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The Effect of Public and Private Decisions on University Governance on the Transnational Relations of American-Associated Universities in the Middle East

Déterminants de la gouvernance académique du point de vue des relations transnationales des universités moyen-orientales associées à la société américaine
Rasmus Bertelsen
p. 45-63


Cet article analyse comment des universités américaines au Moyen-Orient se comportent en acteurs transnationaux vis-à-vis d’une multitude d’acteurs publics et privés dans la société américaine. Les institutions concernées sont les universités missionnaires classiques (Universités américaines de Beyrouth et du Caire, Université libano-américaine), les antennes de campus américains ainsi que les universités avec accréditation ou partenariat américain qui se multiplient dans les États du Golfe. La capacité de ces universités à interagir avec des acteurs des sociétés américaines comme moyen-orientales est expliquée par leur modèle de gouvernance et les variables de leur structure institutionnelle et de leur statut.

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Public and Private University Governance Decisions and Transnational Universities between the Middle East and the West

1This paper analyzes the connection between public and private decisions on governance of American universities in the Middle East and their role as transnational actors between the Middle East and American society. How do decisions on key university governance variables as affiliation, owner-ship structure, and non-profit or for-profit status affect how such universities connect the Middle East and American society?

2This paper looks at American-associated universities in the Middle East as a subclass of transnational actors in world politics. Universities are overlooked in the IR literature on transnational actors, even though, they often historically have been and continue to be heavily involved in Joseph Nye’s and Robert Keohane’s global interactions of moving information, money and people across state boundaries (Nye, Keohane, 1971 ; Bertelsen, 2009a ; Bertelsen, Møller, 2010 ; Bertelsen, 2012). This transnational role is clear from the historical literature on the three old universities in this study and is acknowledged in the literature on private higher education in the Global South in educational studies (Altbach, Levy, 2005; Altbach 1999), but absent in the IR literature on transnational actors. Research on transnational actors in IR also does not give sufficient attention to historical developments (Halliday 2001). This article follows the development of important transnational actors, foreign-associated universities, from the founding of the oldest ones in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

3Education and international educational exchanges receive significant scholarly and policy attention for American soft power and public diplomacy purposes (Nye, 2004; Nye, Owens, 1996; Williams, 2004; Rice, 2006; US White House, 2006; Phillips, Brooks, 2008; Center for Strategic & International Studies, 2009; Atkinson, 2010; Geiger, 2010), but not as transnational actors. This attention has mainly been focused on foreign civilian or military students coming to the USA (Atkinson, 2010; Altbach, Peterson, 2008; Wilson, Bonilla, 1955; Watson, Lippitt, 1958; Selltiz, et al. 1963; Richmond, 2003) and not American- or other foreign-associated universities abroad.

Methodology and Case Selection: Structured, Focused Comparison of American-Associated Universities as Transnational Actors between the Middle East and the West

4The analysis of the effect of university governance on transnational connections is conducted as a structured, focused comparison (George, Bennett, 2005) between public and private decisions on university governance and transnational university relations with American society. This comparison tests actual and not potential transnational relations of the universities, because of the analysis of relations between universities and outside actors and of the actual behavior of these actors.

5This structured, focused comparison is based on historical literature on the universities, collected material and online sources as well as 97 interviews with board members, presidents and senior administrators, faculty from all disciplines, local and foreign students, US diplomats, lobbyists in Washington DC, US congressional staffers and US civil servants. The broad range of interview persons ensures an all-round view of the relations of the universities with American society. Individual interviews are not referenced as promised to interviewees. The method of structured, focused comparison steers the analysis clear of unstructured anecdotal evidence.

  • 1 Transnational relations with Canada, Europe, Australia and South Asia through private universities (...)

6This paper analyzes transnational university relations between the Middle East and the USA, since US-Middle Eastern relations are particularly important, and American higher education traditions and models play a central role for private higher education in the Middle East.1 Therefore, the case population is universities in the Middle East which are branch campuses of US universities, have US accreditation or are associated with US universities, please see Annex 1.

7The universities are transnational actors since they are private universities founded with the aim of providing explicitly American-style education in Middle Eastern societies (public supported universities are considered private to separate them from traditional national universities in the region). The universities continue to have important transnational characteristics since they are strongly characterized by what Nye and Keohane termed global interactions: the movement of information, people and money across state boundaries (Nye, Keohane, 1971; Josselin, Wallace, 2001; Wolfers, 1962; Kaiser 1969). Some of the universities are incorporated and accredited in the USA. Some have American presidents and predominantly American Boards of Trustees. Some of the old ones continue to benefit from American public and private financial support. Much of the faculty is American educated.

8The cases are the classical universities in Beirut and Cairo, which offer thick cases of governance and transnational connections over long historical developments. The new universities represent great variation on both the independent variable of governance and the dependent variable of transnational relations. This paper applies sampling where a representative example of each group of cases is addressed in depth, while the members of that group of cases are listed in Annex 1.

Public and Private Decisions on University Governance and Their Effect on Transnational Relations

9The context of the public and private decisions on university governance in this paper is the common situation in the Global South of inadequate public higher education unable to cope with demand from students and their families. Instead, from public and private decisions, this demand is being filled by the private sector, often by ‘demand absorbing’ for-profit institutions (Altbach, 1999; Lee, 2004; Tetteh, Ofori, 2010; Bernasconi, 2006; Levy, 1992). This shift is also clearly reflected in the Middle East (Al-Lamki 2006) and includes many of the universities in this study.

  • 2 The closest example being the Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, which is partly self-governed an (...)

10This study shows that public and private decisions on the governance of these private universities has a strong effect on these universities as transnational actors. This paper applies Andrés Bernasconi’s {{1578 Bernasconi, Andrés 2006;}} categorization of private higher education institutions as it useful to identify effects of decisions on governance on transnational relations. Looking at the ownership aspects of the governance of private universities, Bernasconi distinguishes between ‘affiliated’ private universities, ‘independent’ private universities and ‘proprietary’ private universities. ‘Affiliated’ universities are the offspring of external organizations, which usually control the university. In this context, the external organizations can be local or US. Clear-cut examples of ‘affiliated’ universities among the universities in this study are the classical missionary universities in Beirut and Cairo, AUB, LAU and AUC, which were founded and long controlled by missionary societies and are now controlled by external Boards of Trustees. Recent examples of ‘affiliated’ universities are the branch campuses in the Gulf States such as in Education City or NYUAD or local universities such as AUS, Zayed University, Dubai School of Government or Masdar Institute of Science and Technology controlled by outside Boards who do not represent investors seeking a monetary return on their investment. ‘Independent’ universities are self-directed, and there is no case of that among the American-associated universities in the Middle East.2 ‘Proprietary’ universities are owned and founded by individual or groups of investors, who control the university with the aim of earning a return on their investment directly or indirectly. There is a wide range of such cases among the American-associated universities in the Middle East, such as AUD, GUST, AUK, AUM, etc.

11This paper shows that public and private decisions on the governance of such private foreign-associated universities has a strong effect on their transnational relations. The finding of this paper is that the ‘affiliated’ universities are more successful in establishing high level transnational relations to American society than the ‘proprietary’ universities. The explaining factor for this difference in transnational relations is the higher academic standing of the ‘affiliated’ universities. The difference in academic standing between ‘affiliated’ and ‘proprietary’ universities is explained by the difference concerning profit-taking, where ‘affiliated’ universities are non-profit institutions and ‘proprietary’ universities are for-profit.

12The negative effect of for-profit status on academic standing for universities is explained by Robert C. Lowry (2007: 306) referring to Henry Hansmann (1996) and Gordon C. Winston (1999): ‘Although prospective students may find it difficult to evaluate the quality of university instruction, private non-profit organizations are well-suited to supplying so-called “trust” goods. The fact that any earnings by a non-profit organization cannot be distributed to owners or employees removes a source of temptation to exploit informational advantages over consumers by cutting costs in ways that lower quality.’ This argument applies as much to transnational stakeholders of a university as prospective students as this paper shows (see also Willoughby, 2008).

13The paper discusses first the classical missionary universities in Beirut and Cairo and second the new American-associated universities in mainly the Gulf States. The classical missionary universities are examples of particularly successful decisions on governance for academic standing and transnational relations. These universities show clearly that deciding on non-profit ‘affiliate’ governance focuses the mission on academic achievement and builds academic standing, which builds strong transnational ties with academia, business, government, philanthropy, etc, enhancing in turn the academic standing. The new American-associated universities in primarily the Gulf States shows a great variance of public and private decisions on university governance, which seems to have a strong effect on the transnational relations formed by these universities.

Missionary Affiliation: Transnational Governance Par Excellence

14The governance lessons from the classical universities in Beirut and Cairo are the value of deciding on affiliate ownership status and non-profit status reflected in a secular, non-profit academic mission. It is clear from the classical American-associated universities in Beirut and Cairo, AUB, LAU and AUC, that they have been very successful as transnational actors between Lebanon, Egypt, the wider Middle East, the USA and the West in general.

15These universities move substantial amounts of ideas and information. They work with leading academia in American society, with access to leading research and teaching. Moreover, they produce cutting-edge research on their Middle Eastern host societies (and other subjects) informing American society about the Middle East. These universities move human talent as this knowledge to a significant extent travels with individuals, prominent faculty and talented graduate students. These universities move financial resources as they and their founders have gained support from the US governments, from philanthropies and businesses raising very substantial financial, moral and political support for education, research, healthcare and development in the host societies. Towards the USA, leaders and faculty of these universities have often been prominent and credible advocates of host society points of view and interests.

16These transnational achievements by the universities rest on their reputations for academic excellence in research and teaching. Leading American universities will collaborate with these universities and accept their graduate students, and American academics will accept leadership or faculty positions in Beirut or Cairo, because of these academic reputations. It is also this reputation that motivates the financial, moral and political support from government, philanthropies and businesses. The US government supports these universities, because it knows the universities are influential and they attract future leaders as students -based on reputations for academic excellence.

17The academic credibility is a function of successful decisions on university governance which has navigated a transition from religious proselytizing to secular teaching and research. The non-profit nature of these universities together with their academic missions has allowed them the institutional focus on academic goals. The non-profit status has supported their academic credibility towards outside stake holders as explained by Lowry and Willoughby above. This governance has allowed these universities to attract the outside academic, financial, moral and political support allowing them to reach their academic goals.

18The original mission of proselytizing through education secured the Western financial resources to establish the institutions as non-profit institutions. The ‘affiliation’ governance model of the American missionary universities was characterized by strong transnational elements. These elements were New York based boards of trustees recruited among the learned, wealthy and pious from American centers of industry and commerce (Murphy, 1987), incorporation in the USA, American senior administrators and faculty educated at prominent American universities. The financial governance was non-profit based and relied heavily on raising financial support among missionary societies and their supporters in the USA. The governance models of the American missionary universities allowed them, although at very different times, to transition to secular institutions with a clear focus on education and research.

19This paper treats the case of AUB in detail, but it is illustrative of AUC and LAU as well. AUC was founded in 1919 as an American missionary university in Cairo and has since developed into a very prestigious secular, private university headed by a Board of Trustees in New York. LAU traces its roots to American missionary girls’ education in Beirut in the 1800s, which became a women’s junior college in 1924, a women’s college in 1948-1949 and developed into a coed university from the 1970s.

AUB Transnational Relations with American Private Sector and Civil Society: from Proselytizer to Spokes-Institution for the Middle East

20The founding of the Syrian Protestant College in 1866 (American University of Beirut since 1920) demonstrate the possibilities offered by the missionary university governance model for transnational relations with American society. Even before it was founded, SPC/AUB was successful in raising awareness and large amounts of money in the USA and Britain for its activities in its Levantine host society. Between 1862 and 1864, the founder, Dr Daniel Bliss, travelled 16,993 miles in the US, addressed 279 meetings and raised 100,000 USD. A New York-based Board of Trustees was formed, which has throughout history included prominent and wealthy individuals and donated and raised large sums of money. The university has been incorporated in the State of New York since the beginning. In addition, Bliss raised 4,000 GBP in Britain. In the 1870s and 1880s, the Board of Trustees raised funding for buying the land and for building the campus and, around WWI, hospital facilities. In the interwar years, the campus doubled and endowment grew six-fold based on American fundraising (American University of Beirut, 2005; Bliss, Coon & Bliss, 1989; Dodge, 1958; Hanna, 1979; Munro, 1977; Penrose, 1970; Makdisi, 2008; Burns, 1965).

21In the early 1900s, SPC/AUB successfully, although not without difficulty, transitioned to a secular identity with an academic mission. On this basis, the university managed to attract support from philanthropies and business for education, research and development. In the late 1920s, the Rockefeller Foundation generously supported and advised especially the medical school, and AUB together with the Near East Foundation developed large rural development programs. After Lebanese independence, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations continued to be generous donors joined by American and British industry as well as oil companies (Murphy, 1987; Dodge, 1958; Munro, 1977; Penrose, 1970; Khalaf, 1977). This philanthropic support for science-based development and modernization clearly reflected, what David Ekbladh has termed, ‘the great American mission’ to modernize developing societies through the transfer of scholarship, science and technology (Ekbladh, 2010).

22AUB’s academic standing based on successful governance, quality assurance and funding allowed and allows it to maintain close connection with leading American academia. This connection is reflected in its ability to recruit faculty and administrators from prominent American universities and place graduate students and faculty there. These transnational connections have contributed to American research and teaching interest in the Middle East. This contribution is illustrated, for instance, by Lebanese-born Philip Khuri Hitti (1886-1978), who was educated at SPC/AUB, where he taught before and after a PhD from Columbia University. In 1926, Hitti received a chair at Princeton University where he created a department of Near Eastern studies and became a driving force in the creation of Arabic studies in the USA (Starkey, 1971). The attractiveness of AUB to American academia is also clear from its ability to recruit prominent professors from the University of California, Los Angeles (Malcolm Kerr), Princeton (John Waterbury) and the University of Chicago (Peter Dorman) and other highly qualified individuals as presidents (American University of Beirut 2009, Interviews 2008-2010).

23In the post-WWII years, AUB was a pro-Arab/Palestinian voice, where America was increasingly pro-Israeli and anti-Arab. AUB had to balance carefully to maintain both local acceptance and continued US public and private support. The attraction of AUB waned in the USA before the civil war because of widely reported anti-American student disturbances and affiliations with Palestinian militant organizations fighting Israel. The university lost much attention and recognition in the USA during the civil war, which it is working to recover (Hanna, 1979; Munro, 1977; Khalaf, 1977; Interviews 2008-2010). Today, the university attracts US public and private funding, along with Lebanese funding and private support from the wider Middle East based on its long time academic standing. It has recently raised a record sum in excess of 170 million USD. Lebanon and the Gulf have greatly increased their share in the support, accounting now for over half of fundraising (Interviews 2008-2010).

24An important part of academic transnational relations is accreditation. As part of the reconstruction after the Lebanese civil war, AUB sought American accreditation which it obtained in 2004. In addition a number of degree programs have specific accreditation. The Graduate Public Health program was the first program to be accredited outside North America by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accredited the BSN and MSN programs at the Rafic Hariri School of Nursing as the first such school outside American territories. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredited the undergraduate and graduate programs at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business in April 2009. Four undergraduate engineering programs were accredited in July 2010 by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (American University of Beirut).

AUB Transnational Relations with US Government: Late Discovery of the University as a Soft Power and Development Agent by the US Government

25The connection between AUB and the US Government has changed with US policy rather than AUB governance. AUB pursued US financial support at its founding, when Bliss met President Abraham Lincoln, who only offered moral support (Bliss, Coon & Bliss, 1989; Burns, 1965). The US government sought SPC’s advice, when in January 1919, SPC President Howard Bliss was summoned to the Paris peace conference to advice on the Levant. Here, he urged holding plebiscites in Lebanon and Syria on mandate rule, which was an example of advocacy on behalf of the host society (Dodge, 1958; Penrose, 1970).

26WWII caused financial crisis for AUB as WWI had, but this time the US government supported the AUB for the first time through the Division of Cultural Relations of the Department of State (directed by a former AUC professor, William A. Eddy) (Murphy, 1987; Dodge, 1958; Penrose, 1970). In the 1950s and 1960s, AUB was highly successful in attracting US government support. AUB was in a unique position to further American development and soft power aims as a prestigious American university with regional reach. This government support became AUB’s largest source of income (Hanna, 1979; Munro, 1977, Khalaf, 1977)

27Faced with the acute financial crisis during the civil war, AUB again demonstrated its ability to attract extensive US government financial support. The US government and Congress perceived existential risk to AUB and increased support especially after the mid-1980s, which accounted for a third of the AUB budget. For the US Government and Congress, the work of the American Medical Center was an important humanitarian mission for Lebanese perceptions of the US. More broadly, there was acknowledgement of the contribution of American education to the region and to the socialization of future leaders. AUB represented the best American values, had a long and respected history in the region, and was perceived by Arabs as their own institution. AUB and its contribution to US national soft power could not be recreated, if it was lost (Hanna, 1979; Interviews 2008-2010).

28AUB—and AUC and LAU—lobby the US Congress intensely for financial support and appropriations. The universities are successful in getting Congress to direct the Administration to specifically support the universities. This policy is despite the desire of agencies for the flexibility to support indigenous universities for development reasons. The support in Congress is based on that AUB and AUC are perceived to promote American values in the Middle East, to form alumni who are understanding of and knowledgeable about and connected to the USA. These universities both create a positive image of the USA and builds relationships between the Middle East and the USA (Interviews 2008-2010). This value to the USA is based on the academic standing of AUB, AUC and LAU, which are products of their affiliated ownership structure and non-profit status reflected in their governance, quality assurance and funding models.

Local and American Entrepreneurs Today: Governance Challenges to Transnational Relations

29The Gulf Cooperation Council states are currently undergoing great societal transformations. American higher education and research especially, in the shape of local universities, branch campuses and other academic collaboration all play a prominent role in this attempt to transform natural resource-based economies to knowledge-based economies. A very important development from the old universities in Beirut and Cairo to the new ones in the Gulf is the empowerment of Gulf host societies, who are today the initiators and driving force rather than the Western missionaries of yonder year. This paper identifies four university governance models based on Bernasconi (2006) with significantly differing nature and quality of transnational relations to the USA: affiliated branch campuses, affiliated local universities, proprietary American accredited universities, and proprietary universities in partnerships with universities in the USA. Which model of governance for the new American-associated universities, public and private actors in both the host societies and the USA decide on, is, therefore, critical. The reasons and constraints for these choices are, thus, very important.

Affiliated Branch Campuses and Programs

30The governance model of branch campuses and programs usually ensures the greatest extent of transnational connectivity. Gulf host states deciding to attract such branches, and US universities deciding to establish them, can, therefore, be key decisions for building high-level transnational relations with American society. Convincing prominent US universities to establish large-scale branch campuses requires very large financial resources. It is clear that Qatar and Abu Dhabi stand out for such activities, which is possible based on their large oil and gas resources. Dubai and Ras Al-Khaimah have attracted for-profit campuses of non-profit US universities, but these are often very narrow in scope and the failures of Michigan State University Dubai and George Mason Ras Al-Khaimah highlights the tenuous status of branch campuses without massive host state financial backing.

31Branch campuses or programs offer the highest level transnational academic relations, because they engage prominent American universities in the region offering their own degrees. This ensures the flow of information and ideas through these institutions and faculty and administrators, while financial resources stem from the host states and students. The branch campuses are affiliated universities in Bernasconi’s sense since they are controlled by outside organizations, universities in the USA in close collaboration with host state authorities.

32There is a potential principal-agent problem between the funding host state authorities and American parent-university supplying the branch campuses. Along the lines of Lowry’s argument above about the academic credibility of non-profit universities above, the parent-university might be tempted to exploit information asymmetry against the host state to cut cost, lower standards and profit from the branch campus. However, this danger is balanced by the parent-university staking its own academic reputation by awarding its own degrees from the branch campus. Also the information asymmetry between the parent-university and powerful host state authorities is less than between a university and students and their families. There is a wide spectrum of branch campuses in terms of the level and quality of transnational academic connections, see Annex 1. Education City is the ‘crucial case’ (George, Bennett, 2005) for affiliated branch campuses as transnational actors.

33Education City is a particularly ambitious initiative by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, which shows the caliber of transnational academic relations which massive oil and gas wealth can buy. The Qatar Foundation has brought six prominent American universities to establish branch campuses there. The Foundation and the home universities, thus, serve as the affiliation of the branch campuses ensuring high academic standards allowed by large Qatari financial resources. Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar has since 1998 offered an undergraduate degree in fine art; Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar offers a premedical course and a Doctor of Medicine degree; Texas A&M University at Qatar offers engineering degrees; Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar teaches business and information technology; Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar offers an undergraduate in foreign service; and Northwestern University in Qatar has recently started to teach journalism and communication. This initiative has, therefore, succeeded in building relationships with and attracting the attention of American academia. The Qatar Foundation also builds important transnational relations with American and other foreign business through the Qatar Science & Technology Park. The park has attracted the activities and investments of companies such as ExxonMobil, Microsoft, Chevron, GE and other foreign companies (Qatar Science & Technology Park 2010, Qatar Science & Technology Park, Anonymous 2009).

Affiliated Local Universities

34Financially powerful and academically ambitious governments in the Gulf have also managed to create strong transnational academic relations through local institutions that are not branch campuses of American universities. These institutions are examples of decisions to build indigenous higher education institutions, which are non-profit and affiliated to prominent boards and US academic institutions. Such institutions are financially demanding as branch campuses, and it appears that this option is limited to resource-rich host states such as Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and, on a much smaller scale, Dubai.

35The examples are AUS (1997), Zayed University (UAE) (1998), Dubai School of Government (2005) and Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (UAE) (2009). These institutions have high-level academic ties to American academia and in the case of AUS and Zayed University also American accreditation. These high-level academic relations appear to be based on the governance model as affiliated and non-profit universities. This governance model allows them to focus on academic excellence and build transnational academic connections on this basis.

36AUS is an important case of a successful local university. The ambition of the ruler of Sharjah to establish an American university traces its roots directly to his admiration for AUB and AUC, with AUB conducting the original feasibility study and advising. The university was founded in 1997 and in its early years had a management contract with the American University in Washington DC for recruiting senior staff and faculty, etc. It was also partnered with Texas A&M University. The university is incorporated in the state of Delaware, licensed by the Delaware Department of Education, and accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Its leadership reflects the solid ties to prominent Western academia. Chancellor Peter Heath is former provost at AUB and professor at Washington University in St. Louis. The Board of Trustees includes very prominent American and British academics as well as regional business leaders. Faculty is reaching out to international business for research collaboration, which is, however, difficult.

Proprietary Universities with American Accreditation or American Partnership

37Proprietary for-profit universities have been a very important development in developing countries in recent decades (Altbach, 1999), and also in the Middle East (Al-Lamki, 2006), see Annex 1. These countries are often faced with greatly expanding demand for higher education, which the state is unwilling or unable to satisfy. Therefore, these countries decide to rely on the private sector for-profit investment in higher education to satisfy this demand. It is clear from this paper that is it mainly resource-poorer countries such as Oman which have to resort to this policy, although Kuwait is a notable exception. This paper shows that the decision to rely on private for-profit investment in higher education has important consequences for the quality and intensity of the transnational relations, such proprietary universities create. With the prevalence of proprietary higher education in the Global South, understanding the implications of this policy becomes important.

38The proprietary universities in this study have partnership agreements with public and private American universities about curriculum development and other assistance as well as occasionally overseas transfer after two years of local study. The partner universities in the USA are of much lower standing than in the case of the affiliated universities above, with the exception of Dartmouth College working with AUK. The explaining factor seems to be the for-profit governance model of the proprietary universities, where returns on investments distracts from academic focus and undermines academic credibility which would give access to stronger transnational academic relations.

39AUD is the oldest proprietary American university in the Gulf, founded in 1995 by regional investors with financial and political support from the ruler of Dubai. In the early years, AUD was a branch campus of the American Intercontinental University, which is a for-profit university system based in Georgia, USA, with institutions throughout the USA and abroad, catering to non-traditional students. AUD was later independently accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and has other subject specific accreditations, which is unique among proprietary universities. The newest project at AUD is a communications school with the advice of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. AUD is thus an example of how to connect with American academia. However, it must be said that until the collaboration with the Annenberg School, AUD dealt with academia of lower standing.

40GUST is an illustrative example of a proprietary university without American accreditation, but in partnership with a university in the USA. Kuwait established the legal framework for private universities in 2000, and in 2002, GUST became the first private, for-profit university in the country. GUST supplements the national Kuwait University, and is a clear example of the privatization of higher education as a response to a lack of capacity in national university systems. The university collaborates with the University of Missouri, St. Louis on the quality of academic programs, recruitment and institutional development. This collaboration allows qualified students to enroll at both institutions and transfer to UMSL after two years. The university, however, has no accreditation, and its board is composed of only Kuwaitis - although distinguished - and therefore does not connect the university with the outside world. A private for-profit university such as GUST is faced with governance, quality assurance and funding challenges (Bertelsen, 2009b). It is imperative that the university focuses strongly on its academic development and quality for strong transnational relations with the USA. Whatever academic challenges a university like GUST faces, it must be remembered that it does create additional educational capacity and job opportunities for local, regional and Western academics in a society where these have been extremely limited or non-existent.

Conclusion: Public and Private Decisions on University Governance and Universities as Transnational Actors

41Private foreign-associated universities are among the historically and currently most important transnational actors in the Middle East connecting the region with the outside world. The classical universities in Beirut and Cairo and the new universities primarily on the Arabian Peninsula have and continue to engage to a very important extent in Nye and Keohane’s ‘global interactions’ of moving ideas, people and money between the region and the USA.

42The transnational relations these universities have created with American society differ significantly among the institutions. The governance models of the universities concerning ownership, mission, for- or non-profit status also differs greatly between the universities. This paper explores the hypothesis that public and private decisions on university governance models affect the transnational ties to American society.

43The finding of this paper is that public and private decisions on the governance of these American-associated universities in the Middle East have a strong effect on transnational relations created by these universities. Affiliated, non-profit universities create transnational relations especially with academia in the USA at significantly higher levels than proprietary for-profit universities. This pattern is however not completely without exceptions as AUK partners with Dartmouth College.

44The classical missionary universities in Beirut and Cairo show that private decisions to found non-profit universities with exceptionally transnational modes of governance affiliated to boards of trustees in New York allowed these universities to focus on missions of academic excellence. Host states have tolerated these universities in recognition of their contributions to education, healthcare and development, and the US Government has supported them in recognition of their soft power and development contributions based on academic quality. These universities have been exceptionally successful transnational actors based on their academic excellence which is the product of private decisions on governance and public decisions on toleration and support.

45The new American-associated universities especially in the Gulf States show great variation in governance and transnational relations. Affiliated branch campuses or local universities have transnational relations of a much greater quality and intensity than proprietary universities. The decisions by host states to attract branch campuses or establish local affiliated universities and by US universities to establish branch campuses or partner with such universities are, thus, of great consequence. Such decisions by host states are financially very demanding and limited to resource-rich ones. However, it is much more common in the Global South that states are forced to rely on private for-profit investment in proprietary universities because of resource restraints. This paper shows the serious implications for transnational relations of this policy.

46This causal connection between governance model and transnational relations is suggested to rest on the non-profit status of the affiliated universities. The non-profit status focuses the efforts of the university on its academic mission rather than trying to make a return on the investment for the proprietors. This academic focus strengthens the academic reputation of the university and helps to address the possible principal-agent problem and information asymmetry problem between universities and any host funding body, students or academic partners.

47In case of the branch campuses, the parent-universities in the USA have staked their reputation on awarding their own degrees, which works against these universities abusing their information advantage over host state authorities and students to cut cost and lower quality. The outside leadership of the affiliated universities by parent-universities, host state authorities or strong independent boards of trustees also contributes to ensuring the academic credibility of these universities towards outside stakeholders ensuring academic and - in the classical Beirut and Cairo cases - financial support. The proprietary universities which ultimately exist to ensure a return on the investors’ investment correspondingly suffer from a lack of academic reputation and, thus, difficulties in building high-level academic and other transnational relations.

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Affiliated universities

Proprietary universities


Missionary university

Branch campus or program

Local affiliated university


American University of Beirut (1866), Lebanese American University (1924)


American University in Cairo (1919)


Troy University, ITS Sharjah Campus (1990)

American University of Sharjah (1997)


Michigan State University Dubai (2008-closed 2010), Rochester Institute of Technology (2008), Hult Dubai (2008), Griggs University Dubai, Duke University Dubai (2009)

Dubai School of Government (2005), Zayed University (1998)

American University in Dubai (1995), American University of the Emirates (2009)


Modern College of Business and Science (Oman) (1996), Mazoon University College (Oman) (1999), Oman Medical College (2001), Al Buraimi University College (Oman) (2003),


Virginia Commonwealth University (1998), Weill Cornell Medical College (2001), Texas A&M University (2003), Carnegie Mellon University (2004), Georgetown University (2005), Northwestern University (2008)

Community College of Qatar (2010)

Abu Dhabi

New York Institute of Technology Abu Dhabi (2005), New York Film Academy (2008), New York University Abu Dhabi (2010)

Zayed University (1998), The Petroleum Institute (2001), Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (2009),


New York Institute of Technology Jordan (2001), DePaul University Jordan (2005-closed 2009),

Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts (2008)

Al Zaytoonah Private University (1993)


DePaul University Bahrain (2001), Bentley University Bahrain (2002), New York Institute of Technology Bahrain (2003-to be closed ca. 2014)

Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance (?)


Gulf University of Science and Technology (Kuwait) (2002), American University of Kuwait (2004), American University of the Middle East (Kuwait) (2008)

Ras Al-Khaimah

George Mason Ras Al Khaimah (2006-closed 2009),

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1 Transnational relations with Canada, Europe, Australia and South Asia through private universities in the Middle East are also very much present, but outside the scope of this paper.

2 The closest example being the Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, which is partly self-governed and partly governed by the Jesuit order.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Rasmus Bertelsen, « The Effect of Public and Private Decisions on University Governance on the Transnational Relations of American-Associated Universities in the Middle East  »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, 131 | 2012, 45-63.

Référence électronique

Rasmus Bertelsen, « The Effect of Public and Private Decisions on University Governance on the Transnational Relations of American-Associated Universities in the Middle East  »Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée [En ligne], 131 | 2012, mis en ligne le 05 juillet 2012, consulté le 26 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Rasmus Bertelsen

Post-doctorant, Department of Learning and Philosophy, Aalborg University, Danemark

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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