University of Pennsylvania plans centers in Philadelphia and China

Posted: February 26, 2013

Universities nationally are grappling with ways to establish a global presence: Some are building campuses abroad. Some are opening centers for alumni interaction and faculty research. Others are fostering study-abroad programs and international enrollment. And some are trying a combination.

Over the last 17 months, Ezekiel Emanuel, the University of Pennsylvania's first vice provost for global initiatives, has been studying the landscape and plotting a coordinated, cohesive course for the Ivy League campus.

At a board of trustees meeting this week, Penn will announce a series of substantial financial gifts to launch its new vision, developed by Emanuel, an oncologist and bioethicist used to working in the global arena who was one of the principal architects of President Obama's health-care reform act.

The university plans to build a "world house" on campus in which to concentrate global activities. It will include a "global solutions program," in which world leaders and faculty experts will take on a new problem every year - such as access to clean water - and develop solutions. That house, location to be determined, will open in 2015.

The plan also calls for a center in China to be used for training, faculty research, interviews of prospective students, and other collaborations.

And Penn will bring on two global educators, one a professor and another to head the world house. Though the university has many experts in particular geographical areas, it needs more faculty with global expertise, Emanuel said.

"It's a pretty serious commitment out of the block," said Emanuel, who has traveled to Africa, India, and Singapore to meet with alumni, government officials, and others.

But one thing Penn does not plan to do is build a branch campus abroad.

"That's a crazy idea," Emanuel said during an interview in his office last week. "We're in the education business. We're not in the real estate business."

He noted the rise in free massive open online courses (MOOCs), which increasingly will allow universities to transport classes to every corner of the world. He has taught a MOOC course, "Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act," to which thousands have tuned in, and he plans to add a course on "Rationing and Allocating Scarce Medical Resources."

Peggy Blumenthal of the Institute of International Education said each university had to find an approach that works best for its program.

"A lot of schools are exploring how to have a presence overseas that compliments the work of bringing international students to the home campus," she said. "It really depends on the mission of the school, its resources, and its appetite for long-term investment as opposed to short-term financial gain."

Caution in developing a branch campus is prudent, she said. In the 1990s, dozens of schools rushed to build campuses in Japan, and now only a few remain, including Temple University's. Lack of clarity on responsibilities and requirements and questions about whether the Japanese government would recognize the degrees doomed some of the programs, she said.

Emanuel said Penn would send more students abroad - it wants to expand short-term summer experiences - and continue to enroll international students from a wide array of countries and economic backgrounds.

Nearly a third of Penn's students study abroad, according to the international education institute. Last year, the university enrolled 5,296 international students. About 13 percent of Penn undergraduates are international, as are more than a quarter of its graduate students.

The university also will seek to become "more of an agenda-setter internationally," Emanuel said. And it will look for ways to help "make the world a better place," similar to its flagship program in Botswana, where it is involved in multiple partnerships and helped launch a medical school.

In addition, Penn will build stronger ties with its 25,000 alumni in other countries, asking them to smooth the way for visiting students and to meet with visiting faculty. Emanuel said he was shocked to learn that the international network - roughly 8 percent of Penn's living alumni base - was so vast.

He said he was pleased that a survey he commissioned last year showed 33 percent of Penn faculty who responded already were engaged globally. Nearly 2,500 of 3,800 faculty members responded.

Twenty percent are involved in sustained research or service projects, on issues such as the Japanese government's gender policies and infectious-disease training in Peru.

Twelve percent serve on boards, such as the China Medical Board, the Madrid Institute for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences, and the Tanzanian Children's Fund. Nine percent received awards or fellowships, and nine percent are teaching.

China was selected for the new center because Penn already has a substantial number of faculty members working there and a strong alumni network, Emanuel said. Penn, for example, is involved in building up the practice of social work in China.

The university has what Emanuel described as a nascent center in China, but under the new plan, that will be built up with involvement from multiple schools, such as Wharton, the law school, and the medical school, he said.

Penn also plans centers in India and Africa, he said.

Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693,, or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq. Read her blog, "Campus Inq" at

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