Travelling Architectures, Signs and Symbols of British Campuses Abroad

The value of an overseas degree is not just based on its curriculum and contents – its symbolic value needs to be established through associations, signs and symbols. Often these invoke the relations to the origin of sending institutions’ campuses and cities. This may involve the transfer of architectural, material elements and even the construction of entire buildings based on ideas from the home campus. Not amounting to full copies, they aim to transfer the identity of an institution through copying its historic and iconic buildings in their Asian setting, as the example of the University of Newcastle in Malaysia shows.

Other universities go even further. The University of Nottingham has not only erected a replica of the Trent Tower building but has created artificial lakes in its locations in Ningbo (China) and Semenyih (Malaysia) that re-create the atmosphere landscape at the original campus.

Stepping into the UK campus

Of course, these are special cases and not all universities that set up foreign presences are able to construct entire buildings in the image of their home campus. Those located in rented facilities, such as office towers, or leasing purpose-built infrastructures, find ways to represent the image of the home campus inside their buildings. Both the University of Southampton (in Malaysia) and the University of Manchester (in Singapore) have printed wall-papers at their entrances that create the impression of stepping into the historic buildings at the home campus.

Entrances of the UK university campuses in Singapore and Malaysia

Multidirectional Flows

The setting up of international branch campuses is however not a simple export of education, there are effects on the sending institution as a result of transnational education. The existence of a Chinese campus is changing the campus in Nottingham, not simply through the presence of Chinese students on campus but also through multidirectional flows of artefacts, signs and symbols. Two Chinese dragons frame the view of the lake at the UK campus and thus frame many photo shots taken of the University of Nottingham. The dragons’ read have the inscription “Nottingham-Ningbo 2006-2015” and were donated by China to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the offshore campus.

Jana Kleibert, September 2019