Michigan State To Close Dubai Campus

Michigan State University has announced that it's closing its satellite campus in Dubai. The university was one of many that raced to open campuses in the Middle East, but financial troubles are forcing MSU and others to cut back.

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Now a story about just how perilous the international education market can be. Michigan State University says it will close most of its campus in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, for financial reasons. The campus was part of a rush by American and British schools to the Middle East. We have more now from NPR's Larry Abramson.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Just three months ago, I stood in the atrium of Michigan State University Dubai. Dean Brendan Mullen told me he hoped the hundred-or-so students enrolled at the time would grow to as many as 1,000, thanks to an aggressive recruitment strategy in the region.

Mr. BRENDAN MULLEN (Dean, Michigan State University Dubai): We have a team in Oman, as we speak. We will have a team in Saudi Arabia. We see India as a viable market. We see Pakistan as a viable market.

ABRAMSON: But now, Michigan State's two-year experiment, offering undergraduate education in booming Dubai, has flopped. Michigan State President Lou Anna Simon says the school just could not attract the critical mass needed to emulate the East Lansing campus, which nearly 50,000 students call home.

Ms. LOU ANNA SIMON (President, Michigan State University): In order to have a vibrant academic experience, as well as to be more financially viable, we need about 100 to 150 to be admitted per year. We were running about a third of that.

ABRAMSON: Michigan State will maintain a small graduate program in Dubai. One challenge was providing the support services needed for undergraduates, many of whom are not native English speakers. At the same time, costs in the region are high, and there's particular pressure on public universities to make these foreign enterprises self-supporting.

Just ask Peter Stearns, provost of George Mason University in Virginia. A little over a year ago, he had to close his school's facility in another corner of the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. PETER STEARNS (Provost, George Mason University): We could not obviously, as a public university, we could not expend Virginia public moneys on this operation.

ABRAMSON: Michigan State's timing was also lousy. The school opened up just before the global financial crisis hit Dubai. As the troubles deepened, the government there was not able to provide the resources that the school needed to get through the lean years, as it tried to boost enrollment.

But many observers say growth in overseas campuses will continue. The Middle East and Asia have lots of young people clamoring for higher education. Western schools, for their part, want the prestige of an overseas presence.

New York University is banking on that as it opens a highly selective honors campus in the UAE in September. Professor Jason Lane teaches at SUNY Albany.

Professor JASON LANE (Professor, State University of New York Albany): So there is a desire here to be associated with American-style higher education. And to have American institutions open up in these countries actually signals to the outer world the growing level of modernization that's occurring in the Middle East.

ABRAMSON: Michigan State says it hopes to accommodate as many of its Dubai students as possible at its East Lansing campus.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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