15. February | 2023

Constantly in a Balancing Act

Paper on the Regional Embedding of University Offshore Campuses

How can universities be anchor institutions for the development of cities and regions in their vicinity? This question continues to preoccupy decision-makers in politics and administration. Scientific literature shows that a strong regional anchoring of universities is not only important for regional development effects. A good regional anchoring also brings many advantages for universities and their core functions. In the meantime, however, it has also become apparent how universities are simultaneously expanding their purely local understanding of themselves and their role as actors in the course of internationalisation strategies: they are increasingly transforming themselves into institutions that act transregionally. A new paper shows which dimensions politics and administration should pay attention to in the field of tension between regional and trans-regional anchoring.

A particular strategy of internationalisation of universities, predominantly those from the Anglo-Saxon world, is to open entire campuses abroad. These so-called International Branch Campuses or Offshore Campuses are physical offshoots of their parent university abroad. Here, students can complete selected degree programmes of the main university in their entirety, usually including accreditation from the respective sending country. However, this relatively new strategy of universities also brings new challenges into play: a problematic field of tension between regional and trans-regional anchoring arises, which can also affect their crisis resistance.

Jana Kleibert, Marc Schulze, Tim Rottleb and Alice Bobée from the TRANSEDU project have examined this area of tension in a paper. They took a closer look at the crisis resilience of campuses abroad, using the Covid 19 pandemic and its effects as an example. They used qualitative interviews with decision-makers from campuses abroad as a basis, which they supported with the results of an explorative online survey.

The researchers conceptualised four different dimensions of regional and trans-regional embeddedness of universities: partnerships, government funding, staffing, and student recruitment. Results of their analysis show that those campuses abroad with strong regional embeddedness in their respective host countries were more resilient to the impact of the pandemic. The pandemic was known to have severely affected international connections. The paper focuses on campuses abroad. However, the authors assume that other forms of transnational education providers can also benefit from strong local networks. "These networks need to be better supported by local governments," says Tim Rottleb of the Leibniz Institute for Spatial Social Research (IRS) in Erkner. "Furthermore, trans-regional and thus supra-regional embedding also has its advantages for those universities that want to internationalise," says Rottleb. However, too much regional integration at the host location makes a university more vulnerable. This applies, for example, to local events and political dynamics that are difficult to assess and foresee. Conclusion: Decision-makers in universities as well as in politics and administration must carefully weigh up and observe the advantages and disadvantages of their local anchor functions.