Innovating the Transnational Model: Thinking Beyond Branch Campuses

Call for Guest Columns:

I welcome guest post from leaders, scholars, and students on topics related to higher education. I am looking for brief posts (~500 words) which build on published research/book or well supported by data. If you would like to share your research on higher education feel free to reach out to me on rahul [at] .

This guest post is from Sean Angiolillo who earned a BA in International Relations and South Asia Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2011. This post draws from his senior thesis “Importing Knowledge: How Transnational Higher Education Builds Human Capital in India.” Next year, Sean is working as an Academic Ambassador for Dipont Education Management in Shanghai, China.
Dr. Rahul Choudaha

Innovating the Transnational Model: Thinking Beyond Branch CampusesBy Sean Angiolillo

Last year this blog wrote briefly about the “industrialization of education”. Some, such as Sir Ken Robinson, have argued that education models from around the world too often resemble factory assemble lines, where all students receive the same instruction along linear paths. Given India’s tremendous deficits in the quality and quantity of higher education, it might be tempting to identify the “best” model and then scale it up to size, replicating again and again to meet India’s needs.

However, Robinson advocates an “agricultural model”, focused on creating the conditions under which students can flourish. Rather than scaling one solution, the goal is to customize education to better suit individual needs.

Transnational education (TNE) offers a number of new models that can accomplish just this, by creating new high-quality academic pathways for students. While India’s prospects for the branch campus model (never particularly high) have been largely put to rest for now, other innovative models of TNE may be able to contribute to bridging India’s higher education deficits.

Of any TNE model, the branch campus attracts the most attention for its exotic nature. However, more people are realizing that India is not Qatar. New Delhi does not have the capacity (or intention) to roll out the red carpet for foreign universities, to construct new facilities, and to underwrite financial liabilities. The enormous challenges—legal ambiguity, political uncertainty, staffing questions, quality control, and land acquisition to name a few—are more than enough to deter most foreign universities.

Nevertheless, while large-scale branch campuses are highly unlikely, smaller foreign investments and partnerships through innovative models of TNE, which minimize these obstacles, will be exceptionally more attractive to foreign institutions, and ultimately more rewarding for talented Indian students.

While the Foreign Universities Bill continues to languish in Parliament, pioneering institutions have taken it upon themselves to create new kinds of mutually beneficial foreign partnerships. Through a wide variety of creative franchising, twinning, joint programs, and distance education models, more Indian students are accessing high quality education at lower costs.

For instance, a private for-profit institution, Chennai’s National Management School, is partnering with the public Georgia State University’s Robinson School of Business. Together, over 250 GSU faculty members rotate through NMS, delivering intensive modular courses in as little as a week at a time.

In another example, a partnership between Chennai’s SSN College of Engineering and Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University makes it possible for Indian students to spend one year of study in India using Carnegie Mellon courseware and earn a CMU graduate degree with just six additional months of study in Pittsburgh.

The key connecting theme of these transnational models should be higher quality education at lower costs. Each model accomplishes this goal in different ways. Twinning arrangements shorten the length of time needed to be spent abroad. Franchising arrangements eliminate this time altogether, in theory bringing all the resources of a foreign institution to India. Distance education, including programs supported by local partners, utilizes technology to connect learners with instructors. All of these transnational models provide new options to India’s rapidly expanding, higher education-hungry middle classes.

Moreover, while India is not Qatar, it does possess several advantages over other destinations in its transnational attraction, upon which its domestic institutions can capitalize through partnerships. India’s millions of young English-speakers, looking for a role in the “knowledge economy”, certainly ranks the subcontinent near the top of many foreign institutions’ internationalization wish list. Also, transnational models can provide India’s huge diaspora of Ph.D.s with new opportunities for short-term returns.

These innovative models certainly will not solve India’s largest education problems. Nevertheless, given its current educational deficits, and its ambitious goals, India should allow its own institutions to explore and experiment with new models of TNE to augment domestic resources and expertise.

Since the state’s education “assembly lines” have clearly been inadequate to meeting the growing demand and desires of a young population, the least it can do is create a transparent and unencumbered environment for its own institutions to draw upon foreign expertise. If the goal is a “knowledge-driven” economy, India needs to capitalize on these innovations in order to ensure its supply of human capital.