Herriot-Watt University in Malaysia, one of the new IBSs established in the last five years
International branch campus growth continues

The number of international branch campuses (IBCs) worldwide has grown by 26 per cent in the last five years to 249, according to a report released today by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE).

The International Branch Campuses, Trends and Developments 2016 research paper has been produced by the OBHE in collaboration with the Cross-Border Education Research Team (C-BERT), who estimate that around 180,000 students are currently enrolled at IBCs globally.


There were 66 IBCs established between 2011 and 2015, the authors said, an almost identical tally to the number founded in the previous five years.


For the purposes of the report, an IBC was defined as "an entity that is owned, at least in part, by a foreign education provider; operated in the name of the foreign education provider; and provides an entire academic programme, substantially on site, leading to a degree awarded by the foreign education provider".


Over the last five years, China (32) has overtaken the UAE (31) to become the largest host country of IBCs. "Many of the Chinese ventures are set up with substantial support from the Chinese government, giving relatively low-risk access to the world's largest university-aged population," the authors said.


Regarding the UAE, they commented, "The slowdown is due to market saturation, changing strategies of local governments and concern over instability in other parts of the region."


Singapore (12), Malaysia (12) and Qatar (11) complete the top five, which accounts for 39 per cent of the world's total of IBCs.


The number of countries hosting IBCs has increased by 10 per cent in the last five years to a total of 76, the authors said. Since 2011, nine countries have become hosts: Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, Ghana, India, Malta, Nicaragua, Rwanda and South Africa.


IBCs now come from 33 home countries, an 18 per cent increase compared with the previous OBHE research in 2011, with institutions from Belgium, Estonia, Japan, Korea, Turkey and Taiwan venturing into the overseas campus sector in the last five years.


The USA is the largest home country, accounting for 78 ISCs - around one third of the total - followed by the UK (39), France (28), Russia (21) and Australia (15). The top five combined represent 73 per cent of all IBCs.


However, Australia has the highest ratio of IBCs relative to the number of higher education institutions at home at 8.8 per cent, followed by the UK (8.6) and France (6.2).


"The United States is the leader in terms of IBC numbers, but compared to the total number of higher education institutions in the US, IBC activity is actually underrepresented compared to other leading nations," the authors said.


The authors stated that 291 IBCs have been created in total, but that 42 have either changed status or closed subsequently. They also estimate that around 20 new IBCs are currently in progress. Developing and middle-income countries will play an increasingly significant role in future operations in both originating and hosting the next generation of IBCs, they said.


The reasons for establishing IBCs include: internationalisation policies of the home campus; revenue incentives; status enhancement; and building upon existing connections.


Meanwhile, host governments are often keen to have IBCs established for reasons of economic competitiveness, soft power and educational recognition.


The majority (54.6 per cent) of IBCs are relatively small, offering between one and five degree programmes, the report showed.


"The distribution of IBCs across age shows a similar mix over time," the authors said. "This indicates that not all IBCs follow linear pathways in which they grow larger as they mature; rather, many stay small, whether deliberately or not. The number of IBCs that have survived 10+ years while still remaining small in programme offerings and/or enrolment indicates that they have found a formula that works, and that perhaps there is no intention to grow further."


The authors note that quality assurance of IBCs has been a complex area, with most regulated as local institutions, quasi-local institutions or foreign institutions. Home origin countries differ in their approach to assurance of IBCs.


Kevin Kisner, C-BERT Co-Director and Professor of Education Policy at Pennsylvania State University, said, "Quality assurance is adapting as the IBC phenomenon expands into more countries. We are seeing the emergence of new systems for managing and regulating truly multinational universities."



By Matthew Knott

News Editor