The pros and cons of university branch campuses
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The pros and cons of university branch campuses

The pros and cons of university branch campuses

Branch campuses refer to the physical presence of a university that’s distanced from the original university or college area. It can be located in a different city, state or country. Although usually more limited than the main campus (also called “home” campus), they do share resources or administrations. But depending on the agreement, students may not be conferred degrees from the home institution or share the same budget/accreditation.

One of the more popular locations for branch campuses is Malaysia, which hosts outposts of 12 overseas institutions. This is where UK universities like Heriot-Watt, the University of Nottingham, Raffles University and the Dutch Maritime Institute of Technology have set up base.

Since the 2000s, such arrangements – where universities from the developed and mainly English-speaking countries create outposts in developing and emerging economies – have been popular. The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education named 263 entities that fit its definition of an international branch campus: an entity that is owned, at least in part, by a foreign education provider; operated in the name of the foreign education provider; and provides an entire academic programme, substantially on site, leading to a degree awarded by the foreign education provider”.

More are expected to come.

Given this popularity, should students choose to study in one of these branch campuses? We dive into the pros and cons below:

PROS

1. You don’t have to travel far 

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Malaysians can get a UK degree from their country’s capital, where Heriot-Watt’s Malaysia Campus is located. Source: Shutterstock

In many cases, branch campuses are intended to serve students who can’t travel far from home due to family responsibilities, their jobs, financial limitations, or any other factor. The availability of branch campuses may increase higher education enrolment by non-traditional students.

Satellite campuses are a big boon to non-traditional students, including mature students and working professionals who would not usually be able to attend university were it not for this travel convenience.

2. Advances in technology are making resources more available

From library resources to the availability of lecturers, technology can make it seem as if there is no major difference in what you can get at the main campus versus a branch campus. It’s easy to access library materials on the main campus electronically and students can gain contact hours with their professors via lecture capture or video conferencing.

3. Great international mobility

It’s usually generally easier to transfer to a university’s branch campus abroad for a shorter period of study abroad than it is to sign up for a fully-fledged programme in another country. As it’s shorter, the cost would likely be lower without sacrificing the chance to experience a foreign culture.  For example, St John’s University located in New York City has two satellite campuses in Rome, Italy and Paris, France. Study abroad opportunities are offered at both of these campuses.

CONS:

1. It’s not the ‘mothership’

Part of the college experience is the campus life. Even at branch campuses located in the same country, the home institution is where all the “action” – ie. football games, big events, notable campus architecture, etc – takes place. It may have the same look, processes and feel, but it would never be 100 percent identical.

2. There has been some question about quality

This is one of the main causes behind the lack of enrolment that has befallen several universities. According to Inside Higher Ed, there are reports that show many branch campuses have yet to meet enrolment targets, although hard data are difficult to acquire. It also noted that the majority of US branches in the Gulf are reportedly under-enroled. In 2007, the Singapore branch of the University of New South Wales closed after less than a year due to low enrolments.

Insufficient enrolment matters because institutions must maintain a certain number of students to ensure there is a pool of qualified candidates large enough to become sustainable over time.

It’s also hard to persuade faculty to relocate overseas for extended periods of time, despite offers for attractive salary and benefits. Moving family is arduous and research-intensive faculty would be reluctant to leave their labs.

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

3. You would miss out on possible employment in a foreign country

Being able to gain work experience abroad is one of the most attractive features of college courses today. The trade-off of being able to study close to home and work can mean the loss of opportunity to gain valuable experience in workplaces abroad. This can be difficult in the future for students planning to work with multinationals or seek employment abroad as global skills, experience and understanding can increase their marketability.

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