Reflections of a translocal academic:

Teaching the MSc International Business at the new University of Birmingham Dubai.

Last Friday, I joined a special club. This was by invitation only. I have on-going research projects in Brazil, Chicago, Guangzhou, Nairobi, Kampala, Addis Ababa, Thailand, Indonesia and Birmingham. This is my research world. My new club, I am the founding member, is for academics who have taught modules at the University of Birmingham and the new campus of the University of Birmingham Dubai and on our teaching programmes in Singapore. Membership of this club is restricted to those who have taught in these three places within the same academic year. This club needs a name, and I am certain that the University of Birmingham will provide us with a club symbol, a token to distinguish us as we stride across and between our campuses. The working title for this club is the Translocal Lecturer Club (TLC); I have become the first Fellow of the TLC, a FTLC.

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There are many reflections that I can make on my experience of teaching the first Module in the MSc International Business, Dubai. Writing, thinking and teaching reflect an iterative relationship between an individual, a place and a time. Teaching here, and at Birmingham and Dubai, transforms the ways in which I think about some local and global processes. This is reflected in my research, my writing and in my teaching. The process of internationalisation transforms firms, people and products/services. Here in Dubai, I meet new people, different people and develop a dialogue with colleagues that I have not met before. I have new experiences. It is a new world, a different world.

Since 1990, I have been fascinated with service firms and service work. I have written many academic papers and books on this topic[1], and I am writing another book. Part of this book was written here, at our new campus. Some of this text can be cited. There are many ways of classifying services. One classification is between hard and soft services. The creation and delivery of hard services can be predominantly separated from their production. This separation involves the application of information and telecommunication technologies (ICT). Alternatively, there are soft services in which service co-creation occurs at the same time and in the same place. These services require face-to-face delivery and a significant local presence, local representatives.

There are many ways of delivering soft services. This often involves the recruitment of local employees. Alternatively, a flying employee approach can be adopted. The University of Birmingham Dubai is rather special. There is no local partner – no delivery partner that is not the University of Birmingham. This is not some form of academic franchise. This is the University of Birmingham Dubai. I teach here (Dubai) and there (Singapore) and in Birmingham. The first FTLC to teach the new MSc International Business Dubai module. But, this is not a new programme; this is a University of Birmingham programme that we have delivered in Birmingham. For students, the programme and the quality of the programme and the reputation of the university are the same. ‘It does exactly what it says on the tin’ – this is a University of Birmingham degree delivered by Birmingham academics and some, but not all, will be members of the newly founded TLC.

I arrived in Dubai last Friday at 12.25am and headed to sleep. I was teaching from 9.30am. In Dubai, Friday is Sunday and Sunday is Monday. This is an appropriate start to a module on globalisation. The students of the first member of the TLC are the most important component of this new teaching experience. I must say, that this is perhaps one of the best groups of students that I have taught. Let me be more positive – the best. They are engaged and engaging, lively, enthusiastic, entertaining and fascinated with the subject. This is a good group of students, an excellent group. 

The teaching setting is interesting. The University of Birmingham Dubai is located at International Academic City. It is located, temporarily, in a locally designed building. The new campus is under development – a new University of Birmingham. Inside the building, the interior design and the teaching technology mirrors that of the University of Birmingham campus at Edgbaston. I login to the computer system using my Birmingham user name and password – it is the same system with the same functionality.  The colour schemes are the same reflecting a University of Birmingham branding of the teaching space.

On Wednesday, I was teaching from 6pm to 10pm. It is an interesting time to teach. I was writing during the day and teaching in the cool of the Dubai evening There was an interesting discussion that evening about the internationalisation of services, including the internationalisation of the University of Birmingham. I left the building just before 10pm. I walked from the University of Birmingham Dubai out in to the heat of a Dubai evening – this was more akin to a Singaporean evening – hot and humid. The strange thing was that, for a moment, I had forgotten that I was in Dubai. The teaching technology and the interior design of the new campus, combined with the dark of the evening, had distorted my sense of place and space; Dubai was Birmingham and Birmingham was Dubai. This is the essence of the new University of Birmingham Dubai – a Russell Group educational experience provided by members of a new and exciting club – the TLC.  

John R. Bryson,

Professor of Enterprise and Economic Geography,

City-Region Economic Development Institute,

University of Birmingham,

Birmingham, UK

Dubai, Friday 5 October 2018


[1] Bryson, J.R., Daniels, P.W. and Warf, B. (2004) Service Worlds: People, Organizations, Technologies, Routledge; Bryson, J.R. and Rusten, G. (2011) Design Economies and the Changing World Economy: Innovation, Production and Competitiveness, London: Routledge; Bryson, J.R. and Daniels, P.W.  (eds.) (2007) The Handbook of Service Industries in the Global Economy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar; Bryson J.R. and Daniels P.W. (2015), Handbook of Service Business: Management, Marketing, Innovation and Internationalisation, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham