Globalization has a popular new face – the export of college education. Looking to increase prestige, institutions like New York University and Michigan State University are setting up campuses abroad. At first glance, these outreach programs seem like a great idea, offering local students a cheaper American education. Where the problem arises is the extent of these programs’ involvement in the local education system. By encouraging American universities to set up campuses and even financing the move – however grand it might sound – these local governments compromise the development of their own local education systems.
Much like Cornell University’s campus in Qatar, NYU’s aim is to set up an external campus, and the focus is on the Middle East. But by doing so, these universities unceremoniously impose themselves upon the local education scene. This imperialist approach seems to be antithetical to the academic values of liberal American institutions. An affiliated campus would provide competition to local universities, limiting and hindering the development of domestic programs, as highly qualified students opt out of domestic programs in favor of a “superior” American degree.
The alternative is to offer courses within local institutions. That is part of the approach the University of London has adopted, offering external degree programs with an option of a third-year transfer to any one of its affiliated institutions in the English capital. These joint programs seem to be the ideal approach – an exchange of professors between the affiliated institutions would help increase both the quality of the local universities and, simultaneously, the prestige of their American counterparts.
But merely offering certain courses in local universities is not a realistic approach. What attracts students in the Middle East and South Asia, in particular, is the name of the institution on the degree. A foreign degree goes a long way in the recruiting process for jobs, setting the candidate apart from local graduates, and students are even willing to compromise the whole college experience to get that qualification
To award a foreign degree to students for just taking foreign university courses at local universities, however, is a problem in itself. Experience aside, students in foreign programs would be paying less for the same qualification that those enrolled in the more expensive American campuses would be paying.
The University of London’s seemingly supreme model isn’t without flaws either. The practice of issuing University of London degrees to students in the external degree programs undermines the value of a local degree by inevitably creating a competition between the two. And the desired transfer of qualified professors isn’t happening. So while the students get their coveted British degree, it is the local education system that loses out and fails to develop.
For the well-intentioned proposal to succeed, a compromise needs to be reached. Somewhere on the degree, the foreign seal has to be featured if local students are to be attracted. But it is the local universities that have to play the primary role and precipitate the much-needed development of local institutions. If, in the future, the University of Michigan looks to broaden its horizons, it needs to address these problems and learn from the mistakes of other universities’ previous endeavors.
-Emad Ansari is an LSA freshman and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.