NU looking to expand to India

Nathalie Tadena

This article is the first installment in a five-part series analyzing the future of the university.

Although she lives and studies in a country more than 7,000 miles away from Evanston, Thouria Mahmoud is a Northwestern student. She has received a Medill F and painted a smaller version of the Rock but has never set foot in Illinois.

Mahmoud is one of 38 students who make up the inaugural class of NU’s campus in Doha, Qatar. “NU-Q,” which opened last fall as part of the Qatar Foundation’s Education City Initiative, is the university’s first foreign degree-granting campus.

“I don’t see how we’re very different from you guys in Evanston,” Mahmoud said. “I’m having the time of my life at this university.”

The Qatar campus is one part of President Henry Bienen’s effort to globalize, a goal he has had since he became president in 1995.

But with the endowment down 25 percent and NU’s financial future looking constrained, continued expansion abroad after Bienen has left – particularly to India, where both Kellogg School of Management and the Medill School of Journalism have set their sights – could be more difficult.

“I was brought in to be president, in part, because I was an international person: My career had been in international relations,” Bienen said in a February interview. “I think the Board (of Trustees) wanted someone who would … expand the footprint of Northwestern abroad.”

During Bienen’s tenure, NU has established several programs abroad, but NU-Q is still the only foreign campus where students can obtain an NU degree. And before there can be a Dillo Day in Delhi, NU will have to overcome financial and legal obstacles not present in Qatar.

Why go abroad?

NU is among many universities from the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom looking towards building branch campuses in foreign nations, said Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

“The need for education is rapidly growing in many parts of world and local providers are having trouble meeting that demand,” he said.

U.S. schools aim to earn money overseas, improve the school’s global “brand name” and strengthen internationalization strategies.

“U.S. institutions can recruit, in India’s case, the top students there to come to schools like Northwestern or other places to study,” Altbach said. “There’s a place for American students to go study abroad and for American professors to do research.”

NU in Qatar

In 2007, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, emir of Qatar, asked NU to bring its communication and journalism programs to Education City. The Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit organization, provided funding for construction, operating costs and employee salaries for all the American schools in Education City, which include Georgetown University, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell University, Texas A&M University and the Virginia Commonwealth Universities.

Although administrators have planned an opening ceremony for the new campus over spring break, NU-Q is currently without its own building in Education City. Students now use Texas A&M classrooms. In January, the foundation selected architect Antoine Predock to design NU’s building, slated for completion by 2013.

“It’s different from having our own building mainly because the walls are very less purple: You see it’s not Northwestern,” said Communication freshman Nayaab Shaikh.

Paint colors aside, most of the challenges faced this year at NU-Q are associated with adapting procedures and processes from Evanston’s campus to a foreign setting.

“Despite the inevitable start-up challenges we faced, this has been a very successful year thus far,” said John Margolis, dean of NU-Q.

The number of students at NU-Q will double next year with the arrival of a new freshman class, and there will be modest increases in the number of faculty members in Qatar. There are no plans to expand degree-granting programs in Qatar, but NU-Q is working with Carnegie Mellon to provide additional liberal arts classes that students can take as electives, Margolis said.

He added that students from Evanston will have the opportunity to study at the Qatar campus by the 2010-11 school year.

Exploring India

Administrators have considered the prospects of developing a program in India since 2005, after Bienen first visited the country. Plans were suspended when NU was asked to participate in Education City.

The greatest difficulty in establishing an Indian campus is funding. The Qatar Foundation paid NU’s way to Doha. An Indian campus would not be so simple.

Bienen and Kellogg Dean Dipak Jain visited India in January and explored the possibility of creating two campuses, one in Mumbai and one in Delhi. Although Bienen has discussed the viability of such programs with some Indian donors, he said there are no finalized plans.

“It’s not like Qatar, where there was something in the mill and it was grinding along,” Bienen said. “It’s really very conceptual.”

The proposed programs would offer courses from Medill, Kellogg and the School of Communication, including classes on media management and Bollywood, India’s entertainment industry.

“This is an exciting possibility and one that we are willing to discuss,” Communication Dean Barbara O’Keefe wrote in an e-mail. “However, so far we have had no specific conversations about creating a program in India, just some general ideas and an agreement to discuss further.”

There are also legal barriers that prohibit foreign institutions from issuing degrees in India.

In February, Indian parliament tabled the Foreign Education Bill indefinitely, which would permit foreign universities to set up degree-granting campuses. The bill, introduced for debate in early 2007, continues to face strong opposition from India’s communist parties.

Until the passage of new legislation, foreign universities can only operate in India through partnerships with a domestic school. And even if this does happen, some foreign institutions may be reluctant to go into India because of the uncertain legal environment, Altbach said.

“U.S. schools and other foreigners prefer to set up shop on their own so they can have and control all the bucks,” he said.

Currently, NU’s McCormick School of Engineering offers a student exchange program with the Indian Institute of Technology of Bombay, now called Mumbai.

Other universities with partnerships in India include Cornell, Columbia University’s business school, California State University, Long Beach and Rice University.

Moving Forward

NU is in negotiations to offer executive education and media management classes in Qatar, Bienen told The Daily in an interview in February.

Still, administrators said that neither NU-Q’s journalism nor communications programs plans to make any substantial changes to the curriculum in the near future.

As for India, plans for a program are premature and unlikely to come to fruition during Bienen’s remaining months, the outgoing president said.

“Everything else is going to depend on the new president,” Bienen said. “We won’t make any big progress or not as the case may be, it’s just going to wait … This would be a very tough time to move ahead.”

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