Branch campuses have always been an area of interest to me because it is a clear and physical indication of globalization and how our world is becoming more “flat”, as Friedman would say. I thought it was amazing that students could receive a higher education at an American institution without coming to the United States. Of course, there are financial issues when opening anything in another country; however, one aspect I did not really think about was the academic freedom differences. As the OECD report on internationalization policies suggests, institutions that pan on establishing branch campuses should consider the “political, legal and cultural environment of the offshore campus” and how it may or may not match the institution’s own environment. A case, like NYU’s Shanghai campus, really highlights this point.
Last fall, I read an article about NYU’s Shanghai campus and how the institution is an island of academic freedom and expression in the midst of China’s long-standing national censorship policies and how this impacts students. As critics note in the article “how can universities that prize open inquiry as a fundamental tenet find a home in an authoritarian country without compromising its views?”. The Chinese government has had a long-standing tradition in censorship and denying the freedom of speech to its people for many years. Websites like YouTube and Facebook are blocked; and terms that allude to the June 4th,1989 Tiananmen Square protests are censored from the public eye. But, students who attend the NYU Shanghai Campus are able to freely browse the web, as if they were in United States. So, Chinese students, who grew up in a censored society, are being exposed to this information now and are encouraged to be critical about the Chinese government in a public setting.Students that were being interviewed in this article talked about the cultural and political conflicts and isolation they faced when they left the campus and went home. One student said he felt like he lived in “two worlds”: one where he can express his critical political views and one where he must hold his tongue. In relating back to the Dobbins et al. reading we also had, China must have had a market-oriented approach to higher education because it invited NYU to Shanghai and hopes that the school will create graduates that can stimulate the economy. It is clear that these intentions are market-based and economic rather than political.
It is really interesting how the authoritarian chinese government allowed NYU to make its home in Shanghai. It will be even more interesting to see how this campus and most likely many other American campuses can change the political and cultural environment of China in the future. Recently, China has made its internet censorship policies stricter rather than loosen its grip. So it is interesting to see how this dynamic will play out in the future.