The role of online learning and glocal students in shaping university internationalization strategies

International branch campuses receive lot of media attention. Some of the recent endeavors from big brands like NYU Shanghai and Yale-NUS College, gives a perception that many more are building international branch campuses, however, they form a very small proportion of various models of engagement for university internationalization.

Consider the case of the UK, which have been promoting transnational education as a part of the national strategy, has less than 3% of all its TNE activity in branch campuses. Only ~17,500 of  ~600,000 students enrolled in an "overseas campus of a UK HEI." In addition, one out of five overseas students is studying for a UK degree through distance learning programs (Open University is the largest). This is also the learning model which is gaining a lot of buzz with technological innovation, MOOCS and competency-based learning.

In a recent presentation at the AIEA conference, the panel shared the opportunities and challenges presented by the use of technology in shaping and scaling global engagement strategies. I highlighted the example of University of Pennsylvania, which has already built integrated technology-enabled "open learning" as its global engagement strategy.

In October 2012, I argued that MOOCs are beginning to offer a new choice to students, and are not only changing the financial equation of foreign branch campuses but also the way education is delivered as a result of technological advances. While branch campuses are infrastructure-intensive efforts with high financial and reputational risk, online learning offers a low-cost, flexible alternative for ‘glocal’ students to potentially earn a foreign credential (glocal students aspire to earn an international education/experience without having to leave their home/region). 

A recent article from the Economist supports the argument and states that "The rise of online instruction will upend the economics of higher education." It notes that the cost of university is driven by two big factors. First, the need for physical proximity (infrastructure) and so a university’s marginal cost of production is high and second, it is hard to raise productivity due to labor-intensity (teaching).

This is where online education changes the economic equation as the "most salient feature of the online course is its rock-bottom marginal cost: teaching additional students is virtually free." If you add to this low or no cost, a reputed a university brand and a star faculty, you have a strong value proposition for a segment of students, who will be willing to substitute a campus-based experience from a lesser known institution with online experience.

In sum, higher education institutions need to assess, prepare and adapt their global engagement strategies to the new opportunities presented by the two megatrends--rise of technology-based learning innovation and expanding segment of glocal students. 

What is your strategy of engaging technology and glocal students in internationalization--ignore, collaborate or compete?

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Dr. Rahul Choudaha (copyright)