Monday, February 11, 2008

Globalizing Higher Ed: The American Story So Far

Two fabulous blogs with a focus on global higher ed scene -- Beerken's Blog and Global Higher Ed -- recommend this NYTimes story by Tamar Lewin on American universities' rush to set up their own campuses in other countries. UAE and China, for example. While much of the rhetoric is about exporting American university education, the ground reality can be quite different. Here's an excerpt about George Mason University's campus in Abu Dhabi:

George Mason, a public university in Fairfax, Va., arrived in the gulf in 2005 with a tiny language program intended to help students achieve college-level English skills and meet the university’s admission standards for the degree programs that were beginning the next year.

George Mason expected to have 200 undergraduates in 2006, and grow from there. But it enrolled nowhere near that many, then or now. It had just 57 degree students — 3 in biology, 27 in business and 27 in engineering — at the start of this academic year, joined by a few more students and programs this semester.

The project, an hour north of Dubai’s skyscrapers and 7,000 miles from Virginia, is still finding its way. “I will freely confess that it’s all been more complicated than I expected,” said Peter Stearns, George Mason’s provost.

The Ras al Khaymah campus has had a succession of deans. Simple tasks like ordering books take months, in part because of government censors. Local licensing, still not complete, has been far more rigorous than expected. And it has not been easy to find interested students with the SAT scores and English skills that George Mason requires for admissions.

“I’m optimistic, but if you look at it as a business, you can only take losses for so long,” said Dr. Abul R. Hasan, the academic dean, who is from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. “Our goal is to have 2,000 students five years from now. What makes it difficult is that if you’re giving the George Mason degree, you cannot lower your standards.”

But is it really the George Mason education?

Whether that degree really reflects George Mason is open to question. None of the faculty members came from George Mason, although that is likely to change next year. ....