Should you study at a university’s main campus or branch campus?
Are main campuses better than branch campuses? Source: Shutterstock

Is there a difference between studying at a university’s main campus versus its branch location? According to one study, the answer is yes.

In the UK, researchers claim that students at UK universities’ satellite campuses in London receive teaching from less-qualified teachers and have poorer facilities than students’ at the institutions’ main campuses.

Times Higher Education (THE) reported that Rachel Brooks and Johanna Waters, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey and lecturer in Geography at UCL respectively, found that the marketing for satellite campuses was aimed primarily at the lucrative international student market, focusing on the benefits of living in London.

Their research was done by analysing prospectuses, YouTube videos, websites and open day material from the 14 UK universities that have branch campuses in London. Researchers added that the capital location “serves to substitute and compensate for lower levels of resources provided directly to the student from the university”.

Speaking to THE, Professor Brooks said research showed an absence of a substantive campus environment, including dedicated accommodation, and a general lack of focus on “pedagogical” matters in almost all marketing materials.

She added that they are selling the experience of living in London, but said: “However, if you look at the parent campus, there is a lot of emphasis on the university’s buildings, where the students learn, and the extracurricular activities they can do.”

Researchers also found that the general level of academic qualification of staff at London campuses was significantly lower than at the parent campus, adding that in many of the branches, teachers were more likely to have professional, rather than academic, experience.

How can universities ensure success in their branch campuses?

Not all universities fail to produce reputable branch campuses and partnerships, such as the University of Nottingham, which is present in the UK, China and Malaysia; and the University of Liverpool which is present in UK, China and Singapore, among others.

While branch campuses, both domestic and international, appear to be popular and have sprouted like mushrooms, care should be taken to ensure their standards and facilities remain consistent throughout all campuses.

In speaking about international branch campuses (IBCs), Rachael Merola notes on University World News that “little research has been done to identify and understand factors that have led to the success of mature branch campuses”.

Based on her interviews with 10 institutions around the world on how they intend to replicate the home campus, she found that not all universities aim to replicate the home campus, but all seek to have equivalent educational experiences across campus spaces.

One respondent said: “From day one we have looked like the UK campus. When people visit, they immediately feel at home because the processes are the same. Every campus has a tower, every campus has a lake, the website has the same look and feel, and we have the same learning outcomes.”

Meanwhile, the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) found that some of the key factors that have contributed to successful IBCs include:

  • Their experience in international partnerships and operating across borders
  • Having strong support from the highest levels of the university, integrated into the academic and administrative functions of the institution, as opposed to being siloed and wholly separate
  • Using faculty based in the country and avoiding the “flying faculty” model, among others

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