2 May · Episode 153
Opening International Branches of US-Based Higher Ed Institutions
34 Min · By Drumm McNaughton
Opening international branches of US-based higher ed institutions can help recover lost enrollment caused by the pandemic and government policy.
College and university leaders can recover from the drop in international enrollment brought on by the pandemic and federal policies by establishing cost-effective overseas branch campuses in the Middle East and other areas. Opening international branches of US-based higher ed institutions can help institutions expand their global presence and attract a diverse pool of international students, ultimately positioning them to compete more effectively on the global stage.
Although many other countries compete in this market, an increasing number of international students who can’t travel to the US would like to attend the same prestigious institutions at home.
In this podcast, Dr. Drumm McNaughton talks with Dr. Olgun Cicek about how higher ed presidents and boards can provide their services abroad quicker, easier, and more effectively at minimum cost and effort.
In addition, Cicek discusses how successful branch campuses must function, what to consider when choosing the right location and creating curricula, how much language plays a factor in the decision–making process, why cultural sensitivity training is crucial for faculty and administrative staff, and why to avoid online learning except for certifications and micro-credentials.
- Colleges and universities must ensure that their international branch campuses provide the same quality of services beyond the institution’s name, including the faculty, curriculum, qualifications, credentials, and reputation. These branches must receive two layers of accreditation, one that matches the U.S. campus and a second that aligns with the country where the branch is located. In addition, these branches must gain approval from the local authorities there.
- After choosing the city to build the branch campus, student accessibility must be considered. The campus should also be in an area that seamlessly facilitates collaborations with various community organizations for research and development, internships, industry partnerships, and speaker events.
- If the campus is located in an area where English is not a major language, an environment must be created where international students can feel comfortable communicating with each other and with fluent faculty and staff. Since locals appreciate it when foreigners know at least a few words, students and faculty should take extra courses or certifications before arriving. Language courses for international students and faculty members should also be available at branch campuses so faculty, staff, and students can truly interact with and understand the local culture and context.
- Faculty and staff must adhere to local cultural sensitivities, rules, and expectations of the people. There are usually orientations for international faculty members and administrative staff to become familiarized with the local contacts, culture, and sensitivities. This includes understanding and appreciating spoken and nonverbal language, such as gestures and body language. Therefore, everything that a faculty or administrator plans to share with students should be screened and carefully chosen. There have been instances where branches have had to fire faculty mid-semester for offending students.
- Gaining full awareness of cultural sensitivities on subjects, including gender, can impact curricula. Examples in textbooks, syllabi, notes, speeches, and recorded videos must be vetted. Some cultures also prefer not to be filmed, which can complicate online learning and collaboration.
- Certain countries, including the Middle East and Türkiye, don’t recommend, accept, recognize, or respect online learning. So online degrees should be avoided at all costs. Moreover, students who receive online degrees don’t get the same opportunities as those who receive a traditional education. Online certificates and micro-credentials are possible, however. Part of the problem is that online education doesn’t fit into the European Qualifications Framework and won’t gain official recognition.
About Our Podcast Guest
After completing his postgraduate education at the University of Surrey in the UK, he worked as an Instructor at Dokuz Eylül University, Faculty of Business Administration, in 1992. He completed his Ph.D. at the same university and received the title of Assistant Professorship in 1998.
In 2001, he moved abroad and worked in different countries for 21 years (N.Cyprus, Dubai, Singapore, Switzerland, Türkiye, UK, and USA) in public and private universities with various tasks and projects, assuming different roles ranging from Head of Department to Vice-Rector. During this time abroad, he received the title of Associate Professor in Dubai in 2005 and Full Professor in the TRNC in 2013. He also served as a Member of the Executive Board of the YODAK (Higher Education Planning, Evaluation, Accreditation, and Coordination Council) in N. Cyprus between 2014-2022.
Currently, he is an elected Board Member of INQAAHE (International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education), Vice President of CEENQA (Central and Eastern European Network of Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education), also Vice President of IQA (Association of Quality Assurance Agencies of the Islamic World). Additionally, he has been an elected member of the CHEA-CIQG (Council for Higher Education Accreditation) International Advisory Council in the USA since 2022 and Accreditation Committee member of the British Accreditation Council (BAC) in the UK since 2020.
He is an affiliate of ECA (European Consortium for Accreditation in Germany, He also serves as an Honorary President of ECLBS (European Council of Leading Business Schools), a reviewer/ evaluator for many institutional and program accreditation organizations in America, Europe, Middle East, and Far East (QAA, NVAO, AQAS, OCQAS, etc.), and an external evaluator and advisor for TKTA and IAAR. As of April 1st, 2022, after 21 years, he was reassigned to his previous position at Dokuz Eylül University as the International Relations Coordinator under the Rectorate. He has been appointed as an international advisor to THEQC since June 2022.
About the Host
Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host and consultant to higher ed institutions.
Read the Transcript Online
Changing Higher Ed Podcast 152 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Olgun Cicek- Opening International Branches of US-Based Higher Ed Institutions
Welcome to Changing Higher Ed, a podcast dedicated to helping higher education leaders improve their institutions, with your host, Dr. Drumm McNaughton, CEO of the Change Leader, a consultancy that helps higher ed leaders holistically transform their institutions. Learn more at changinghighered.com. And now, here’s your host, Drumm McNaughton.
Drumm McNaughton 00:31
Thank you, David.
Our guest today is Dr. Olgun Cicek, an international higher education leader and senior quality assurance and accreditation expert. Olgun has had a varied and exciting career across the European higher education area, including the UK, Dubai, Cyprus, Turkey, Singapore, and Switzerland. That’s quite a few places. Skilled in the internationalization of higher education, he specializes in strategic planning and developing quality assurance and accreditation. Olgun is a board member of CHEA International Quality Group. He joins us today to discuss how US institutions can grow enrollment by establishing overseas branch campuses in the Middle East and other areas. Olgun, welcome to the show.
Olgun Cicek 01:22
Hi, Drumm. Thank you very much for having me. Great to see you.
Drumm McNaughton 01:26
You too. It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to talk. I’m looking forward to our conversation about building international enrollment by opening branch campuses. This is something you have much experience in.
Olgun Cicek 01:40
Thank you. I’m also looking forward to our conversation. Yes, I’ll be happy to share my experience. This is a hot topic in the post-pandemic era. So let’s discuss that.
Drumm McNaughton 01:53
I look forward to it. To kick us off, tell us a little about your background, who you are, and what you do in Turkey.
Olgun Cicek 02:02
Thank you, Drumm. I call myself an international expert because I have some associations and affiliations around the globe. But yes, I’m currently based in Izmir, Turkey. I’ve been back home for almost a year after 21 years of being abroad.
I’m a professor of business and management. But for the last 15 years, I’ve been working on quality assurance and accreditation. I’m currently in the International Advisory Council of CHEA-CIQG, a full board member of INQAAHE, and the vice president of CEENQA in Europe. Also, I’m a member of the British Accreditation Council Accreditation Committee.
I also provide advisory services. I’m an adviser to a few quality assurance agencies in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. I have many board memberships, and I’m a reviewer and international expert on quality assurance agencies, and so forth. So, in a nutshell, that is me.
Drumm McNaughton 03:13
Well, you’re doing a lot in the areas of accreditation assessment. We’ve been having a challenge at international universities in the US, although it’s getting better. The pandemic brought on a great deal of it and some of the previous administration’s policies with decreasing international student enrollment. There are many challenges as a result of that. Today, we will talk about one of the solutions: having universities from the US establish overseas branch campuses.
Olgun Cicek 03:53
That’s an excellent strategy, Drumm. As an international consultant, this is a good practice for universities in the US, as well as in the UK, Canada, and Australia. Some education hubs are coming up in some parts of the world, namely, in the Gulf. I lived in Dubai for eight years. At that time, we began to see branch and satellite campuses appear there. Now it’s becoming much more crucial with these post-pandemic challenges. I agree with that.
Drumm McNaughton 04:34
Forgetting all of the challenges we’re having with guns and school shootings, the US is getting a reputation that it’s not particularly safe for students to come over here. It’s also very expensive. And then there’s always the visa issues as well.
Olgun Cicek 04:58
There will be significant obstacles for international students. It’s not only because of the pandemic. That’s one side of the coin. It’s been an issue for the last five to 10 years. The other side of the coin is that there’s tough competition globally. As I said, many higher education institutions and hubs in the Middle East, the Gulf area, Europe, the Far East, and Asia are competing with the traditional universities in the US, UK, and Canada.
This is a big, big moment for us. First, we have to find some other recruiting options. Students who can’t travel to certain countries to attend their primary choice of universities want the option to be able to attend them at home. This adds a whole new dimension to higher ed, where universities can open branch campuses and satellite campuses in different parts of the world to provide their services quicker, easier, and more effectively at minimum cost and effort at the local level.
Drumm McNaughton 06:11
A huge issue is having that campus at the local level. It expands the US footprint for the institution. Whether in Dubai, Turkey, or another country, it certainly helps the local folks get a quality education from a US or other institution. Does that make sense?
Olgun Cicek 06:42
Absolutely. But once a university gets a reputation at home, they have to provide the same quality of services and maintain the same reputation when they open a branch campus abroad. When I was in Dubai, the well-known universities from the US, UK, and Canada provided their own experience, structure, rules and regulations, qualification issues, and accreditation. Not only must the universities be accredited, the satellite campuses must be accredited within their own context. They must go through this process.
This is good assurance for and is attractive to local students, allowing them to stay home rather than go to new countries. It’s essential to assure students that not only are the name and curriculum structure of the branch campus the same as they are at the leading university but that the structure of faculty members, their qualifications, and credentials are also. Likewise, providing resources is a must for branch campuses to be successful and reputable.
Drumm McNaughton 08:27
It’s similar to opening a branch campus in a different U.S. city. You have to get that accredited as well. You are just adding international flavor to it. You have to meet the localized expectations of that campus and that country. Many folks are doing it over there. When we spoke a few days ago, you mentioned Michigan State putting its campus in Dubai.
Olgun Cicek 08:57
Yeah, that’s true. Michigan State opened a campus when I was there, as well as other universities from the UK, Canada, and Wollongong, Australia. It’s crucial to have the big names there. It’s like a benchmark. Once you set the bar high, the other city will also try to get to that level.
Receiving accreditation at home or in a different city within the same country is one thing. But getting international accreditation in another country is something else entirely. You have to follow their operations within the local context because you also have to gain approval from the local authorities. So there are legal and formal aspects to it. But, as you said, the most important thing is to pay attention to the cultural aspects of it. You have to obey the cultural sensitives and follow the rules and expectations of the local people there. There are usually orientations for international faculty members and administrative staff to become familiarized with the local contacts, culture, and sensitivities. There might be religious sensitivities, too, as is the case in Dubai, for example.
We experience many things from the international community. I remember having a class of 20 students with 15 different nationalities and cultures. This was a challenge. As a faculty member, you must be careful with every word you say in the classroom because it might offend someone. It’s not only what you say, either. It can also be your gestures and body language. Everything makes a difference.
Drumm McNaughton 11:06
We will get into all those things here in just a moment. But, for those of you who are thinking of doing something like this, what are some of the considerations that a large US university must consider when opening a branch campus in Izmir, for example?
Olgun Cicek 11:30
This is really important. First, there’s choosing the correct city. And then, within the city you choose, accessibility must be considered. Students must be able to access the campus easily. If it’s going to be a physical campus, you must have all the resources there. The cost might be another factor that you may have to consider.
Your campus’s connection with the industry and local community is also important. Of course, universities naturally train and provide teaching and learning to students. But higher ed is also a service to the community. It includes research and development, connects industries, creates internships, and invites professionals to speak on campus. So it has to be a location you can access and where all these components can come together easily so people can interact, host events, and research together.
Drumm McNaughton 12:59
You’re absolutely right. All of those factors are important in choosing your location. So once you’ve chosen your location, what are the key things that must be considered? We’ve talked about the culture already, but what about hiring faculty or things along those lines? Let’s start with language. What are some of the considerations that you need to think about with language?
Olgun Cicek 13:27
That’s a tricky point. It might be easier to adjust if it’s an English-speaking community, like Dubai, Hong Kong, or Singapore. But suppose the local community or students are not competent in a foreign language like English. In that case, this will be a challenge because they can only speak during campus activities.
I won’t say where, but I once had a student studying in a particular city who told me, “Everything is perfect. But when we are on and off campus, we are like a fish out of the sea. Nobody speaks English. We cannot find our way around. We can’t cope with the day-to-day activities.” Therefore, you must create an environment where international students can feel comfortable. It’s not only important for the students to speak English but also that the people they are interacting with are capable as well.
People should be able to speak the language so they can communicate. As I said, it’s not only about teaching, learning, or getting a degree. It’s also about expanding your local culture or even your multicultural environment.
Drumm McNaughton 15:04
Also, the population where you locate is typically going to be far more diverse than what you have in the US.
Is instruction going to be in the native language? Is it going to be in English? How do you hire US faculty if they’re not multilingual? If not, they’re going to have challenges. And then, of course, students want to know if they’re getting the same quality education that they would in the US. But they may identify more easily with professors who speak their own language and share the same heritage as them.
Olgun Cicek 15:50
It also goes vice versa. You’re right. It’s important not only the teaching language but also the local language. In Turkey, Turkish language courses are provided for international students and faculty members so they can truly interact with and understand the local culture and context much more effectively.
So if it’s in Saudi Arabia, you must provide Arabic courses. If it’s in China or elsewhere, the local language must be offered there. So from the faculty perspective, you might be the perfect professor in your field when speaking your language. But when you’re in a different country with a different culture, you have to have a broader view and perspective to understand people’s challenges, whether it’s language-wise, cultural-wise, or knowledge-wise. So this connection becomes a little tough.
Sometimes the students are shy. Sometimes they are arrogant. You have to understand the context and adjust yourself in that respect. Even if you say a few words in their local language, the local people will appreciate that. They’ll connect better with you and respect you more. It’s better to try to learn the language even before they get there. Take some extra courses or certificates to gain a basic understanding of the local language. Then, once they arrive at the destination, it’s encouraged to make some extra efforts to understand and speak the language. This will improve the connection not only with students but with other faculty members and third parties.,
Drumm McNaughton 17:51
It’s so important to understand the culture as well. It’s not only the language. It’s nonverbal language. It’s how you conduct yourself. Whenever I have an overseas project, I buy a guide to that particular country. I read through that to understand their culture. In Arab countries, for example, you don’t offer your left hand. It’s not considered culturally inappropriate. There are other things like that. Showing a picture of the Prophet Muhammad is not done, either. There are all these nuances that someone going there needs to understand.
Olgun Cicek 18:34
This is the most critical point. Whether it’s faculty or administrative staff, they have to be very, very well trained in cultural sensitivities when communicating with students. From my experiences abroad in different countries, you must know the differences between spoken and nonverbal languages, the gestures, and the examples you give. Everything makes a difference.
It’s risky sometimes because, as I said, you can have a class of five or ten different religions, nationalities, or cultural sensitivities. One example that you make in class has the potential of offending someone. Everything that you plan to share should therefore be screened and carefully chosen. That’s not an exaggeration. These are based on experiences.
Let me be specific. In a multicultural classroom in Dubai, we had an excellent professor in his field. We thought it was a privilege to have him. But unfortunately, we only had him for one semester because he couldn’t adjust himself culturally within the classroom context. He was not able to communicate with the students within their cultural expectations. As a result, he offended the class a few times.
If you’re talking to your students in a class, you must have some sensitivities in whatever you are talking about. For example, let’s say you have a class with an Indian boy. You have to treat him differently. The points that you touch on might affect someone in the class. That’s the big challenge. Therefore, these faculty members must be trained, made aware of these sensitivities, and participate in an orientation to learn the consequences. We’ve had cases where we have had to fire faculty members in the middle of the semester because of unnecessary mistakes.
Drumm McNaughton 21:09
I understand exactly what you’re saying, as I’ve had projects with Arab universities. When I schedule calls, I give them an option of what times they want. They typically work later in the day and the evenings than we do here in the US. I’m also careful to look up when the call to prayer is. There are five different calls to prayer. I don’t propose a time that takes place during a call to prayer. I ensure it’s an hour before or at least a half-hour afterward. Again, it’s understanding the culture that you’re working with.
Olgun Cicek 21:50
Yes. It’s the same when you have a business lounge or dinner with different cultures. Knowing what they do and don’t eat or drink is important. Sometimes you might think you’re making a nice gesture, but you’re offending them.
For example, it’s Ramadan in the Islamic world. Last week, we had a European guest, and I took him to dinner. We could break the fast at 7:30 and had to wait until then. My guest was very much amazed. He said, “Oh, this is interesting. Everyone is sitting and waiting to eat until prayer time.” This was a good experience for him. He was kind enough to do the same as everyone else. He could have started eating. Or he could have asked for a drink. That would have been a little bit weird to the people around him. These sensitivities are very important. The cultural exchanges, understandings, and compromises are needed wherever you are. I use this as an example in my classes. Whenever you are in Rome, do what the Romans do. That will save you otherwise. It’s really risky, isn’t it?
Drumm McNaughton 23:06
It is. And the same goes for curriculum design. For example, in Arab cultures, they don’t drink wine or alcohol at all. Sometimes I wish that the US was a little more like this. But in Saudi Arabia, you would not teach a class on wine.
Olgun Cicek 23:35
Like wine tasting? Yeah. That’s risky. It would not be preferred. That’s true. Absolutely. A curricular art class, for example, could be risky. It’s not only classes on alcohol but also gender sensitivities or other religious issues to consider. It’s therefore essential to check the examples in your textbooks, syllabi, notes, speeches, recorded videos, etc.
Even during the online teaching and learning period at the height of the pandemic, I experienced that, in some countries, they don’t switch on their cameras. I asked the lecturer during our review interview if they were happy with that. They said no, but that they couldn’t do much about it. I asked them why. They said that girls prefer not to be visible, especially in some specific countries. So they turn off their cameras, and they just listen and work. But if an exercise requires interaction, like a group discussion, it might be challenging for a faculty member. So you might have to find another alternative. These are the challenges that satellite campuses have in an intercultural teaching environment.
Drumm McNaughton 25:05
It really is. And, of course, you have to look at the cost-benefit piece of this. Will it benefit the area? Is it going to provide more employment opportunities for the local population?
Olgun Cicek 25:21
Absolutely. We are just talking from the technical or academic perspective. But when you look at this strategically, this model works perfectly globally. You will find that the education hubs are very effective, working perfectly, and are in high demand in Dubai, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malta, for example. Why is this? Because the local community and students prefer to go to the busy stations in the first place because they will get many advantages afterward. It’s not only the time, it’s not only the cost, but it’s also the employment opportunity because they are attending well-known, accredited international universities. By graduating from there, they will get better positions and future perspectives. This is why they are in high demand and preferred by the locals.
Drumm McNaughton 26:38
I think you’re right. Now I’ve got a question for you, which has been kind of nagging at me. Instead of opening a branch campus, what is the receptivity for online education? For instance, the University of Massachusetts just acquired Brandman University and became the University of Massachusetts Global. Is online education well received in other countries as branch campuses?
Olgun Cicek 27:11
Not really. In this part of the world, online education has a different image and benefits from a different level of acceptance. We have a different perspective on it. When I was at USF during the pandemic, I asked one of my colleagues, “Oh, now we’re going to do online?” And he said, “I don’t care because I have been teaching online for 10 or 15 years.”
So they had already been doing that. Even in the online delivery, there is a cultural factor involved. In other parts of the world, like in the Middle East or Turkey, online education is less popular, in demand, accepted, or seen as lesser quality than traditional education. So the acceptance level is not the same. Quality assurance is not there as far as online delivery is concerned. Therefore, it’s not well respected. So, graduates of online programs don’t get the same opportunities. That’s why I say “No” to this question, Drumm, because it makes a difference in the local context. In some countries, online education isn’t officially recognized or allowed. Students might be able to get a certificate but not a degree.
Drumm McNaughton 28:49
So, that may be an opportunity for US universities to offer certificates?
But don’t expect your online education offerings to be received in the same light as opening a branch campus.
Or bringing international students to the US.
Olgun Cicek 29:10
Absolutely. Because once the students graduate from an online program, they won’t get the same privileges as those who received a traditional education in terms of job opportunities, especially in government and with getting promotions. So certificates or micro-credentials would be good opportunities for local contacts in any specific area—however, not a full degree, whether it’s a Bachelor’s or Masters.
Drumm McNaughton 29:50
Many universities over here are doing what’s called stackable certificates. So you’d have multiple certificates, which can be made into a degree. So the certificates would be accepted, but the degree, probably not.
Olgun Cicek 30:06
That’s the problem. In the European context, we have the European Qualifications Framework, and most European higher education countries have a first, second, and third cycle. So, Bachelor, Master, and doctorates have specific frameworks, learning outcomes, credit numbers, etc. So unless you have this, you won’t gain official recognition for your achievements. That’s why it may not work directly in the local context.
Drumm McNaughton 30:38
This makes so much sense. Again, I appreciate you taking the time to do this. As we wrap up, what are the three takeaways you’d like to pass on to university presidents and boards who are thinking about opening branch campuses overseas?
Olgun Cicek 30:55
I didn’t realize how quickly the time went. That was wonderful talking to you as always, Drumm.
Now, having a branch campus is one of the best opportunities for going international. It’s good for student recruitment, reputation, and prestige. It’s like an international gateway. So go for it. This could increase student recruitment. But when doing this, we have to be cautious about the reality of the ground and the cultural sensitivities. We must always remember that we live in a multicultural community and provide this to them.
Drumm McNaughton 31:50
Okay. So, we have great opportunity and be aware of cultural sensitivities. What else?
Olgun Cicek 31:58
And that it will increase your student recruitment. It’s a good source of income.
Drumm McNaughton 32:05
It certainly can be. And you also have to get the campus accredited. So it also has to be accredited not only by US accreditation bodies but also by other accreditation bodies in the country in which you’re operating.
Olgun Cicek 32:22
Exactly. It’s like a double accreditation. It will also give you more power and recognition in that part of the world. That’s true. Thanks for that.
Well, once in a while, I come up with a good one.
So, Olgun, what’s next for you?
Olgun Cicek 32:42
I’m going all international here and there. I want to be more engaged with ENQA, the European Network for Quality Assurance. I need an affiliation with them that’s missing. I would like to see myself in the Higher Education Council, working globally at a strategic level for higher education.
Drumm McNaughton 33:07
I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun doing all those things.
Olgun Cicek 33:12
Thank you, Drumm.
Drumm McNaughton 33:14
Olgun, thank you so much for being on the show. It’s been an absolute pleasure to reconnect with you. I look forward to our next conversation.
Olgun Cicek 33:21
Likewise. Thanks a lot.
Drumm McNaughton 33:25
Thanks for listening this week. I want to give a special thank you to Dr. Olgun Cicek for sharing how US institutions can build international enrollment by establishing overseas campuses.
Tune in next week for my conversation with Matt Frank from Blackthorn. Matt is an expert in the burgeoning area of micro-credentials as an alternative or supplement to a degree. He joins us to talk about how micro-credentials are taking the world by storm and what presidents need to be aware of when venturing into this wild, wild world. Until next week.
Changing Higher Ed is a production of the Change Leader, a consultancy committed to transforming higher ed institutions. Find more information about this topic and show notes on this episode at changinghighered.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe to the show. We would also value your honest rating and review. Email any questions, comments, or recommendations for topics or guests to email@example.com. Changing Higher Ed is produced and hosted by Dr. Drumm McNaughton. Post-production is by David L. White.