GLOBAL: The 'embassy' model for internationalisation

An alternative to the internationalisation model of building bricks-and-mortar campuses around the world is establishing overseas offices or 'embassies'. This approach was described by two universities, one American and the other German, at the Association for International Education Administrators conference in San Francisco.

In an increasingly globalised world, universities are adopting ambitious internationalisation strategies to keep apace. Ohio State University and Freie Universitat Berlin are among very many institutions embracing a more global outlook.

"Diversity in the population leads to a diversity in perspective," said Andrea Adam Moore, executive director of the German University Alliance, who chaired the session in which the two universities presented their internationalisation models.

By forming ties and fostering relationships with institutions around the globe, universities can increase their international stature and help create a more global culture on their campuses, the session heard. Global engagement and strategic partnerships can make a university appealing to prospective students and faculty, can lead to better and more sustained research collaborations, more academic opportunities and far more funding opportunities.

"We looked at other universities, and the model that did not shine brightly for us was building brick and mortar American campuses around the world," said William Brustein, vice provost for global strategies and international affairs at Ohio State University (OSU).

OSU's internationalisation strategy is multifaceted and seeks to bring a global ethos to all the institution's activities. Called Global Gateway, it aims to boost the number of international faculty and students at OSU, promote scholarship on major global issues, develop an international physical presence, and expand the university's study abroad programmes.

To achieve these aims, the university is establishing self-sustaining Gateway offices in locations across the world. The offices, funded by the university, alumni and corporations, will act as OSU 'embassies', providing a base of operations for faculty research and teaching, international partnerships, and various student programmes.

When choosing locations for the Gateway offices, Brustein targeted countries where OSU already had a significant international presence.

"We looked at where our faculty had research interests across the world, we looked at where our alumni are from, and where most of our international students are from," said Brustein. "Our aim is to build deeper relationships with these universities."

The first office was opened last year in Shanghai, China. Next on the cards is Mumbai in India and Sao Paulo in Brazil. Future possibilities include London, Istanbul, Eastern Europe and East Africa.

Brustein said each office is customised to fit the strengths of OSU and the needs of the host country. For instance: "[OSU] has one of the best food safety programmes in the country," said Brustein. "When speaking of China that's a very important issue."

But there are challenges. Different countries have their own set of governmental regulations, which can be a serious hindrance. Other difficulties include generating enough revenue to stay afloat, as well as sustaining long-term faculty, student and alumni engagement in the various countries.

Following a similar model is Freie Universitat Berlin (FUB). The university has established seven liaison offices throughout the world, in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi and Brussels.

The aim of the office model is to increase the overseas visibility of FUB, recruit international students, connect with local alumni, and aid FUB academics in identifying local partners for joint research projects.

Like OSU, the main consideration when choosing a location was an already established connection with the country.

"We weren't just throwing darts at a map," said Herbert Grieshop, deputy director of the Center of International Cooperation (CIC) at the university. "We asked 'Where are we strong?"

The CIC, which focuses on promoting and cultivating international networks and graduate programmes, is one of three strategic centres implementing the university's sweeping global strategy, called The International Network University. The other two are the Centre for Cluster Development, which identifies and promotes research networks, and the Dahlem Research School, which trains junior scholars and scientists.

The university is now in the process of developing strategic partnerships with various institutions around the world. The hope is to nurture a small number of prioritised partnership agreements that span several layers of the university's activities, such as research, PhD education, visiting fellowships, and student exchanges.

The university's first priority partnership is with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "We hope to have a set of eight to 10 institutions where one will be in the US, one in Europe but the other six or seven in other countries that have the potential to develop," said Grieshop.

But a strategic partnership has its challenges. Finding a symmetry of shared interest and commitment, funding, resistance among academic staff, and geographical priorities versus academic quality are just some of the obstacles to overcome.

FUB is already reaping rewards from its internationalisation initiatives. The university is now one of the top 10 destinations worldwide for doctoral students from China. It is also experiencing a higher general visibility, with more success in rankings, and more inquiries about partnerships, exchanges and joint degrees.

Grieshop said he was confident the university would continue on this successful path, thanks to it colorful past. "We were a counter foundation to Berlin University in East Berlin," said Grieshop. The university "has internationalisation in its blood."