Branch campus is first step in building a US presence

America's Webster University is to set up a branch in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan, aiming to offer educational programmes from September 2018 and serve as a first step in promoting cooperation and establishing an American presence in Uzbekistan’s higher education landscape.

The agreement between Webster University and the Uzbek ministry of higher education was announced at the 2017 US-Uzbekistan Business Forum held in New York City under the theme “Partnership Destined for Commercial Success and Longevity”, according to a 17 October report.

Besides branches across the United States, Webster University operates satellite campuses in Europe, Asia and Africa, including in China, Ghana, Thailand, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to the January 2017 branch campus listing of the Cross-Border Education Research Team in the US.

Foreign branch campuses

Webster University is the first American branch campus to be set up in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, in addition to six other international universities and one foreign institute in Uzbekistan, according to a February 2017 report, Overview of the Higher Education System.

The country hosts the largest number of foreign branch campuses in Central Asia, including three Russian universities – Lomonosov Moscow State University in Uzbekistan, Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas in Tashkent and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.

Uzbekistan also hosts the Management Development Institute of Singapore, South Korea’s Inha University, the UK’s Westminster International University and Italy's Turin Polytechnic University.

"This American branch campus will give the local students an alternative choice of higher education systems besides their traditional Russian [options] and the newly-established European and Asian systems," Sia Eng Kee, a researcher at the Management Development Institute of Singapore in Tashkent, told University World News.

"The trend of learning English language and the opportunity of gaining an American university degree or qualification will certainly enhance the students’ learning experience and expose them to global career opportunities," Kee said.

Central Asia higher education expert Emma Sabzalieva from the Centre for the Study of Canadian and International Higher Education, University of Toronto, Canada, told University World News: "For recipient countries like Uzbekistan, a new American branch campus may be perceived as a way of quickly enhancing the prestige of the national higher education sector, while adding to existing provision in a way that is low cost to the state."

It was a symptom of Uzbekistan's greater openness to the outside world under the Presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who took power in December 2016 following the death of Uzbek leader Islam Karimov, Sabzalieva said, adding that the challenge for Uzbekistan now is to “think carefully about what it means by ‘international standards’ in higher education and to be clear about what it wants from new international partnerships”.

Uzbek development strategy

The new Webster campus fits in with Uzbekistan’s Five-Area Development Strategy for 2017-2021, which called for improved quality and effectiveness of higher education institutions through the introduction of international standards of training, assessments of teaching quality, as well as a gradual increase in admissions quotas.

The strategy called for the creation of scientific and specialised experimental laboratories, high-tech centres and industrial parks at universities and research institutes. It also focuses on improving training and employment of students at professional colleges in areas catering to the market economy and employers’ needs.