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London Review of Education 
Volume 12, Number I, March 2014 

International academic franchises: Identifying the benefits of 
international academic franchise provision 

Kevin Pon a * and Caroline Ritchie b 

°ESDES School of Management, Universite Catholique de Lyon, France ; b Cardiff School of Management, Cardiff 
Metropolitan University, UK 

This paper is an exploratory study of the benefits that institutions of higher education can 
gain when entering into partnerships of academic franchising, an international activity which 
has been increasing in popularity over the past few decades.The paper looks at the current 
literature on academic franchising and then goes on to study, through case studies and direct 
observation, franchising from the perspective of four different institutions in four different 
countries.The paper reveals that very often there are multiple benefits to be gained which are 
not necessarily sought when the institutions enter such partnerships. Contrary to previous 
academic literature the study also reveals that there is a much greater flow of these benefits 
from one institution to another and thus provides a new richer model that has changed from 
the ‘parent child’ model to that of a more evenly balanced model where both partners are 
benefiting from mutual cooperation. 

Keywords: international academic franchise; benefit; quality enhancement; change agent; staff 


An academic franchise can be considered to be a business partnership or alliance and a means 
to gain important resources not otherwise obtainable.The best resources are those that bring a 
superior value or benefit in order to develop competitive advantage (Wernerfelt, 1984; Barney, 
1991; Slater, 1997; Fahy, 2000). Currently there is very little empirical research into what actually 
constitutes benefits in an academic franchise. Despite this, academic franchising is increasing 
through the exporting of education via international collaborative projects particularly to Asian 
countries (Knight, 1999; Maringe, 2009). 

As well as limited empirical evidence, current academic literature and research on academic 
franchises is fairly fragmented and often integrated into general studies of teaching and learning 
away from the host institution.This literature does however suggest that university education 
provision can be characterized by unevenness, both in terms of how the idea of internationalization 
is understood and how the processes are developing (Maringe, 2009). 

While there seems to be no set definition of what a franchise actually is since it holds many 
different meanings for different researchers (Firdaus et al., 2008), a survey of current literature 
suggests that there are four areas where research has been undertaken into the benefits of 
international collaboration that may logically be applied to academic franchises.The four areas 
are; an increase in income, especially to the host institution or franchisor; an exchange of 
academic expertise particularly from the host to the collaborative institution or franchisee; a 
raised profile in international league tables such as EQUIS resulting from the academic exchange, 
which should lead to a rise in student numbers for both institutions (see Figure I). 


Corresponding author, Email: 

London Review of Education 105 

Figure I: Expectations of benefit received in successful academic franchises 

Recently another factor, external to collaborating institutions, has arisen that is also likely to 
be impacting upon international academic collaboration. In many developing countries there is 
a lack of higher education provision both in terms of higher education institutions (HEI) and 
suitably qualified academics to staff them (Webb, 2000; Ng et a/., 2010; Anon, 2012). While this 
issue is being addressed by many governments (British Council, 2012) international collaborative 
partnerships can help to bridge this present gap in provision, as experience in Latin America 
and China shows. Fundamentally, as Figure I shows, collaboration means working together in 
order to gain benefit even if the benefits may be different for each partner (Golicic et a/., 2003). 
Additionally Coulson-Thomas (2005) suggests that a good collaborative partnership occurs 
when the benefits exceed both the costs of maintaining it and the potential value of other 
opportunities foregone. 

The aim of this paper is to examine whether these previously identified collaborative 
partnership benefits apply to international academic franchises and to identify if any other 
previously unidentified benefits exist.This is therefore an exploratory paper that can be considered 
to be seeking to identify the potential parameters of a significant research question rather 
than a full study answering such a question.This paper reviews current literature in the area of 
academic franchising and internationalization. Primary research is gathered from franchisees and 
franchisors of successful international collaborative programmes.The data is analysed along with 
existing literature and the paper concludes by discussing possible previously unidentified benefits 
in successful academic franchises from the perspective of both the franchisee and franchisor. 

Literature review 

Internationalization versus globalization 

Academic franchising falls into both the internationalization and globalization category of 
organizations. For one school of thought this may be perceived as a logical development; the 
internationalization of academic institutions is a response to the needs of an increasingly globalized 
corporate world (Altbach, 2006).This perception is heavily contradicted by scholars (Knight and 

106 Kevin Pon and Caroline Ritchie 

de Witt, 1997; Maringe, 2009) who posit that the internationalization of universities preceded 
globalization, with scholars travelling around the world since medieval times.These views suggest 
that globalization focuses on the transmission of technology resources and knowledge between 
people while internationalization focuses on the integration of an international perspective in all 
functions of higher education (Knight, 2001). 

Rationale to internationalize 

Extant research (Knight, 1999; de Witt, 2002) suggests that there are four major rationales for 
the internationalization of HEIs; political, economic, social/cultural, and academic/educational. 
It also suggests that there are three main responses/interactions with the four rationales for 
academic internationalization. First, different stakeholders within HEIs will attribute a different 
level of importance to each of the rationales (Knight, 1994). For instance, the administrators of 
one institution may place much importance on the economic rationale for internationalizing 
their programmes, while the students may put more value on the social and cultural rationale for 
their personal development and academic staff may value the academic rationale most. Second, 
there are likely to be shifts in the importance of individual rationales which will depend on the 
external environment (Alladin, 1992). One example is the American view of internationalization, 
which was highly politicized up to the end of the Cold War and then changed to an economic 
rationale due to competition (de Witt, 2002). The third interaction is related to whether or 
not the HEI wants to become proactively involved. Internationalization is becoming a process 
that cannot be avoided (Groennings, 1997; British Council, 2012) if an academic institution is to 
survive and respond to the demands of current and future potential stakeholders. However, an 
international partner may be a reluctant (reactive) or a proactive collaborator. 

Since higher education is no longer provided solely within national borders the international 
aspect of many programmes is becoming more overtly embedded, including substantial growth in 
the number, nature, and type of education opportunities being offered abroad.With this growth 
of opportunities comes a growing number of terms to describe these activities, such as satellite 
campuses, offshore programmes, international branch campuses, and collaborative programmes 
(Mazzarol and Soutar, 2008).The Global Alliance for Transnational Education (GATE) used the 
term transnational education and provided the following definition; 

... all types of higher education study programs, or sets of courses of study, or educational services 

(including those of distance education) in which the learners are located in a country different 

from the one where the awarding institution is based. (GATE, 2004: I) 

Such a definition includes successful cooperations such as the joint undergraduate programme 
between Yale and Peking universities where both Chinese and American students study side 
by side in China (Coleman, 2007). Other more general examples include collaborations where 
students study for a foreign degree in their home country or when students begin their studies 
in their home country and move to the foreign country for the final period of study. These 
examples show that there are a considerable number of different methods of collaborative 
programme delivery. Since the terms used to describe the various methods of collaboration can 
be used interchangeably there is potential confusion as to the exact nature of the relationship 
under discussion. 

London Review of Education 107 

International academic franchise: a definition 

Any attempt at a serious analysis of international academic franchising must therefore begin with 
a clear definition of this potentially nebulous term. For clarity, reflecting Maringe’s (2009) work 
and the British Council’s definition (2012: 69), the term international academic franchise in this 
paper is used to describe the activity of exporting the academic programmes of one university 
in one country to another university or HEI in another country.This is defined as: 

an international activity where a university or HEI enters into a form of partnership with another 
university or HEI in a different country in order to deliver, wholly or partially, (a) specific academic 
program(s) to students of that country which leads to the academic award of the franchisor 
university. (British Council, 2012:69) 

This activity may therefore be undertaken wholly or partially in the host country and at any 
level of study, i.e. undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.This definition of international 
academic franchises, as suggested by Figure I, acknowledges that academic franchises, while 
partnerships, are hierarchical in nature, with the balance of power lying with the franchisor. 

The development of international academic franchises 

Although historically the internationalization and globalization processes varied in speed in 
different parts of the world, the Anglo-Saxon countries, particularly the UK and USA, were 
the first major players in attracting foreign fee-paying students.This may have been due to the 
dominance of English as a world language and extant bilateral trade partnerships, which are often 
used as a determinant of potential student mobility, but as the British Council (2012) points out, 
its continuation is almost certainly due to historic global and current political ties. Since the 
1990s the range of international collaborative partnerships, particularly in British universities, 
has increased (Teichler, l999;Ayoubi and Massoud, 2007) and Australia has become a dominant 
player (Pratt and Poole, 1999; Larsen and Vincent-Lancrin, 2002). New players such as France and 
Germany also want to compete in this seemingly lucrative market (Mazzarol and Soutar, 2008). 

The reasons for such developments are numerous and can often be linked to changes 
in government policy concerning education: the need to undertake international collaborative 
research; the development of the European Socrates and Erasmus projects for student and staff 
mobility (Rudzki, 2000); the need to demonstrate global status and attract high quality students 
(Wedlin, 2010); or even the social and cultural environment of the country (de Witt, 2002).There 
is also an increasingly powerful need to respond to the globalization of the corporate world by 
providing well-qualified employees with an international perspective instilled during their course 
of study (Caroll, 1993; British Council, 2012).A further significant internal imperative, particularly 
during a time of global economic difficulty, is the additional income which academic franchises 
generate via student fees. As a result of all of these pressures the global market for attracting 
international students to universities has become highly competitive over the past ten years and 
is likely to remain so (Barb, 2005; Ulhoi, 2005; Mazzarol and Soutar, 2008). 

Traditionally, North American universities have laid their emphasis upon the 
internationalization of the curriculum while European universities have put more emphasis upon 
mobility (de Witt, 2002).This is probably due to the fact that international mobility can take place 
over a much shorter distance in Europe as compared to the USA.There is less literature about 
the method of internationalization of education in North Africa in countries such as Morocco, 
Algeria, and Tunisia.What is available (British Council, 2012) suggests a mixture but with a higher 
proportion studying abroad rather than in an international programme at home. 

108 Kevin Pon and Caroline Ritchie 

Tensions inherent in international academic franchises 

Due to the increasing success of these collaborations their numbers have been rising (joniarto 
and Bititci, 2006). However there have been many failures and earlier literature laid much 
emphasis upon this aspect (Lewis, 2002; Elmuti and Kathawala, 2001; Zineldin and Bredenlow, 
2003). Failures are often due to a lack of quality in the teaching or the lack of resources such 
as library facilities. In other cases students’ evaluations were perceived as inappropriate, causing 
conflict between the two parties. 

Both Van de Wende (2000) and Ulhoi (2005) identify another area of tension - that there are 
increased costs inherent in any increased focus on internationalization. In terms of an academic 
franchise these may include the initial set-up costs, such as the purchase of new teaching materials 
as well as ongoing costs such as facilitating visits for exam boards, staff development, and/or 
quality control.Additionally, where the imperative to internationalize is imposed by the national 
government, costs may increase disproportionally as in the case of the Grandes Ecoles in France 
(Commission Heifer, 2005). (Grandes Ecoles is a term for the prestigious institutes of higher 
education that were founded by Napoleon in order to train the nations’ elite and to provide 
alternative education to the existing universities,) 

A newer phenomenon causing tension is the potential damage to the franchisor if the quality 
assurance systems go wrong and the university is publicly called to account.The most prominent 
and dramatic case is probably that of the University of Wales in the autumn of 201 I when, as 
Altbach (2012) and Matthews (2012) show, the behaviours of the moderators and agents for 
its franchised partners, responsible for over 70,000 mainly overseas students, failed to meet the 
standards required by the UK government’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).The university is a 
virtual university with no home campus, so was unable to demonstrate internal quality assurance 
processes and to all intents and purposes ceased to exist from that point. Leeds Metropolitan 
University was also called to account in 201 I by the QAA for the quality of academic provision 
on some of its international franchises. Since these were a small part of its academic portfolio 
it was able to demonstrate high quality standards in its home campus and recover.The tension 
therefore is that no matter how sound the initial contract, if a franchisee chooses to let academic 
standards slip it is the franchisor who is most likely to be highlighted in the public media. 

Internationalization in a home study context 

Much of this market for international students was triggered by push factors; students were 
being pushed out of their home countries due to lack of places in higher education and the 
lack of courses adapted to the modern world, as well as the desire to live and study in a 
foreign country. Simultaneously the push was complemented by pull factors towards Anglo- 
Saxon countries: there was a perceived quality of education, worldwide recognition of academic 
awards (see Figure I), and flexibility in entry to courses (Mazzarol and Soutar, 2002).This has 
been accelerated to some extent by the increasing international trend to provide postgraduate 
education in English thereby increasing the attractiveness of programmes taught in English at 
undergraduate level (British Council, 2012). 

It is generally accepted that the global recession which began in 2008 is having a continuing 
economic and political impact in many countries. One result is that the higher costs incurred by 
overseas students in comparison to studying as a home student becomes an increasingly significant 
barrier to international study. While many governments, particularly in developing countries, 
support postgraduate study overseas, far fewer provide financial support for undergraduate 
students. This has increased the economic rationale for the development of international 
academic franchises based around home study. In an international academic franchise the student 

London Review of Education 109 

is often awarded both the degree of the international franchisor and that of the franchisee, a 
joint validation, while living in their home country.The partner institution gains an international 
dimension, the perception of quality of education from an internationally recognized institution 
plus the international recognition of their academic award, while the costs to the students 
are significantly reduced. As Davies (1995) points out, advances in technology such as video 
conferencing/lectures, blackboard, and e-discussion forums have impacted upon many teaching 
and learning platforms including supporting teaching and learning in virtual global ‘classrooms’. 


This literature review has raised several points in relation to current knowledge about 
international academic franchising. First, it recognizes that there is little research carried out 
in this field. Second, it recognizes that academic franchising is becoming increasingly popular 
with HEI’s, particularly among undergraduate populations because of the reduced cost to the 
students.Third, it acknowledges that despite the fact that academic franchises are partnerships 
between academic institutions there is a hierarchy within this particular type of partnership. 
This inevitably influences partners’ behaviour and this may result in tension because of differing 
perceptions of benefit and risk. 

Research method 

The aim of this research was to explore benefit within international academic franchises. It was 
initiated because the authors had become part of the moderation and quality assurance system 
for international academic franchises operated by their universities. One author had several 
years’ experience working as a moderator, the other was a relative novice and in attempting 
to increase their expertise raised several of the questions discussed previously: if the number 
of international academic franchises is increasing why are the benefits so little understood? As 
the research was explorative, depth rather than breadth was considered most significant and 
a qualitative study was undertaken. A case study approach was adopted (Yin, 2009), enabling 
investigation of the rationales, expectations, and other important factors prompting potential 
stakeholders to develop particular academic franchises with international partners. Data were 
collected using three principal sources of evidence from four different franchises in Bulgaria, 
China, and Morocco: 

1 literature review as discussed in the previous section 

2 semi-structured interviews which focused on the topic of international academic 

3 direct observation in all the sites by at least one of the researchers. 

The franchises were all for business management programmes (including hospitality management) 
at both undergraduate and postgraduate level (see Table I).These franchises were validated and 
administered by the authors’ HEIs (one in France, the other in the United Kingdom).The sample 
institutions were chosen for pragmatic reasons, because the authors moderated their franchised 
programmes and academic franchises had been run successfully for some years. This prior 
contact enabled a level of access and trust which might not have been available in other academic 
franchises. An auto-ethnographic approach, including participant observation, can successfully 
support a conjoint approach which increases critical depth and reflection in qualitative research 
(Westwood, 2005; Ritchie, 2006; Gergen and Gergen, 2007). 

I 10 Kevin Pon and Caroline Ritchie 

The themes for the interviews were developed from questions initially raised by the novice 
moderator and supported by a wide literature review.The themes identified were then piloted 
with an academic partner not included in this study.The final themes, which were discussed in 
all of the interviews, included topics such as the rationales for commencing such a partnership; 
partner identification; the benefits that the organization perceived; as well as divergence in the 
organization and management of the programmes. 

Four semi-structured interviews were carried out with the persons directly responsible 
for the franchise on the franchised campus and who were also accountable to the franchisor. In 
order to achieve a multi-layered perspective and further depth and validity one interview was 
also held in each of the two franchisor institutions with a senior member of their collaborative 
partnership team.All primary data collection took place between the autumn of 2010 and spring 
of 201 I. This reflects the fact that the interviews and accompanying participant observation 
could only take place in situ. See Table I for a summary of all participants. 

Table I: Profile of interviewees 





Country of 

Academic level 
of programme’s 




and postgraduate 




and postgraduate 




and postgraduate 




Undergraduate and 









Due to the international context of the research it was necessary to conduct the interviews in 
either English or French.When data were collected in French, they were translated into English by 
one of the authors who is fluent in both languages.This enabled both to participate in the analysis 
as appropriate to the study. In order to maintain the integrity of the data collected, all quotations 
from the interview carried out in French appear in French followed by the translation in English. 
Once the data were collected and transcribed, the information was analysed thematically 
to identify all benefits discussed by the participants. Although this sample size is limited, it is 
considered to be sufficient for an exploratory study which future research can build upon. 

Presentation and discussion of the results 

The results suggest that from all the franchisees’ perspectives there was a similar order to the 
processes undergone when engaging in an academic franchise. Initially, there was a rationale for 
developing a franchise, then the partner was sought and collaboration agreed upon. Finally, the 
results show that in these successful academic franchises both expected and unexpected benefits 
were identified which reinforced satisfaction with the collaboration. From the franchisors’ 
perspective, initially there was a rationale to internationalize their HEI and while they did not 
seek out particular partners they accepted offers of collaboration from HEIs seen as suitable. 

London Review of Education I I I 

They too, like the franchisees, then began to identify both expected and unexpected benefits.The 
results and discussion are therefore presented in this order. 

/. The rationale for developing an international academic franchise 

As the literature review suggested, both franchisor and franchisee HEIs in these successful 
collaborations had a proactive philosophy of increasing the international profiles of their 
institutions, part of which was via academic franchising. This was intended to (‘ donner une 
perspective 'Internationale aux programs’ ) ‘provide an international perspective to our programmes’ 
(C2). As has also been suggested, a further reason was to increase student numbers and so 
increase income. Reflecting the work of Knight (1999) and de Witt (2002), C4 said that there 
was a strong political rationale because ‘it is important to show the authorities ... that we 
are internationalising our institution.’ For the franchisor, there was the additional desire to 
demonstrate quality and prestige via formal links with international institutions who wanted to 
take their programmes and degrees. For the franchisees, they wanted to be able to demonstrate 
a high-quality unique selling point which distinguished them from their local competitors.This 
reflects the model in Figure I. 

However, one further rationale was identified by the franchisees. In order to attract students, 
they needed to provide an academic programme that was attractive and effective in providing a 
quick and simple entry onto the job market after successful completion of their studies.As Cl 
commented ‘we chose FI as it would bring an international validation to the programme which 
would be hopefully well received on the job market for our future graduates.’ 

This aspect of increased employability was stressed by all the franchisees.The franchisees 
believed very strongly that gaining the international degree would significantly increase their 
students’ employment prospects.This would distinguish them on the job market and also be a 
justification for the higher fees which they would need to charge to cover the higher costs of 
these courses.They also believed that as their alumni body developed they would benefit from 
being able to demonstrate this employability.This in turn would reinforce the prestige of their 
programmes and increase both student numbers and the quality of the applicants. It was seen 
as a rational, sustainable activity.Therefore in all cases there was both a strong economic and 
academic rationale for deciding to develop an academic franchise. 

2. Partner identification 

Once the rationales to franchise had been clearly identified the question of partner identification 
was raised.A major factor here, stressed very strongly by three of the franchisees and implicitly by 
the fourth, was that of language.The franchisees in this study wanted a collaborative programme 
in a world language rather than their own to strengthen the international core of their 
programmes and/or as part of the process of distinguishing themselves from their competitors. 
However, they also agreed on the importance of fluent, clear communication between partners; 
in order to work together it was necessary to have a common language. The franchisors also 
agreed with this point. FI said that their institution had had some academic franchises which 
were not taught in English when the university first started to run academic franchises: ‘we 
used to have them with X which was Spanish ... Y ... was the moderator and he speaks fluent 
Spanish so that worked very well’ (FI). However, the university had subsequently recognized that 
since the moderator‘might leave and then you can be a bit stuck’, they would, as the number of 
franchised programmes rose, only franchise programmes taught through the medium of English. 
They did not feel that they could guarantee continuity or quality assurance otherwise.Therefore, 

I 12 Kevin Pon and Caroline Ritchie 

when they had been approached by Cl, where several modules were already taught in English, 
this was seen as a positive starting point for the franchise discussions. 

Two franchisees for F2 said that one of the reasons they had identified F2 as a potential 
partner was because many higher education programmes in their own country were taught 
through the medium of French due to historical ties. This meant that there were also strong 
cultural ties that they felt would strengthen any partnership agreement. Indeed, reflecting Knight 
(1999), de Witt (2002), and the British Council (2012), F2 commented that cultural empathy 
helps productivity by reducing cultural misunderstandings although it does not eliminate them 
completely.The franchisee who had not emphasized the importance of language per se, C4, said 
that one of the reasons for choosing a French partner was that their city was twinned with the 
franchisor’s city and thus had past ties. Therefore, while C4 had explicitly based its choice of 
partner institution on a cultural and historical rationale, a linguistic link was implicit. Interestingly 
CI said that because ‘English is the language of business’ they had sought a British HEI. Had they 
been looking to franchise‘technical sciences’ they might have chosen a partner HEI in Germany 
which they believed had ‘excellent technical universities’. 

A second factor in the choice of partner was also identified, that of size. Both C2 and C3 
commented that their prospective partner should be (‘suffisamment grand pour nous donner ce 
qu’on cherchait mais qui etait suffissament petit pour avoir un service personnel’) ‘large enough to 
provide what we wanted but small enough to provide a good personal service’ (C2). Cl did 
not compare themselves to the size of the whole partner university but rather to the school 
which ran the programmes they wanted to franchise.The necessity of matching size and having 
the same corporate culture had not been identified in the literature review. It was seen to be 
important not only in setting up a franchise but also to ensuring an ongoing and more equal 
partnership in which there could be future development of other collaborations, perhaps in a 
less hierarchical format. 

3. Benefits 

Expected benefits, as identified in Figure I, and unexpected benefits were identified. All the 
interviewees considered that these benefits were one of the significant factors in making their 
academic franchises successful, particularly those which were unanticipated.The benefits were 
identified as: 

• increased student numbers and financial impacts 

• prestige/enhanced profile 

• quality enhancement and staff development 

• change agent. 

The first two had been anticipated; the second two had not. 

3.1 Increased student numbers and financial impacts 

As anticipated, all the interviewees commented upon the necessity to attract more and better 
quality students. In all cases this had been achieved as the franchisees believed that they had 
attracted students into their institution who might have gone to other institutions had the 
franchise not been operational.The franchisor also gained via the increase in student numbers 
since these students are recorded as being enrolled at both the franchisor and franchisee HEIs. 
Additionally, in the case of F2 the students studied on the home campus for the final part of the 
programme thus paying full tuition fees to the franchisor institution for this part of their study. 

London Review of Education I I 3 

Therefore, this increase in student numbers provided a valuable source of increased income 
both for the franchisee, through the payment of higher student fees, and the franchisor, through 
the payment of royalties by the franchisee. 

On several occasions the aspect of finance was raised, particularly the need to be explicit 
from the outset about expectations so as to have no surprises once the franchise opened. 
While all commented upon their increased income through a successful academic franchise, C2 
and C3 also commented upon the investment cost for new materials and new teaching staff. In 
all franchise HEIs those staff who taught through the medium of the franchisor language were 
harder to recruit, especially away from the main urban centres, and were always paid at a higher 
rate than those who taught in the native language. This was an ongoing cost which had to be 
balanced against any increase in income. 

The franchisees accepted that there was a financial burden to students taking the franchised 
programmes as they were always required to pay more than students taking home programmes. 
However, they believed that this was offset in several ways. First, the students would gain two 
degrees, one national and one international. Second, the students could remain at home with 
much lower living costs. Third, the tuition fees, although more expensive than most national 
degrees in their home country were always lower than student fees paid in the franchisors’ 

3.2 Prestige/enhanced profile 

AsWedlin (2010) has suggested,for all participants international activities were perceived as giving 
increased prestige and perceived status to their HEI. Representing the franchisee perspective, CI 
commented that working with an Anglo-Saxon partner meant that: 

we compare ourselves not with universities in Bulgaria but global institutions like FI ... this 
improves the image of the institution, not only to have the British programmes but to have the 
British standards across the board for all programmes. (Cl) 

As further discussed in 3.3 Quality enhancement, most franchisees had incorporated the quality 
assessment procedures of their franchisor across related programmes not just those which were 
franchised. Pragmatically this was more convenient where courses were linked but it was also 
seen as enabling the franchisee HEI to demonstrate quality and so raise the status of the whole 
institution on the national and international stage. 

From the perspective of the franchisor, academic franchising was seen as a prestigious activity 
in the sense that their programmes and awards were sought by other institutions. F2 commented 
that their international reputation had been increased because (‘nous avons eu beaucoup d’articles 
dans la presse et nous avons gagne des prix nationaux’) ‘we have had many press articles and we 
have won national prizes’ for their contribution to international innovation in business education 
as a result of their academic franchising activities. 

However, reflecting the risk noted byAltbach (2012) and Matthews (2012), FI pointed out 
that franchisees could damage the host institution if the academic franchise was not operated 
as validated.This was particularly the case in HEIs where a very large number of programmes 
were franchised ‘because if you’ve got 30,000 students [on academic franchise programmes] 
you’re bound to get... quite a few of the ones that were likely to cause reputational damage...’ 
Therefore while academic franchising was generally seen as a reputational benefit there was 
always a ‘potential risk’ when a partnership was first developed, particularly if the franchisor did 
not have sufficiently robust quality assurance programmes in place. 

I 14 Kevin Pon and Caroline Ritchie 

3.3 Quality enhancement and staff development 

Although not considered prior to the start of the successful academic franchise, all participants 
agreed that there had been an unexpected rise in quality standards in all institutions participating 
in this FI has pointed out, there was always the potential concern that franchisees 
may not maintain the same standards of quality in the programme delivery as on the home 
campus this had not happened in any of the cases in this study. From the franchisees’ perspective 
they had often had some initial issues, particularly fitting the franchised programmes alongside 
their own programmes and introducing some concepts such as seminars to support lead lectures 
(C3). However,as they became familiar with the quality assurance procedures, particularly double 
marking of scripts and examination board processes, the franchisee HEI’s found that expanding 
these processes across linked programmes raised the quality throughout that department.‘We 
are now, I think, more organised and we have also higher requirements for students’ (Cl).This 
was slightly counter-intuitive since as FI pointed out‘a number of other institutions that they 
may have worked with, particularly if they’re from the United States, don’t have quality assurance 
requirements like we do’. However, it is likely that if perceptions of low standards in potential 
partners had been observed this would have caused the potential franchisees to look elsewhere 
as improved quality and employability were the main rationales for internationalization, justifying 
increased fees. It was important to be seen to provide a service, or added value, or quality which 
competitor HEI’s were not providing. 

From the franchisors’ perspective, both found that (‘nous avons ete plus exigeants avec notre 
faculte pour la production des outils pedagogiques’) ‘we have had to become more demanding of 
the academic staff when producing course material’ (F2) so that clarity was maintained across a 
range of countries and that this had benefited their home students. Another unexpected benefit 
was that it enabled some of the academic staff from the home institution to gain international 
teaching and academic experiences through contact with academic staff of foreign institutions 
plus an insight into how foreign students were taught and how they learned. While not having 
empirical evidence, the franchisors believed, through personal observation, that these experiences 
assisted home academic staff to become more aware of different learning and teaching strategies, 
enhancing both academic staff development and the student experience in their home institution. 

The need for staff to review course delivery was seen as one positive aspect of staff 
development for both franchisor and franchisee. Additionally, in all the franchises there were 
meetings between academic staff and this was also believed to promote staff development. In 
some franchises academic staff are sent to the franchisor’s campus for a period of observation 
and participation in classes in order to transfer methods from one campus to another (C4). In 
other examples, academic staff from the franchisor are involved in staff development sessions at 
the franchisee’s campus; sometimes these activities are combined with visits for the examining 
board. In another example, staff development sessions are held annually at the franchisor’s home 
campus and all franchisees of all programmes are invited to attend and take part in the discussions 
(CI ).At its most basic ‘just going overseas is bound to open the mind a bit...’ (FI), but where the 
exchange works well ‘the franchise was a catalyst for many changes’ (Cl) which have resulted in 
an (‘ echange de bonnes pratiques’) ‘exchange of best practices’ (C3),thus improving the quality. For 
example F2 stated that in one case the franchisee HEI had to develop team-working models not 
commonly used in the country. Additionally, the two of us who moderate academic franchises 
for their HEIs confirm that within their HEIs there is status attached to being invited to become 
a moderator, a public acknowledgement of academic credibility and competence.This in itself 
stimulates a proactive attitude by acting as an informal benchmark for future career potential. 

London Review of Education I 15 

3.4 Change agent 

The second unexpected benefit related to positive development in academic processes was 
the benefit of a change agent. The interviewees agreed that all stakeholders in the academic 
franchise process needed to accept cultural changes in learning and teaching and the associated 
‘ways of doing things’ if the academic franchise was to succeed. Change, especially when it 
may be perceived as being driven by an economic imperative with potential damage to quality, 
is often resisted within organizations and often causes tension and obstruction. However, the 
introduction of new procedures when a potential academic partner is being assessed or the 
programmes validated was identified by the franchisor HEIs to be an efficient way to encourage 
change. For example, as the number of academic franchises had risen in FI’s HEI it had become 
necessary to streamline many administrative procedures because they became impractical 
and costly to administer in so many different countries.The systems were moderated for the 
academic franchise partners first and then, with a proven track record, introduced into the main 
systems of the HEI. FI commented that as a result of this process they had ‘reduced the number 
of people on [all validation] panels’ throughout the HEI, and therefore the cost of validation 
visits to potential franchisee HEIs. Additionally, they had been able to further reduce financial 
and temporal costs via the introduction of e-conferencing for particular examination boards for 
proven partners. This had been done without any detriment to quality and therefore received 
the, usually tacit, support of their academic communities rather than resistance. 

These changes to the academic processes were seen to be quite subtle. More overt cultural 
changes focused mainly on pedagogical issues: course delivery, double marking and moderation, 
moderation of papers and exams, resit examinations, and organization of examination boards. 
In particular, for academic staff the need for courses to be delivered so that the same learning 
outcomes could be achieved necessitated revision and precision in clarity of expression. This 
was essential in order to remove potential confusion arising from differing teaching methods/ 
environments whilst simultaneously creating space for other cultural/legal perspectives. 

None of the participants in this study had actually realized that franchises were a means of 
bringing about change within their HEI at the outset. However, the necessity to review practice 
and the ability to ‘test it out on the partners’ (FI) before introduction throughout the whole 
franchisor HEI was viewed as positive both on an efficiency and on a human level. Therefore 
the setting up of academic franchises may be a positive agent for change at both individual and 
institutional level within HEIs. 


Research was only undertaken in six HEIs: two franchisors and four franchisee HEIs.The results 
therefore cannot be taken as other than strong indicators of themes that would benefit from a 
larger study. However, we argue that the overall consensus strongly indicates that the findings 
have validity and identify potential areas of new understanding.This study has reviewed extant 
literature in the area of academic franchises and consolidated current theory but has also gone 
beyond this:first,by clarifying how significant the want or need of any institution to internationalize 
is in any successful academic franchise; second, by identifying the most significant criteria for 
the choice of collaborative partner from both the franchisee and franchisor perspective; and, 
third, by identifying both expected and unexpected benefits of successful academic franchises.As 
Figure 2 shows, the actual benefits received by both parties in a successful academic franchise 
is greater than has hitherto been identified. New benefits have indeed been identified, such as 
change agents and staff development for both partners within a franchise operation. However, 
what is even more interesting is that this research has revealed that there is a much greater 

I 16 Kevin Pon and Caroline Ritchie 

flow of resources between the partners and both partners appear to share and obtain all the 
resources that are obtained, Previous literature (Golicic et a/., 2003) has suggested that there may 
be divergences in the benefits sought at the outset. However, research from this study indicates 
that the benefits obtained can be the same and can be shared by both partners through a two- 
way flow, even if the objectives were different at the outset.This is nowhere more obvious than 
with the two initial benefits sought: academic expertise sought by the franchisee and increased 
income sought by the franchisor.The franchisee obtains more financial benefit through increased 
revenue through student fees and the franchisor obtains more academic expertise through staff 
development (and through academic research, which was revealed at a later date during a site 

Figure 2: A new model of academic franchising and the flow of benefits 

This research has shown that one of the key factors in successful academic franchises is the initial 
proactive desire to internationalize, along with the readiness of the HEI to support academic staff 
in such developments.This is usually driven by the need to sustain and improve the HEI’s financial 
viability through the increasing of student numbers, and to raise international status. However 
both franchisors agreed that the value of their academic franchises is much more than the simple 
financial and prestige benefits identified in Figure I.As Figure 2 shows, the proactive desire to 

London Review of Education I 17 

internationalize must link into benefits which overtly improve the quality of academic provision 
and the academic experience for all stakeholders across the franchisors’ and franchisees’ HEIs 
if the academic franchise is to be a success. The new model we propose has become a more 
collaborative model compared with the more recruitment-based models described in Figure I. 

We were only able to identify a few elements to identify the partner HEI but in all instances 
that we are aware of the potential franchisee made the initial approach to the franchisor through 
various formal and informal channels.As the data collected for this paper has shown size, language, 
and culture are the main drivers in identifying potential partners although financial and legal issues 
have some impact. However, as reflected in CI’s comments, when these factors have been taken 
into account the crucial issue is then the international reputation of the proposed franchisor in 
that particular academic discipline.This is so that a competitive advantage (internationalization 
for the franchisee and prestige for the franchisor) can be developed. Although not specifically 
mentioned by participants, it is logical to assume that the potential franchisee HEI also needs to 
have a suitable academic reputation, albeit national and not international.This is to reduce the 
risk of reputational damage to the potential franchisor HEI. By linking with that specific partner 
both HEIs intend that there will be a qualitative and quantitative rise in academic results (and 
future prestige) driven by recruiting more and more able students. 

However, we suggest that it is the development of the additional or unexpected benefits, 
in the linked areas of quality enhancement, supporting change, and academic staff development 
throughout their HEI, which is the key to ongoing successful academic franchises and can 
outweigh the tensions and failures that were described in the literature review. In particular, it 
may be the management of change which is the key issue here. As FI pointed out, once their 
HEI had realized that they had a ‘test ground’ they found it less contentious when introducing 
change across the institution as a whole against a background in higher education where staff are 
notoriously resistant to change.Thus the franchisor HEI was able to become more responsive 
to market demand. The results do not suggest why the academic staff involved in academic 
franchising should be less resistant to change but it is likely that the essential introduction of 
new staff and teaching methods of itself introduces new ideas into the franchisee HEI.Within the 
franchisor HEI the benchmarking that invitation to participate in moderating implies may identify 
those more interested in change, or interaction with different international systems and teaching 
cultures may cause academic staff to reassess their own academic behaviours - the international 
exchange of best practice that C3 discussed. 

Further research over a longer period is necessary to test the themes identified in this 
paper. It is also necessary to identify how academic franchising will continue to deliver desired 
outcomes including identifying any new models emerging as a result of further globalization of 
business and management, particularly the impact of new technologies upon the delivery of 
academic programmes. We suggest that there are two other areas that would also benefit from 
further study and intend to develop further research in them. 

Students are also stakeholders in an academic franchise. Without their desire to study 
on that specific programme the franchised programme cannot be successful. However it will 
always be more costly to the students, both financially and in terms of the international learning 
environment of the programme. This study did not examine the student perspective but we 
believe that there would be much value in undertaking a study among student populations to 
establish the actual benefits and barriers to learning in international academic franchises. In 
particular, it would enable academia to better understand student expectations and motivations 
and so develop more appropriate programmes and environments in which to learn. 

Additionally, we are aware that there may be other models of study not identified in this 
paper. For example, some HEIs participate in programmes where the language of instruction is 

I 18 Kevin Pon and Caroline Ritchie 

the language of the host country rather than that of the franchisors’.They tend to be HEIs for 
whom academic franchising is the major part of their programme provision and they may not 
have a home campus. In these cases moderators are hired by the franchisor for their academic 
knowledge and their linguistic skills specifically to moderate a particular franchise. None of the 
franchisees in this study had set up an academic franchise with a ‘virtual’ HEI. It may be that 
the rationales for and benefits received are different in these academic franchises. Therefore 
identifying all modes of study and the rationales for them is also a valuable area for future 

Notes of contributors 

Dr Kevin Pon is Associate Dean for International Relations at the ESDES School of Management in Lyon and 
has interests in international management education and international marketing and management 

Dr Caroline Ritiche is Reader at the Cardiff School of Management and has interests in hospitality 
management and the wine industry. 


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