A Glimpse of the Future of English-Language Higher Education

For obvious reasons, I can’t discuss many details of the admissions process to our graduate programs in Communication Studies in this space (so please don’t ask if you applied and are reading this). However, I must note a change this year which I think may foretell of something bigger to come down the road. Every year, our MA program gets a sizable number of applications from around the world, a sizable subset of which from students who evidently saw our program listed on some website but have no idea what we do, or who DO know what we do but whose educational system is so completely alien to ours that they are ill-prepared to undertake an MA in our program. Many of these students are clearly well-educated in a different system, and I always feel bad turning down the ones who clearly seek what we offer but are not prepared for it.

But this year, something different happened. We are starting to get applications from branches of American universities that have been constructed in the middle east. These are effectively hybrid institutions, designed to give a U.S.-style education, often by American faculty (NYU colleagues tell me there is a very sweet deal on offer to go teach in Abu Dhabi), to middle eastern students. While the emphasis is clearly on sciences, engineering and medicine, some of the humanities are also starting to appear at these schools. Applications from students who have graduated from these schools look more or less like applications from students who graduated from the main campus of the university. Given the lavish funding and resources and funding available to these schools, I can’t help but wonder if among them is the next Stanford or Duke, schools endowed with private money that have, over time, become elite schools in their own right. Clearly, it’s a different model, since it is, for example, still the “NYU brand.” But this strikes me as a very different approach to globalizing higher education, and to preparing students in one’s home country for advanced study abroad. Perhaps as satellite campuses, these schools will never actually compete for reputation with the home campuses. But their students will very likely soon find themselves in western graduate programs to which they previously would not have had access. While new universities in North America seem to be more interested in cheapening higher education (ie, the University of Phoenix), it strikes me that perhaps the next wave of elite English-language universities could be located in the middle east.