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Small office, big plans for OSU’s Global Gateway in China

Ohio State has colossal aspirations for an office not much larger than a university residence hall room.

The 270-square-foot Global Gateway Office, which opened February in Shanghai, China, is expected to perform a variety of functions similar to international liaison offices that other universities have established.

However, unlike other universities’ liaison offices, the gateway office will eventually be self-supporting, said William Brustein, vice provost for global strategies and international affairs at OSU.

Other universities, such as the University of Southern California, have opened successful offices abroad, but they depend on the university for financial support.

The OSU Office of International Affairs and the Fisher College of Business’ Center for Executive Education are working to develop executive training programs, which will operate through the gateway office. These programs are expected to be the office’s source of revenue.

“What we’re going to offer, in terms of these executive training programs, will be programs that already exist within the Center for Executive Education, such as logistics and supply chain management,” Brustein said. “But they will be customized for our clients operating in China.”

Brustein said unique programs of interest to businesses in China, such as a food safety program, will also be added. The office is conducting an assessment to determine what other programs to offer.

Brustein said the executive training program will initially target Ohio-based companies located in China and companies with OSU alumni in key positions. He hopes the program will gain a good reputation, which will allow the office to expand its client base.

Although the exact programs that will be offered and the price to participate have not yet been determined, the office aims to have the programs up and running at some point next year, said Maureen Miller, director of communication for the Office of International Affairs.

Before the gateway office can conduct revenue-generating operations in China, it must obtain a license. It is operating under a restrictive license that does not allow it to perform business functions.

The start-up cost of the gateway office was $240,000, which covered the first eight months of operation. The estimated yearly expense after that is $600,000, Brustein said.

A three-year timeline was set for the office to become fully self-supporting, but it is not a strict deadline, Brustein said. At the end of three years, the office will be evaluated.

“The key point is that the value has to be looked at not just in a narrow fashion,” Brustein said, “but in a creative, open fashion of the value that the office brings to the university.”

A main goal of the gateway office is to establish study-abroad and internship opportunities for OSU students there.

“No other office is doing anything like that,” Brustein said.

The office also provides OSU alumni in China a means of organizing with each other, Miller said.

“It just seemed to have a domino effect with the alumni reconnecting with one another,” Miller said, noting that an alumni community has begun to form in China since the office opened.

The gateway office is expected to recruit high-caliber Chinese students and increase donations to OSU from supporters of the initiative.

USC’s success in increasing its international student population illustrates the effectiveness of liaison offices in that respect.

According to USC’s international student enrollment report, its international student population increased from 7,490 to 7,987 between 2008 and 2009.

Brustein said he initially planned to relocate operations from the current office to a facility about 10 times its size.

Now, he said the size depends on how successfully the office can manage its responsibilities at its current capacity.

“If we find that much of what we want to accomplish can be achieved by having the smaller office and leasing larger space, we may not need to increase our space tenfold,” Brustein said.

OSU established the office in a central, convenient location for business-people to access, Brustein said.

“It’s a very welcoming area when you want to have corporate people come to visit,” he said, mentioning that the office is close to a major subway stop, hotels and restaurants.

The small office also came with a small price tag and lower risk compared with facilities other universities have opened abroad.

“What recently happened to Michigan State is that they realized, after dropping millions of dollars to establish a Michigan campus abroad, that it wasn’t going to work,” Brustein said.

Michigan State University has offered programs in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for about three years, said Stephanie Motschenbacher, communication manager for international studies and programs at MSU. This summer, MSU ended its undergraduate program there because of lower-than-expected enrollment.

“We had facilities there where we would teach MSU classes and programs, but they’re no longer enrolling there,” Motschenbacher said, adding that the graduate program at MSU Dubai still exists. “We weren’t meeting the target of the numbers of students to enroll.”

Brustein has a solution to the problem.

“By building a brick-and-mortar campus, you’re taking so many of your resources, which will limit you based on where else you can be,” Brustein said. “We can build a state-of-the-art major without building a university campus. We’ll do it through partnerships with other universities in China, and the gateway office can facilitate that.”

Some universities establish offices on the campus of one of their partner universities abroad. But OSU specifically wanted to open an independent office.

“We have relationships with so many great universities in China, and we don’t want to give the perception that we have an exclusive relationship with one specific university,” Brustein said.

The Office of International Affairs is already in the early stages of planning gateway offices at other sites, depending on the success of the one in Shanghai.

A faculty advisory committee has already been assembled to help plan the development of a gateway office in New Delhi, India, according to the office’s Web site. OSU is also looking into establishing an office in São Paulo, Brazil, and possibly ones in Turkey, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

“At the other sites, we are doing exploratory work, looking at exploratory and entrepreneurial ways to develop without relying on our budget at this time,” Brustein said. “There have been a number of alumni in these other gateway countries who have already expressed interest to me that they’d be willing to give us prime office space at no cost.”

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