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December 19, 2014

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UNLV wants to open campus in Middle East

Region’s tourism hot spot a good fit, dean says

Image

Courtesy Stuart Mann

Stuart Mann, dean of UNLV’s hotel college, stands poolside in the United Arab Emirates, where the university might open a campus.

Beyond the Sun

Tucked between Saudi Arabia and Oman, with beaches kissed by the Persian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates might seem alien to Nevadans. But the oil-rich Middle Eastern federation with a population of more than 4 million has close ties to Las Vegas.

The nation where MGM Mirage and a U.A.E. partner are planning a $3 billion mixed-use resort, is a hub for tourism. A government-owned conglomerate of Dubai, one of seven emirates that make up the U.A.E., recently bought a half-interest in MGM Mirage’s more than $8 billion CityCenter development on the Strip.

And now, a new link may be forged.

Following the lead of other U.S. universities including Michigan State University and New York University, UNLV is contemplating a U.A.E. campus.

Officials will ask the Board of Regents in April for approval to create a self-supporting hospitality program in the state of Ras al Khaimah. Plans for a campus would not move forward until the U.A.E. completes a feasibility study.

Like UNLV’s Singapore campus, the school’s only international location, the U.A.E. satellite would offer a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration and a master’s degree in hospitality administration. The curriculum would be identical to what is offered in Las Vegas.

The Middle East branch, which could open as soon as spring 2010, would further the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration’s ambitions of enabling scholars to take classes in multiple countries before graduating. Though the U.A.E. campus would draw students from the Persian Gulf region, Las Vegans could eventually take courses there too.

“In today’s world, the growing middle class has the capability to travel and they’re using their disposable income to travel all over the world,” said Stuart Mann, hotel college dean at UNLV. “The student needs to understand multiple cultures and how hospitality and tourism is delivered in different countries so they can be an effective manager when they leave UNLV.”

Everything from basic accommodations to guests’ attitudes varies by world region. At many Asian resorts, for example, rooms include not just a coffee maker but a pot for boiling water for tea. In some cultures, customers are apt to complain loudly about problems, while in others clients who have had a bad experience will simply spend their money elsewhere next time.

As economies around the world become increasingly tied to one another, American colleges should strengthen their international presence, said Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit organization that promotes educational relations between the United States and other countries.

By opening branch campuses instead of simply running study abroad programs, schools can directly oversee the quality of the education students receive, he added.

A 2006 report by the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education identified 82 international branch campuses worldwide, with more than half of those launched by U.S. universities.

Talks regarding a UNLV site in the Middle East began over a year ago when a U.S. development company with close ties to the Ras al Khaimah government asked UNLV officials to consider an emirate campus, Mann said.

No public money from Nevada would be involved in launching or running the program, which could eventually generate revenue for UNLV through student fees and other means, he added. Campuses abroad could bring UNLV prestige and international recognition, raising the value of students’ degrees.

How receptive regents will be to another overseas venture will hinge partly on how successful they believe their Asian campus has been, said Regents Chairman Michael Wixom.

That program, housed on two floors of Singapore’s National Library building, was launched in 2006 using a $2.2 million loan from Singapore’s government.

Because the loan went not to UNLV but to a nonprofit corporation UNLV established to support its Singapore branch, the university will not be financially responsible for the program if it fails.

The site serves 115 undergraduates and has a smaller graduate program, and two Las Vegas students are studying there, said Andy Nazarechuk, dean of UNLV Singapore. Several faculty members from Las Vegas have taught there as well.

For UNLV’s hotel college, the U.A.E., with its emphasis on tourism, seems a natural fit. The country is considered one of the Middle East’s most politically stable and culturally inclusive.

Still, pursuing a campus there has posed challenges for other U.S. higher education institutions.

The University of Connecticut last year scrapped plans for a Dubai branch after people expressed concerns about issues such as the U.A.E.’s policy of denying entry to people who hold only an Israeli passport.

Students at New York University, which plans to open a campus in the emirate of Abu Dhabi in 2010, have complained that U.A.E. laws discriminate against homosexuals and do little to protect migrant workers — complaints many Americans make about their own country.

UNLV would abide by U.A.E. laws. But like other institutions planning U.A.E. campuses, the university would retain full control over its academic programs and hiring and admissions decisions, Mann said.

But political and human rights-related worries are not the only ones linked to international sites. At NYU, students fret that putting too much attention on satellite campuses could erode the quality of education at home, said Adam Playford, editor in chief of NYU’s Washington Square News, a student newspaper whose editorial board has written on the subject.

“The board had a lot of questions about what this is going to do to NYU,” Playford said. “The fear would be that by putting so much attention into this project abroad, the experience in New York will suffer.”

Similar concerns could apply to UNLV.

Bill Werner, a UNLV faculty member who spent eight weeks teaching at the school’s Singapore campus last year, said he and his colleagues learn more about their fields of study by being exposed to different cultures. Still, he believes the primary beneficiaries of the overseas branch are students in Asia who can get a degree from UNLV’s top-ranked hotel school without coming to Las Vegas.

And that could give regents pause. The service area for Nevada’s public institutions, Wixom said, is Nevada.

“Our primary responsibility is here,” he said. “When we’re extending campuses overseas, they must be complementary with our campuses here.”

Sun reporter Liz Benston contributed to this story.

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