Doing a PhD at an International Branch Campus
Written by Mark Bennett
Universities around the world have all seen a trend towards internationalisation, either through actively developing strategies to attract students, staff and institutional partners from overseas, orjust because the world is 'getting smaller'.
A large number of students are increasingly seeking study abroad experiences as the resulting skills are highly sought after by employers, and solutions to global problems can only be achieved by working collaboratively across institutions, borders and disciplines. It is no surprise therefore that the university campus is becoming highly internationalised. Even students who decide to stay “home” will have exposure to a diverse classroom, a global perspective and an international teaching and research environment. Courses are now offered in English in countries where it is not the official language something even the French government, a great defender of its native language, is currently debating!
In trying to appeal to overseas students, a number of institutions, from a range of countries, have gone that little bit further, they are exporting. Exporting what? Well. . . themselves, that is the qualification and expertise that they normally provide in the 'mother' campus to a satellite location. This can take the form of so-called 'branch campuses'; and a variety of other structures, from franchising to joint-programmes.
Often designed to attract global students (the term “glocal” students was recently penned to describe the rise of students studying at home at an international university), branch campuses can have an appeal to other students. You’re from India and want to study at a French university in Malaysia? No problem!
You may be surprised to know that at the end of 2011 there were around 200 degree-awarding branch campuses worldwide and many more in the pipeline. The most popular locations for international branch campuses are China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Dubai and Qatar, which are seeing the development of “education hubs”, in order to boost their country’s higher education provision. The range of host countries is expanding rapidly and you’ll also find overseas universities in Egypt, Thailand, Cyprus and many others.
It is not just institutions from English-speaking countries which go overseas (France’s private Grandes Ecoles are very active in this) and interestingly institutions from some of the 'traditional' host countries are now setting up shop overseas.
Quality assurance and recognition of qualifications
As a student in a branch campus you will want to make sure that the quality of education you receive is at least as good as it would be if provided by the parent university. For UK universities awarding qualifications abroad, their teaching provision is subject to the same quality assurance regime and overseas campuses are now included in quality assurance inspections.
If you are unsure, check with the 'parent' university. Sometimes, universities will allow partners to award their qualifications. The UK Quality Assurance Agency (the highest body in the UK making sure the quality of UK qualifications is maintained) has beefed-up its guidance on overseas collaboration and stresses that universities should not simply validate partners but have the means to ensure that students receive the same standard of education as they would at the parent institution. Again, check what the quality assurance framework is.
The most likely scenario is that the overseas campus will award qualifications from the country it originates and even if the national authorities of the host countries have given their approval to set up this campus, it is not a formal validation.
If all the quality assurance mechanisms are in place, then there is no reason why the overseas qualification shouldn’t be recognise as if studied in the originating country. But you may find that it is treated slightly differently. For example, if your mother tongue is not English and if you have studied in a UK university overseas branch campus, you may still be required to demonstrate proficiency through an English language test to undertake postgraduate study in an English-speaking country.
Interestingly, the admission process may be shaped by the host country and where there would not be entry examination in the parent institution, the local education authorities may insist on it so check what the admissions procedure is.
While branch campuses from bona fide universities offer as academically rigorous courses as they would at home, it is likely that the overall student experience will be different, and definitions of local and international students will become blurred. Some of the big players in this area have several campuses abroad and therefore can draw on the benefits of being multi-campus institutions providing new opportunities in teaching, student exchanges and research collaboration. The University of Nottingham (UK) which has two of the largest overseas branch campuses in China and Malaysia, offer all their students the opportunity to undertake part of their studies in the other campuses. They even organised the Tri-Campus Games, a sporting tournament featuring competing teams from all three of its national campuses.
Smaller institutions which have branch campuses in 'niche' areas of specialism will most likely draw on the support structure of partner institutions (which are likely to host them on their own campus) so it will be a mixed (local and international) support environment which is available to you.
Absolutely! Overseas branch campuses are not limited to undergraduate programmes, some overseas campuses started out as providing mainly masters and/or MBA programmes (and some continue to specialise in postgraduate degrees). The cost of a postgraduate degree in overseas campuses is often fairly competitive which is something to consider too.
The authority to deliver PhD programmes is more mixed in branch campuses. If the parent university is a PhD-granting institution then they are likely to have that power overseas too. More often than not, overseas branch campuses may be home to 'niche' research centres where research, including PhD level, is conducted. However, in countries such as China, the relevant authorities must grant permission to the overseas campus to deliver such programmes, so check with the individual institutions.
As for any institutions, there are opportunities there are shorter study abroad opportunities offered at branch campuses, especially if you are considering, for example, a UK university which has campuses overseas.
Other options (through a branch campus or not) include: joint-degrees (eg 1+1 Masters), postgraduate articulation programmes into a PhD or a dissertation/research period overseas at one of your institutions’ partners/overseas campus.