Stanford Plays Catch-Up on Satellite Campuses

This article was originally written for the Stanford Review's Fiat Lux blog

The recent announcement (see Fiat Lux and the Stanford Report) that Stanford was drafting a proposal to build a New York City campus came as something of a shock to many, myself included. Stanford University has maintained a policy of one home campus for years now, in contrast to many of our peer institutions. Why the sudden change?

One well-placed, senior administration official said to me that Stanford now sees its policy as a strategic mistake. According to this source, the university is now moving in the opposite direction, looking at potential new sites both in the United States and especially abroad to open full-fledged satellite campuses (details regarding the implementation of these campuses are in an early formative stage).

Stanford had better move quickly. New York University has made overseas campuses a central element of its strategic plan, arguing that it will become the first "Global Network University, a university that challenges the idea that a university can only deliver education at a single home campus." It has built a major portal campus in Abu Dhabi, and 10 academics centers across the world. NYU is something of a model for the new global university, and featured prominently in The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World, a book published last year by Ben Wildavsky that received notable attention (see an interview here)

However, I believe that the rapid changeover in Stanford's policy stems less from NYU than from the approach taken by Yale in Singapore. In what will become one of the first liberal arts college in Asia, Yale has partnered up with the National University of Singapore to offer a Yale-designed liberal arts curriculum for Singaporean and Asian students (see stories in the Yale Daily News and the NYTimes). Whether research, education, or reputation, the partnership could put Yale in an enviable position in the the quickly expanding higher education system of East and Southeast Asia.

Where does this all leave us? Stanford's change in policy is a good sign. Building a more global university will make it easier for faculty and students to conduct research in other areas of the world while expanding the potential educational value of the institution. However, while Stanford is moving quickly, I am also concerned that our need to catch-up may compress the planning process and prevent deliberate decision-making. Stanford has got to get this one right if it is to maintain its mantle in higher education, and it has to do so in a very competitive environment. We are in an excellent position to do so, but timing will be crucial for this new strategy to succeed.