The University, the Next Multinational Corporation

Over at the SSRC blog Knowledge Rules, Andrew Ross looks at the issue:

As universities are increasingly exposed to the rough justice of the market, their institutional life is distinguished more by the rate of change than by the observance of custom and tradition. Few examples illustrate this better than the rush, in recent years, to establish overseas programs and branch campuses. Since 9/11, the pace of offshoring has surged and is being pursued across the entire spectrum of institutions that populate the higher education landscape, from the ballooning for-profit sectors and online diploma mills to land grant universities to the most elite, ivied colleges. No single organization has attained the operational status of a global university, after the model of the global corporation, but it may only be a matter of time before we see the current infants of that species take their first, unaided steps.

The formidable projected growth in student enrollment internationally, combined with the expansion of technological capacity and the consolidation of English as a lingua franca have resulted in a bonanza-style environment for investors in offshore education. As with any other commodity good or service that is allowed to roam across borders, there has also been much hand-wringing about the potential lack of quality assurance.