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: email@example.com
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
• 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 study.While.as 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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