International Branch Campuses Cultivate Deep Roots: Now and in the FutureBill Mercer | Manager of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education Services, Texas A&M University at Qatar
The role of the international branch campus (IBC) in its first year of existence is generally to promote the educational values and standards of its parent campus to a new population of students not able to attend the main campus. As the IBC matures in the region, and as more graduates are produced, the IBC will take on a life of its own and become an institution with traditions and values related to, but separate from, the main campus. The reasons for deploying an IBC are numerous, but for a stable long-term existence, the IBC must develop four facets of its identity or will find its growth potential plateau or, worse, collapse.
Traditions: roots with family
It should be obvious that an institution that places an IBC in a region thousands of miles from its campus has been around for several generations and is rich with tradition and history. Traditions involving athletics or academic standards promote the university to those not indoctrinated, and other traditions and lore, such as those of Texas A&M University, including Aggie Ring, Muster, 12th Man and others, promote and proliferate the Aggie Spirit from generation to generation. This is more than school colors and mascots; to export the traditions of the main campus to a region that has an abundance of nationalistic and familiar traditions is quite a monumental task, no matter how benign the tradition may seem.
Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) has successfully exported many aspects of the Aggie Spirit by introducing the traditions of the main campus and modifying them to the sensibilities of the region. For example, the Aggie Ring is a symbol of the academic efforts of the wearer, and it illustrates many of the traditions and symbols historically valuable to Texas A&M. As an IBC, TAMUQ graduates have earned the right to wear the Aggie Ring with pride; however, as a culture, it is not allowable for many men in the region to wear gold. To accommodate this, we provide a version of the Aggie Ring made of a palladium alloy that has allowed the tradition to continue in this region. Now, the ring is a visible symbol of success and camaraderie of all graduates of Texas A&M University and TAMUQ. The rings, as well as other traditions, are passed down from parent to child and promote an alumnal spirit that anchors the IBC to families in its community.
Research: roots with industry
The industry in the region values local expertise to assist in solving real-world problems that affect the bottom line. They will seek out the faculty and researchers of the IBC as a resource to augment their efforts as consultants, provide research project funding or sponsor student scholarship. In a properly executed industry partnership, the industry partner wins as they receive a solution that will produce more barrels/day, more widgets/hour or more money/quarter at a fraction of the cost of personnel, overhead and benefits. Moreover, the relevance of the results can be tailored to the industry in the region. The IBC wins as they receive funds that pay for equipment, researchers and students to answer cutting-edge questions as they exercise their research strengths.
It is important to note that the IBC should not solely rely on the parent campus to fund its research activities at a level that will promote faculty interest or local industry trust. A starter or transition fund managed by the main campus might be a short-term solution, but for an IBC to have staying power and prove its value to the region, it must find its own sources of funding and maintain its own Principle Investigators (PIs) and researchers. To do this optimally, the IBC cannot expect the PI simply to find the money, write the proposal and win the award. There are legal requirements and regulations both in the region of the IBC as well as on the parent campus. A more seasoned PI may be aware of these constraints, but negotiating those minefields is not a best use of the PI’s focus. It is imperative for the sustainability of research funding that the IBC set up a research office that will manage the research project reporting requirements and financial obligations, leaving the research activities to the PI and his or her team. TAMUQ has set up such an office and provides guidance and advice to all PIs regarding their proposals and ensures that, if awarded, the projects stay in compliance with rules and regulations locally and on main campus.
Quality results are a great advertisement of one’s research capabilities, but the target audience is extremely limited through word-of-mouth channels. The IBC must engage in some self-promotion of its research capabilities. TAMUQ does this through an annual research forum, where we invite speakers and participants from industry to see our research efforts first hand.
As word of the successes and expertise of the IBC spreads throughout the region via promotion and industry chatter, research will anchor the IBC to industry in its community.
Graduate Studies: roots with education
A graduate studies program can be a natural extension of a research program at an IBC, as the role of faculty is to impart knowledge to the student. Of course, hosting only undergraduate programs can be sustainable if the IBC is developed with only that goal in mind, but once the IBC takes on the research efforts, it is imperative it provides post-graduate educational options as it promotes faculty stability and student longevity.
It is rare that a single faculty member can generate peer-reviewed journal papers, experimental data, teach and consult by themselves. They do not do all the work single-handedly but instead direct the work of their team of researchers and students. However, as director of the team, faculty members need to balance budgets with results. Researchers alone have a high cost for high output. . Graduate students provide a level of performance per dollar that stretches a project budget in exchange for a degree. Graduate programs promote faculty stability, in that there are other educational lives at stake. The typical length of time for a master’s degree is two years and five for the typical PhD. That is a long time to mentor and advise students, and faculty may be reticent to leave them before they graduate.
It is safe to say more than a few of the undergraduate students of an IBC will seek advanced degrees after graduation. Sending them to other schools or the main campus for those degrees is an option, but at a loss to the IBC. Remember, the IBC is deployed in a region where there are few educational options, and to turn away promising students due to the lack of a graduate program can be detrimental to even the undergraduate programs. By offering a path for advanced degrees, the IBC promotes student longevity and benefits from the growth of that student and his or her relationship to the faculty and institution. At TAMUQ, we offer a Master’s of Science in Chemical Engineering that attracts highly motivated undergraduates as well as candidates from regional universities. These students determine their faculty advisors and work as members of the research teams.
As the faculty build a pipeline of graduate students and follow them through matriculation and graduation, graduate studies anchors the IBC to its faculty and current students in the community.
Outreach: roots with the community
The IBC must promote and participate in non-traditional educational activities to promote its brand and educational values as well as its academic and research strengths. More importantly, whether intentional or not, the IBC is in the region to help all of its residents, not just those who can afford a university education. TAMUQ’s mission is one of promoting the values of high academic standards for the benefit of the State of Qatar. That is to say, the entire country and region, not just TAMUQ, admits students. Outreach is key to establishing deep roots within the home country of the IBC. Outreach that is relevant to the residents of that region is paramount not only to ensure better attendance, but also to instill trust within the community. Examples of TAMUQ outreach include industry-specific continuing education short courses, special events and lectures about regional issues and hosting symposia and conferences open to the public. As the IBC promotes and hosts public and highly visible events, the IBC anchors itself to all residents in the community.
TAMUQ is celebrating its 10th year in Doha and has consistently promoted its values and academic strengths through tradition, research, graduate studies and outreach. Our network of former students (linked with the main campus network) is doing most of the promotion on our behalf by sharing the traditions with their family, coming to TAMUQ in their job functions for research assistance, allowing their employees time and covering the expenses of a post-graduate degree and participating in community outreach through attendance, sponsorship or ownership. With these four facets well developed, the IBC will root itself in the community for many decades and find its own identity separate from, but similar to, its main campus.
Author Perspective: Administrator