Between Harvard and Yale, a World of Difference

Harvard declares it has no interest in an international campus

Two years ago, Yale University caused a stir with the announcement of an ambitious new project in Singapore—an undergraduate campus co-sponsored with National University of Singapore to be called Yale-NUS. Since then, Yale has been widely hailed as heralding a new era in education, as it is the first Ivy League institution to build an overseas campus for undergraduates bearing its name.

Soon after the announcement of Yale-NUS in September 2010, Harvard University President Drew G. Faust quietly formed a committee called the International Strategy Working Group. Its recommendations, finalized in October 2011, have remained confidential.

But Harvard’s stance on one front has become clear: At a time when some universities are expanding their physical footprint abroad, Harvard remains committed to keeping its undergraduate student body firmly rooted in Cambridge.

In an interview last week, Faust confirmed that Harvard will not look to establish undergraduate campuses abroad, a choice that some think is wise in light of the recent controversies surrounding Yale’s new venture.

“I’m not in the McDonald’s franchising business,” said Jorge I. Dominguez, Harvard’s vice provost for international affairs.


But the decision also raises questions about how Harvard should interact with the rest of the world and whether the University has a strategy behind its seemingly ad hoc approach to international engagement.


In January 2009, President of Yale Richard C. Levin and President of the National University of Singapore Tan Chorh Chuan met for tea in Davos, Switzerland, during the World Economic Forum. During the meeting, they dreamed up a plan for a global college, planting the seeds of an idea that would one day grow into the Yale-NUS campus in Singapore.

About eighteen months later, Levin sent a prospectus outlining the plans to Yale faculty. He noted that NUS and Singapore’s Ministry of Education would “reimburse Yale for all costs incurred.” He also emphasized that graduates of the school would receive diplomas from Yale-NUS, not Yale College, and that Yale-NUS would hire its own faculty. While “there is no urgency for Yale to venture abroad with a new campus now,” Levin explained, “we do believe it is inevitable that the world’s leading universities by the middle of this century will have international campuses.”

Yale’s interest in Asia is part of a larger trend in higher education, according to Jason E. Lane, an expert on international education at the Institute for Global Education Policy Studies at State University of New York.

Cornell and Georgetown have established a Medical College and a School of Foreign Service, respectively, in Qatar. “For our leading universities, the world has become a much more important market,” said Lane.

New York University is largely credited with leading the way in undergraduate education abroad. The school opened NYU Abu Dhabi in 2010 and will open NYU Shanghai next year. Unlike Yale-NUS, NYU’s international campuses are fully integrated into the NYU system and grant true NYU degrees. For NYU President John Sexton, the motivation was to become “the world’s first global university” and to make bold moves to compete with the “holy trinity” of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

But the project has not been embraced by all. NYU has been accused of spreading itself too thin across its campuses and of “selling out” to the government of Abu Dhabi, which is underwriting the entire cost of the project.

Like Sexton, Levin has faced his fair share of criticism for Yale-NUS, indicating that there is a lack of consensus in the academic community about the future of global learning in higher education.



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