IN PRINT: Importing Private Higher Education: International Branch Campuses July 2011

Importing Private Higher Education:
International Branch Campuses

Published in the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice (see link in box below).

By Jason E. Lane

author name

ABSTRACT: To fulfill public policy goals related to economic development and building higher education capacity, some governments are turning to international branch campuses (IBCs) run by private institutions based in other countries. IBCs represent a new and relatively unexplored expansion of private higher education, and compared to the total number of private higher education institutions worldwide, the number of IBCs is still minuscule. But their potential to affect the evolution of higher education in developing nations is substantial.

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Jason E. Lane is an Institute Fellow and assistant professor of educational administration and policy studies at the University at Albany, where he is also co-leader of the Cross-Border Education Research Team. Subscribers may access the full article in the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice.

This study uses two exploratory case studies (Malaysia and Dubai) to investigate the relationship between the government, public policy and IBCs. Both countries are in regions known for active government involvement in the planning and development of the private education sector.

The IBCs imported by the governments in this study tend to be from well-established institutions in countries that attract a large number of international students — and as such are seen as providing “something superior” to the host country's public institutions. They provide “something different” by offering an alternative instructional form or academic program, while also giving access to those historically excluded from higher education due to government policy. Moreover, these institutions may absorb local demand; but, more interestingly, they are seem to be part of larger strategy to create more demand for the nation’s higher education system.  

The results suggest that governments are actively recruiting institutions from other countries to help improve the host government’s education-related reputation and to signal to the world that it is modernizing its economy and desires to be a regional education hub. Thus, IBCs not only increase local capacity and provide a different type of education for current residents, but are intended to foster new regional interest in pursuing an education in the host country.


The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. It works closely with federal, state, and local government agencies nationally and in New York, and draws on the State University’s rich intellectual resources and on networks of public policy academic experts throughout the country.