French Offshore Campus Development: Discourses, Branding, Experiences

Forschungsabteilung: Dynamiken von Wirtschaftsräumen

Forschungsthemen: Geteiltes Wissen - lokal und über Distanz

Projektleitung im IRS: Alice Bobée

Förderorganisation: Leibniz-Gemeinschaft

Laufzeit: 06/2018 - 06/2021


While the development of campuses across national borders is not a French particularity, France is the nation-state with the highest number of offshore campuses in the world, alternatively referred to as branch campuses. One could but wonder: why do so many French institutions open campuses abroad? The answer is yet not to be found in the existing literature on offshore campuses, which has focused on Anglo-Saxon institutions. The literature has in particular shed light on the phenomenon from the lens of management, governance, and leadership or has developed typologies and measured the scale, significance and trends of offshore campus development in selected regions. Missing are human geographic investigations that would approach education markets as a set of economic, cultural and political investments through which spaces of transnational education are being established, maintained and, when necessary, recalibrated.

This project fills this gap through a cultural economic approach taking into consideration the discourses that shape and are shaped by the development of French campuses abroad, as well as the materialization thereof in the space of the campus. Addressed through qualitative interviews with managers in French higher education institutions and with experts on French transnational education, the following research question will guide the analysis: “How is the development of French offshore campuses discursively and materially constructed, branded and experienced?”

Following a sociological perspective on the geographies of market-making, and in line with Massey’s writing on the necessity of spatializing globalization, this research explores more particularly the spatially situated logics, motivations and imaginaries driving the geographical expansion and promotion of French branch campuses. On the one hand it investigates how the geographical expansion of French higher education institutions is embedded within spatial representations and, on the other hand, how those representations are (not) being taped in branding efforts. Overall, the project is an invitation to think through education markets, as to understand which forms of knowledge are being constituted and spatially distributed, by whom and for whom, through the development of branch campuses.

The dissertation project is supervised by Dr. Jana Kleibert at the Geography department at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.


Kleibert, J. M., Bobée, A., Rottleb, T., & Schulze, M. (2021). Transnational Education Zones: Towards an Urban Political Economy of ‘Education Cities’. Urban Studies. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0042098020962418