The New School on the Block

Under amplified pressures of internationalization, American higher education institutions (HEIs) are evolving. Currently, there are over 200 American HEIs operate at some capacity outside the United States, with the majority of international expansions having emerged in the past two decades. While American HEIs continue to thrust themselves onto the global stage, their actions dramatically challenge foundations of American higher education (HE) and increasingly become entrenched in U.S. foreign affairs. Historically, the guiding principles of American HEIs were primarily concerned with local and national issues. Despite this previous narrative, American HEIs are progressively embracing global missions, mirroring the internationalization of American HE and growing global entanglements of the American government.

After World War II, American HEIs welcomed thousands of international students and scholars. Despite its historical underpinning, the internationalization of American HE only recently intensified during the last two to three decades, sparking a recalculation of American HE principles. Politics and economics serve as major rationales for the internationalization of American HE.

The acceleration of internationalization was a reaction to the neo-liberal guidelines of the World Trade Organization (WTO) of the late 1990s and early 2000s, where through conferences, such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services, the WTO liberalized trade services, urging American HEIs to eagerly usher their services globally.

The revenue drawn from international studies was another motivating factor. The Institute for International Education’s 2014 “Open Doors” report stated, 886,052 international students studied in the U.S., generating roughly $27 billion for the American economy during the 2013/2014 school year.

Furthermore, political arguments for internationalizing American HE are also historically rich. Initially, international endeavors of American HEIs were instruments of economic and political domination. The American government employed HEIs to cultivate skilled workforces to eventually support their economic pursuits and to educate foreign elites as allies in American foreign affairs. HE has once again become a soft diplomatic device with countries the American government has underlying political and cultural intentions. Thus, when the international “boom” surfaced in the early 2000s, American HEIs, such as New York University (NYU), Columbia University, Cornell, and Northwestern University quickly diverted attention overseas with added encouragement from the American government. These institutions serve as examples of how regardless of the rationale; internationalization is renovating thoughts of American HE and increasing HE’s role in international relations.

The aforementioned examples represent a growing trend among large, well-founded American HEIs and their aggressive exportation of campuses abroad. Philip Altbach, a professor of Higher Education at Boston College, describes the proliferation of international branch campuses as a “manifestation of current policies of internationalization carried out in a world that is globalizing at a rapid pace.” Internationalization highlights one manner in which American HEIs are changing the idea of American HE. University leaders are noticing that by supplying degree-granting institutions in major international metropolitan centers, their universities can seize untapped opportunities and HE markets to increase their international enrollments.

But the admitted economic incentives were not the only motivation, as former NYU President John Sexton also attributed the growing sense of cosmopolitanism and yearning for American HE degrees abroad as further rationales. College presidents argue, international campuses are a natural response to the accelerated global markets caused by diminishing traditional physical and metaphysical barriers, such as geographical location, race, ideology, religion, and gender.

As international branch campuses continue to grow, so will their role in U.S. foreign affairs. Columbia University hopes interconnections of its Columbia Global Centers with the countries they are based will not only foster a worldwide Columbia academic exchange network, but also act as centers of international discussions between countries.

Each of Columbia’s centers has individually tailored purposes and research concentrations, where they cooperate with their specific region’s governmental officials, scholars, students, and private enterprises to collaboratively address global issues. For example, CGC-Beijing focuses on global finances, Sino-U.S. governmental cooperation. Thus, while these centers have important academic roles, they also serve as locales for governments, especially the U.S. government, to address important global issues.

The physical construction process of branch campuses itself began to highlight how international endeavors of American HEIs can quickly find themselves in the middle of foreign affairs. NYU- Abu Dhabi permitted city officials to oversee construction and agreed to their practices. In doing so, they knowingly or unknowingly agreed to the Arabian Kafala system, which entails monitoring migrant workers by construction companies and often associated with human rights abuses. NYU left the majority of the supervision to the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi. Consequently, the majority of the building of NYU occurred within existing UAE construction laws. Since the first reports of mistreated construction workers, countless members of the NYU community and US government have voiced their disapproval. Many claim this to be a failure of management, accountability, and inefficient management between NYU and governmental relations with both the U.S. and UAE government. Multiple reports continue to surface of harsh working and living conditions for workers, many of which construction companies deny or claim align with human rights guidelines continuing to stress international relations sensitivity.

We can assume that higher education internationalization will continue as a powerful vector of global change in the future. Heightened internationalization defines the newest era of education. No longer is the task of educating future generations an issue addressed individually by one nation; it is rather through a complex global partnership. Those concerned about the future must continue to ask how HEIs are adapting to the global society.