Half of the university branch campuses in the world are located in the Gulf, with a quarter alone located in the UAE, according to a report by a London-based educational research institute.
Of the 162 branch campuses in the world today, half are located in the Gulf, with 25 percent in the UAE alone, according to the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), a London-based information service.
Branch universities are when students can earn a degree from one country, while studying in a different one. They also traditionally operate independently from the main universities they are associated with.
The growth of such institutions in the UAE us a result of the need for investment in the educational sector in the emirates. The need for investment in higher education “is absolutely urgent,” said Rafic Makki, executive director at the Office of Planning and Strategic Affairs and Higher Education at the Abu Dhabi Education Council. “We are definitely on the right track, but we are nowhere near where we need to be.”
The Abu Dhabi government plans to spend more than AED1.3bn ($350m) on education this year, compared with AED655m in 2009 and more than six times the expenditure in 2008, according to statistics included in a preliminary government-guaranteed bond prospectus in July.
As much as $1bn in academic research investments is needed per year through 2018 for Abu Dhabi to compete globally with some of the top universities in the world, Makki added.
The OBHE reported that around 80 percent of branch universities had opened within the past decade and almost half are outposts are of American institutions. However, the concept has drawn criticism recently from those within the educational sector.
Soumitra Dutta, professor of business technology at the Paris-based business school INSEAD, told the International Management for Higher Education conference in Paris that branch campuses were no more than "hollow shells".
She told the University World News that the too early to judge their success, "but the initial structures are not encouraging. They are hollow shells of their host institutions because the real faculty don't move."
Albert Sassoon from Morocco, a former assistant director-general at Unesco, also criticized the rise of branch campuses as they do not integrate into the local community where they are set up.
"When you go there [Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait] you see magnificent campuses but where are the Qataris? You don't find them," he said.
Some US branch campuses have also admitted failure and have shut up shop in the UAE. Washington-based George Mason University shut its doors last year in Ras al Khaimah, citing the global economic crisis. Michigan State University closed its Dubai campus in July, six months after the bailout by Abu Dhabi.
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