Foreign programs under fire for growth

As universities like GW dive deep into global expansion, one higher education group wants them first to take a breath.

The increasing number of universities setting up programs around the world need to consider “potentially adverse unintended consequences” to foreign students and cultures, the International Association of Universities said in an April 20 memo.

The statement warned that universities seeking the prestige and tuition dollars that come with international programs should be wary of how “brain drain,” improper recruitment practices and teaching its foreign courses in English could hurt foreign populations of students in their home countries.

“We started to see that some internationalization activities seemed far from pursuing the stated purpose which is usually to improve quality of education,” said Eva Egron-Polak, secretary general of the International Association of Universities, an international non-governmental organization based in Paris.

She added that while the group does not wish to curb universities from going international, she hopes universities “critically examine their motivation and actions, considering their partners’ interests as much as their own.”

GW has built up programming in China, launching a master of finance program for 22 Chinese students last fall and looking to create a four-year undergraduate degree that could also extend into Brazil or India. GW Business School Dean Doug Guthrie said cultural considerations were not at the top of the list of goals for the programs, but added that administrators had crafted a long-term strategy to align foreign programs with University goals and local educational needs.

GW has forgone a large branch campus, instead acquiring educational space in southeastern China last month that it will share with four other international universities.

Guthrie said he is interested in “deep relationships” with Renmin University, its partner for the master’s of finance program in China. The International Association of Universities, which does not include Renmin or GW, cautioned that large Western research universities could take advantage of its foreign program partners.

The University’s China programs help fill the demand for higher education in the country, Guthrie said, a reason he is confident in its cultural benefit.

“You just have to be sensitive about what you’re delivering to your students and make sure that you’re building programs that are not just chasing applicants and chasing dollars, but chasing a pedagogical goal for your students,” Guthrie said.

Richard Edelstein, a research associate at University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education who studies the impact of globalization on universities, said while he supports universities expanding international programming, the memo would resonate with universities.

Edelstein added that forging a partnership with a host university like Renmin, as well as having officials like Guthrie with extensive knowledge in Chinese culture, would help it avoid hampering its students there.

Egron-Polak said no single misstep by a university triggered the cautionary statement – which also reaffirmed internationalization’s “substantial benefits” – but the 604 mostly foreign universities that make up the association continued to report the same risks in three surveys the organization performed.

One risk the memo lists is only teaching courses in English at programs abroad aimed at foreigners, which “has the potential to diminish the diversity of languages studied or used to deliver higher education.”

The business school opted to teach its master of finance courses in English to Chinese students in Suzhou, China, because it looked to duplicate the D.C. version of the program with the same courses and by using GW professors, Guthrie said

The University has pivoted this year toward firming up its global name. Administrators announced their intentions to strike a deal with China’s Ministry of Education to achieve degree-granting status.

The University also has spotlighted globalization as a top theme of its strategic plan, which will be released in October.

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