Missteps abroad lead colleges to reassess expansion

Tim Goral's picture

For two decades, U.S. universities have raced to build campuses abroad to burnish their reputation and attract foreign students. Now, controversies and stumbles at high-profile projects have led some to reconsider expansion. Among the setbacks: faculty dissent at New York University and Yale University, construction delays at Duke University’s campus in China and lackluster enrollment at Persian Gulf outposts. Politics in Russia are jeopardizing the success of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s project in Moscow.

Those experiences, together with the growth of online learning, where a professor in Chicago can easily connect with students in Mumbai, are giving colleges pause, said Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania. Like Harvard, Columbia and Stanford universities, Penn has chosen to establish small study centers in cities like Beijing rather than invest in campuses. Penn is also a partner of free online course provider Coursera Inc. “We are fundamentally a knowledge institution, we are not fundamentally a real estate institution,” Emanuel said. “In this day and age, the idea that you are going to double down on real estate seems a little nutty.”

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