Our global path

07-09-2010

More than 50 years ago Michigan State President John Hannah saw the world beginning to flatten, and dared risk extending our land-grant mission far beyond our campus.

Now we’ve been engaged for generations in some of the world’s most challenged places, working in food security, health, the environment, and other areas. At this moment, we’re seeking new collaborative opportunities in Brazil and India. There have been setbacks over the years, but time has confirmed the wisdom of Hannah’s grand vision.

Today the world is even more integrated and Michigan State leads public universities in undergraduate study abroad, and has an impressive global network of associations, including a successful new office in China.

That’s what led us in 2007 to seek a strong academic presence in the United Arab Emirates state of Dubai to anchor our expanding regional presence. You truly can’t be connected globally today unless you are in the Middle East-- still the crossroads of the world’s cultures and, increasingly, its economies.

The UAE and Dubai are attractive for a number of reasons, including their outsize influence and the secure, tolerant environment for American students. The UAE and Dubai sit in the middle of a dynamic region, are within easy travel distance to other places of importance, and host many top companies offering jobs and student internships.

We developed an educational program including several undergraduate degrees in concert with our local partners’ plans for Dubai International Academic City. Those plans included a 300,000-volume library, housing, and recreational facilities.

It’s no small irony that we fell victim to the downside of an ever-more connected world, when economic recession engulfed the world almost as soon as we opened our doors in 2008. Prospective students suddenly faced many of the same financial challenges we see here in Michigan. Our unwillingness to compromise on our admission standards and tuition––meant to assure that a degree earned at MSU Dubai was exactly equivalent to one earned in East Lansing––also worked against enrollment growth.

Moreover, the Dubai build-out planned by our partners stalled with the economy, and the substantial financial support we expected from them this year failed to materialize.

Throughout fiscal 2010 we’ve relied on a commitment of an additional $2.8 million, plus access to the remaining $600,000 of our loan, to cover our expenses. We learned in May that the support would not be forthcoming. To avoid tapping tuition or state appropriations monies, we turned to the MSU Foundation to cover those costs. We also will use unrestricted investment income to cover the estimated $1.3 million to $1.7 million associated with fulfilling our commitments to employees and others in Dubai.

Without adequate enrollment across the array of undergraduate programs or the financial support we expected, the enterprise could not sustain itself financially. Nor could the number of students enrolled create the vibrant intellectual climate we intended––which is of equal importance to us.

Therefore, we’re suspending the undergraduate programs in Dubai and encouraging the 85 affected students to complete their degrees in East Lansing. We’re also working with UAE and Dubai education agencies and with other institutions in the region to facilitate transfers.

But we remain strongly committed to the region, the UAE, and Dubai. We’re maintaining a graduate program there and continuing to offer executive development programs; we’re following through with a study abroad program; we’re continuing to consult for Dubai’s K-12 education system; and we’re still seeking research and corporate internship opportunities. As our China office does, our Dubai office will continue to be a regional hub for activities throughout the Mideast, North Africa, Turkey, and western Asia.

You should know our experience is certainly not unique in this difficult global economy. South Korea’s proposed global campus, for one, also is finding its academic partners losing heart.

Nobel Prize-winning chemistry professor Ahmed Zewail recently wrote persuasively of the value of science and American higher education’s culture of intellectual discovery in engaging with Muslim-majority nations. His words speak eloquently to the virtues of our peaceful engagement and societal impact.

Some still might ask what business Michigan State has overseas, given the serious economic challenges at home and the need to better ensure affordable access for Michigan’s own sons and daughters. I argue that it allows us to bring the best of the world to Michigan––and the best of Michigan to the world––at a time when looking outward is more important than ever. Higher education is an unheralded pillar of Michigan’s reeling economy, in part because of our international reputation, the talent we attract, and the knowledge services we export. We and our sister research universities model the global knowledge economy in action, and in that sphere, at least, the state of Michigan remains a formidable competitor.

Even challenging times such as this one present opportunities, and we can’t allow setbacks or deflated expectations to stall our entrepreneurial drive. We learn, and then move forward again. We stride down the path John Hannah blazed years ago with his vision––daring to think boldly, act deliberately, and engage globally.

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