From the Persian Gulf to the South Pacific, American universities are establishing a new presence overseas. Increasingly set up like satellite campuses, these universities offer an attractive on-paper advantage for potential applicants, and big money for universities. With all of the seemingly flawless advantages these campus branches offer, it would be easy for our university to jump on the bandwagon. However, this is one temptation we need to resist. There is a better solution.
As The New York Times reported this week, American universities are making a big push to broaden their international footprint. Like the Education City enclave in Doha, which features programs from five American institutions, these satellite schools claim to have no disadvantages. They increase universities’ prestige. They attract foreign investors and usually provide financial incentives for schools willing to make the move. And they help improve education in foreign countries.
While these universities are caught up in the glamour of being global, many have forgotten that it is irresponsible to trade pieces of universities’ reputations to the highest bidder. When institutions are created under these conditions, it’s questionable whether quality of education is the primary concern.
More importantly, transplanting American campuses overseas smacks of cultural imperialism and elitism. By drawing the resources of these countries, American universities are taking away from the resources available to the colleges already in these countries. For these countries, the “educational superiority” of American universities might not be the best way of improving higher education – or the most needed.
Despite these downfalls, thinking internationally is something that universities must be doing, including the University of Michigan. There’s a more productive way to do it, though. Instead of setting up new campuses, the University should develop relationships with homegrown educational institutions in foreign nations to encourage exchange and study-abroad programs. This would strengthen pre-existing institutions rather than nudging them out of power.
Studying abroad is pivotal to a well-rounded education. But the University’s statistics on international student exchange show that there is room for improvement. The Office of International Programs offers an impressive 92 programs in about 41 different countries – and that doesn’t include programs offered separately by individual departments. However, the OIP estimates that only about 500 students studied abroad through its office in the last year.
Maybe these statistics are logical. As it is, the cost of college is exorbitant without factoring in the added cost of foreign study, and intricate degree requirements can make studying outside of the University difficult. If the University wants to promote cultural interactions that benefit both countries, improving participation in OIP programs would be the best place to start. University President Mary Sue Coleman has pledged to do this, but there still has been little clarification about how or with what money.
By setting up programs through international universities and encouraging studying abroad rather than creating new campuses, the University could an initiative less focused on American dominance and more focused on a mutual cultural and educational exchange. That’s something that shouldn’t be bought and sold.