staff at branch campuses in 10 different countries to learn more about their working conditions and their reasons for working abroad.

They found that several academics at research-intensive offshore campuses reported earning total pay packages, including benefits such as accommodation allowances, of more than $180,000 (£135,000), “with senior managers earning even more”, although basic salaries were often much smaller.

Nine out of ten of those surveyed also said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their financial rewards despite some noting that there was “a lack of transparency” over salaries at their campus.

But the study, published in the Journal of Studies in International Education, also found that the most common motivations for working in an overseas branch campus were a sense of adventure and a desire to escape working conditions in their home country, rather than financial considerations.

When asked if they were satisfied overall with their current position at an offshore campus, only 10 per cent said they were dissatisfied, with the most common causes of discontent being pay, poor promotion prospects and workloads.

Some of those taking part in the survey also claimed that staff at the “onshore” parent institution of a branch campus had “a weak understanding of international issues, and this can lead to onshore campus managers not understanding or appropriately responding to offshore campus needs and activities”.

“Other participants commented that onshore campus staff have a tendency to regard the offshore campus staff and students as inferior to the onshore campus staff and students.”

There were also concerns about academic freedom among some survey participants – more than a quarter of whom were working at branch institutions in China – including responses that pointed to “feelings of being censored and surveilled”.

Co-author Stephen Wilkins, professor of strategy and marketing at the British University in Dubai, said the results of other studies on branch campuses had “tended to be quite negative” about working conditions, so some of the findings were a pleasant surprise.

He added that the data had been collected earlier this year during the pandemic, and it had seemed that the crisis had been “quite kind to many offshore campuses” because students were seeing them as a “viable alternative” to travelling abroad.

“Thus, while lecturers at offshore campuses saw people all around them losing their jobs, including spouses and family members, they continued to have good job security,” Professor Wilkins said.