International Higher Education in Crisis: Covid-19 Impacts and Strategies

Forschungsschwerpunkt: Ökonomie und Zivilgesellschaft

Projektleitung im IRS: Dr. Jana Maria Kleibert

Förderorganisation: Regional Studies Association (RSA)

Laufzeit: 10/2020 - 06/2021

Globalisation’s challenges include a slowing of global trade ‘slowbalisation’, caused partially by protectionist economic policies (Economist, 2019) and, more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic severely restricted human mobility and cross-border trade. This research project assesses how the current crisis impacts and reworks existing economic geographies, taking the higher education sector as a critical example through which to understand broader restructurings (see Thiem, 2009).

International higher education is profoundly affected by these shifts, as international students are unable to travel to their overseas campus locations and university campuses in many countries have largely shifted to online teaching. For some countries and regions, reliance on overseas students (particularly from China) is large and a loss of their tuition fees may bring higher education institutions to the brink of collapse. In the United Kingdom losses to the sector are estimated to amount to £2.7bn and 30,000 redundancies (McKie, 2020).
During a high-phase of globalisation, many universities have set up international branch campuses and overseas partnerships to teach international students abroad (Kosmützky, 2018). On the one hand, commercial presences of higher education providers abroad, regulated through the General Agreement on Trade in Services could be envisioned as an ‘insurance policy’ for institutions that are able to upkeep teaching of international students at the foreign offices, similar to their envisioned role through the Brexit (Kleibert, 2020).

On the other hand, foreign campuses of universities are embedded in multiple flows and mobilities, including fly-in staff and international students (Gunther & Raghuram, 2018), that their business models may have come under serious challenge and might even be closed entirely, following budget costs of universities for non-core activities. This research project investigates the shifting geographies of higher education following the pandemic through understanding how international student mobility and higher education provider mobility are shifting. It does so through a survey of internationalisation managers at home institutions and of branch campus managers in host countries. The impacts of universities are multi-scalar, including urban and regional effects (Benneworth, 2019; Goddard & Vallance, 2013; Meusburger et al., 2018).

It is clear, that universities are vital institutions for economic development, including through regional employment effects, effects on labour markets and spillover functions and globally-networked knowledge and innovation that are important for securing our post-pandemic futures. The findings will look beyond impacts at the strategies of transnational education managers. It will assess whether branch campuses are a suitable strategy to ameliorate global risks (for differently situated clusters of transnational higher education) and contributes to theorising (post-)globalisation.

28. Februar | 2021
Interview mit den IRS-Nachwuchsgruppenleiterinnen Jana Kleibert und Monika Motylinska

Das IRS beherbergt derzeit zwei Nachwuchsgruppen, die aus prestigeträchtigen Programmen gefördert werden. Die Stadt- und Wirtschaftsgeographin Jana Kleibert erforscht mit ihrer Leibniz Junior Research Group „Constructing Transnational Spaces of Higher Education“ (TRANSEDU) seit 2018, wie in internationalen „Branch Campuses“ Hochschulbildung vermarktet wird. Die Architekturhistorikerin Monika Motylinska untersucht mit ihrer im Freigeist-Programm der VolkswagenStiftung geförderten Nachwuchsgruppe „Conquering (with) Concrete“ seit Anfang 2020, was deutsche Bauunternehmen im 20. Jahrhundert zur Globalisierung der Architektur beigetragen haben. Im Interview reflektieren die beiden Wissenschaftlerinnen den derzeitigen Arbeitsstand ihrer Forschungsgruppen und erklären, wie sie mit den Herausforderungen der Coronapandemie umgehen. mehr Info


Kleibert, J. M., Schulze, M., Rottleb, T., & Bobée, A. (2023). (Trans-)Regional Embeddedness and the Resilience of Offshore Campuses. Regional Studies, Regional Science, 10(1), 23-32. https://doi.org/10.1080/21681376.2022.2157323