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One Global University Model: A Network of Equals

LONDON—The New York Institute of Technology does not, despite its name, bind its identity to the famous American state. With a significant presence in Abu Dhabi and six other foreign countries, it views itself as an international institution that has transcended the branch-campus model.

The institute considers itself as one large university that straddles borders and crosses cultures. “In terms of curriculum, it’s the same on all campuses, even though courses are contextualized for the local environment,” says Provost Rahmat Shoureshi.

“When our students graduate, it only says NYIT on the diploma. It doesn’t say where in the world [the students graduated] because we believe we’re one university,” he adds.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators awarded NYIT The 2016 Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization last month. Dorothea Antonio, a senior director at NAFSA, says that NYIT’s thoughtful and innovative approach to maintaining a presence overseas is what won the recognition.

Antonio also praised the university for its long commitment to the United Arab Emirates and its early interest in internationalization. “NYIT Abu-Dhabi, for example, was the first licensed and accredited American university in the emirate,” she explains.

NYIT is currently active in seven countries, either with a full-blown campus like the one in Abu Dhabi or with degree partners. Along with the United States and the United Arab Emirates, the university has a presence in Taiwan, Canada, Brazil, France, Turkey and China.

Shoureshi says there are plans to expand more, and he hopes to add India, Mexico and South Korea to his university’s portfolio within 10 months. After that, he says, “Africa and the southern hemisphere and Australia and New Zealand are my goals.”

Antonio says she was impressed because NYIT staff members and students aren’t isolated or stuck in a single location. “Faculty are globally connected within departments and fully engaged in international exchange,” she adds.

Pupils and professors routinely study and teach classes at the different campuses via high-speed video link software, called Zoom.

“I can have Vancouver students, Chinese students or New York students zooming in,” says Ann-Marie Parkes, a professor of instructional technology at the Abu Dhabi campus.

These students joining Parkes’ lectures don’t just watch them on video; they participate when the lectures and class discussions occur and and are able to ask questions.

“Actually, we can’t shut them up,” she laughs.

Time difference is the main challenge, but Parkes arranges her lessons strategically to make the most out of the time when most people across NYIT’s various locations are awake.

Parkes says all of this makes her feel less like she’s a professor on a faraway, separate campus. “It’s not just PR hype,” she says. “I genuinely don’t feel like I’m on a branch campus.”

NYIT in Abu Dhabi accommodates about 400 students over three city blocks, each with about seven classrooms equipped with computer labs. There’s also a library on campus, a restaurant, a café and grassy outdoor areas where students congregate in the months when the campus isn’t baking in the intense summer heat.

Rana El Kassem, originally from Palestine, is currently working on her master’s degree at the college of education in Abu Dhabi. She says NYIT’s “one big university” philosophy gave her the assurance that she would get the same quality of teaching as a student sitting in a Manhattan lecture hall.

“You’re provided with the same instruction in all of the countries,” she says, “It gives us confidence that it’s just like graduating from New York.”

Over the last decade or two, European and North American universities have been enthusiastically jostling to grow their institutions abroad—especially in the Emirates and other Gulf countries.

Different universities go about it in different ways. Some opt for a straightforward branch campus, while others go for a lighter approach by strategically partnering with universities already on the ground or by opening international alumni associations.

Their reasons for doing so are varied, says Giorgio Marinoni, manager of internationalization policy at UNESCO’s International Association of Universities.  “We look at internationalization with all its pros and cons,” says Marinoni. “It can be about student recruitment to make more money.”

But in its more earnest aims, internationalization is about universities incorporating a global perspective.

“The final aim of internationalization is to improve education and research for the global student,” says Marinoni.

Shoureshi says his university isn’t in it for the money, but is instead embracing internationalization to remain relevant in a changing world. “It’s to educate students no matter where they are to be better members of the global community,” he says.


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