Published on 2017/05/23
The EvoLLLution | A New Global Model: The Micro-Campus
While many American higher education institutions have an international aspect to their mission, few have gone past the concept of bringing international students to them—either online or on-campus. One university, however, is reversing the status quo.

With a goal of providing access to top-quality US higher education on a global scale, we at the University of Arizona, together with a group of 13 international partner universities, have launched an ambitious initiative to establish one of the world’s most affordable, accessible and expansive global networks for higher education and collaborative research.

This network consists of UA “micro-campuses”—or designated UA spaces—on the campuses of partner universities around the globe. These micro-campuses allow for the international delivery of UA degree programs to students locally at the partner university.

Before sharing how we created this model, let me first tell you how it works, why it’s potentially transformative, and how it offers a new model for globally providing affordable, cutting-edge higher education. Here’s how it works:

  • Shared campuses: The partner university shares its campus and classrooms, and provides a designated space for the UA, eliminating expenses for new infrastructure and allowing the UA and partner to focus on delivering high-quality educational instruction.
  • Shared students: Students maintain their student status at the partner university, while enrolled in for-credit UA courses, offered on location at the partner university.
  • Collaborative teaching: Leveraging the latest in technology-enhanced pedagogy, courses are co-taught in a flipped classroom setting by a UA professor and a local professor, or a locally based UA faculty member.
  • Affordable tuition: UA tuition is based on local market rates to increase access and affordability, and is shared with partner universities.
  • Seamless mobility and study abroad: Partner university students have the option—but are not required—to study at the main UA campus in Tucson, or any location within the global micro-campus network. Students on the UA main campus also have this opportunity to study at any micro-campus.
  • Research Collaboration: The micro-campus serves as a hub for faculty collaboration, including joint research and grant proposals.
  • Dual degrees: Students earn a UA degree and a degree from the partner university, including bachelor’s and master’s-level degree options available across multiple disciplines.

But it didn’t happen overnight. It has been years in the making, as we built consensus and a collective vision, experimented and made adjustments along the way, collaborated across international borders, and racked up frequent flyer miles.

How We Got There: Think Global, Lead Local

The UA’s Global Micro-Campus model began as a conversation between UA law school Dean Marc Miller and me on plane coming back home from India in early December 2012.  We had just spent two weeks visiting law schools in India to discuss dual-degree programs, which would require students to spend two years at the UA to earn a JD along with their LLB.

The UA College of Law has among the highest—perhaps the highest—percentage of international lawyers earning a JD of any law school in the US. We often have students from India, and indeed from all over the world. However, given the prohibitive cost of US tuition for most Indian students, and for many strong and capable students in other countries, we wished there were a way to offer the JD for less, overseas, to make it more accessible. But we concluded that this would be a non-starter for our accreditor, the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar of the American Bar Association (ABA), which had twice denied accreditation of an American-style law school in China.

Almost a year later, in Brazil, where we spent several days talking with potential law school partners about embedding UA law courses into their programs, we returned to the idea of a year before: Why not offer full degrees—and why not the UA’s new BA in Law, which the ABA might be more inclined to allow? We sketched the idea out in a short memo, which collected virtual dust after we returned to Tucson to focus on other matters.

More than a half year later, visiting Ocean University of China in Qingdao to discuss a possible undergraduate dual degree in law, I recalled the memo and suggested “What if, instead of requiring students to come to Tucson, we delivered the UA portion of the dual degree here, at much lower costs than if the students came to Tucson?”

Our partners at Ocean responded enthusiastically, and almost exactly one year later, through the tireless efforts of our Ocean University partners and with the full support of our faculty and UA central administration, we welcomed our first class of 77 students at our UA-Qingdao micro-campus (though we did not yet call it that).

In the process of setting up and growing the Ocean University program, we began to think about how the model might scale to additional locations, and to additional degrees outside of law. We drafted a series of internal memos about how the model might work and began to gauge interest and collect feedback from law school colleagues, university administrators, deans, department heads, university faculty, alumni, thought leaders and entrepreneurs.

All the while, the model evolved, molded by the ideas and input of our colleagues, and the then new experiment at Ocean University. As the idea came to represent a collective vision and the program at Ocean proved successful, UA senior leadership embraced the model as one that, with university support, could become a platform for academic units that wished to offer their programs abroad and that, on a grand scale, could provide greater global access to a US higher education.

Along the way, “scaling the Ocean model” became a full-time endeavor, and the model came to be known as a micro-campus.  The UA also created an Office of International Education to support the initiative, situated within the larger division of Academic Initiatives and Student Success, which also houses UA Online and domestic distance locations.

In full start-up mode since then, the Office of International Education has been building the university-wide consensus, the momentum, the team, and the many systems and internal supports necessary to launch a worldwide network of micro-campuses.

The UA now also has a well developed and centrally supported model that remains locally determined and flexible enough for continued evolution and experimentation by academic units.

No micro-campus launches without full participation of a college or department, and it is up to each academic unit to determine the precise mix of modes for educational delivery at a particular location.

Yet, for colleges or departments that would like to participate, the university now helps find partners. For colleges that have potential partners, the university now helps facilitate those relationships.

The university has also developed financial models, legal templates, and other tools to assist academic units in the launch of micro-campus programs. In addition, it provides administrative support for each micro-campus, including an on-site administrator, so that academic units can focus solely on curriculum development in collaboration with partner universities and on delivering high-quality educational instruction.

Today, the UA has two micro-campuses in operation in China and Cambodia, and agreements for 11 more in a total of 10 countries. As this network grows, the UA envisions an expansive global network of at least 25 micro-campuses, capable of educating more than 25,000 students abroad every year, while serving as an incubator for multi-country faculty collaboration and global research.

To help ensure that micro-campuses effectively deliver on their promise, the UA’s Center for the Study of Higher Education will also assist the university in continually assessing, developing and refining the model in practice. We will adjust the model as needed to achieve the critical goal of delivering high-quality and effective education, and—as a research university—ensuring that it does, in fact, promote cross-border faculty research and joint grants.

Building out this micro-campus model has been an inherently collaborative and evolutionary process. Everything is a variation of building consensus on campus, collaborating with micro-campus partners, bringing feedback back to our on-campus partners, and incorporating their responses into a new and evolving consensus.

Thanks to a powerful idea, a willingness to experiment and adjust, and a commitment to developing a shared vision, the UA has shown that a locally-driven innovation can spur institutional change. In this case, local innovation led to the launch of a collective university endeavor to provide affordable access to higher education around the globe, and to a new chapter in transnational education.

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