Friday, February 27, 2009

George Mason University in RAK shuttered

Not really surprising.

Inside Higher Ed
The short history of George Mason’s expansion into the Persian Gulf region may prove a cautionary tale, highlighting many of the difficulties universities stand to encounter in arrangements that are increasingly common across higher education. Enrollment didn’t grow at nearly the pace university officials had expected, and George Mason had little choice but to end the experiment when investors decided to dramatically curtail subsidies.

“Did we not know some stuff we should have known? Basically that’s correct,” Stearns said. “Would we do it again under different circumstances? Absolutely.”

The university, which was based in the Ras-Al-Khaimah province, was funded by a government-supported foundation known as the RAK Education Company (Edrak). As with several similar arrangements in the Gulf, the university offered its name, expertise and support but footed none of the operational costs. The goal, however, was that the university would be self-sustaining through tuition revenues within five years of its founding.

Edrak recently declared that it would reduce its subsidy to the university by about 50 percent, and in so doing refused to pay the cost of hiring a new vice president, according to Stearns. Furthermore, Edrak was pushing George Mason to allow the university’s academic dean to report directly to the foundation, breaking with the prior arrangement where the dean reported to Stearns. The absence of a vice president and a change in the reporting structure would likely have been unacceptable to George Mason’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools [SACS].

“In terms of academic oversight, we felt that was perilous,” Stearns said.
Perilous, indeed. Not only would it endanger GMU's accreditation at home, it's simply a bad model for the success of an institution of higher learning.

There's also this GMU press release:
Educational agencies in RAK intend to develop a new institution, the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, and have asked George Mason University to play a consultant role in the school. The new arrangement would be different from the current operation. George Mason University administrators will soon be discussing this new opportunity with higher education leaders in RAK to see if a mutually beneficial agreement can be negotiated.

"This development underlines the amicable relationships that continue despite some admittedly challenging discussion in recent weeks," said Stearns.
In my opinion, the most important thing a consultant can tell the foundation is to set up a structure where the head of day to day operations of the university reports to board independent of the foundation. But of course that's the very notion they have already rejected.

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