Columbia Global Centers

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The Columbia Global Centers are research facilities established by Columbia in locations around the world, as part of its initiative to make itself a more global university. The first of these centers opened in March 2009 in Amman, Jordan and Beijing, China, and additional facilities are opened in Paris (at Columbia's preexisting campus at Reid Hall) and Mumbai, India in March 2010. Additional locations in Istanbul, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, and somewhere in Kazakhstan are planned for the future.


Despite Columbia being an academic institution that is deeply internationalized, with hundreds of research collaborations, dual-degree programs, internships, and related programs spread across by profession, discipline and region, there has been a missing link. Columbia’s leadership believes that growing faculty energy and student demand can reach new levels of scholarship and teaching through a network of integrated global centers. While some U.S. universities have built new branch campuses and degree-granting schools abroad, Columbia is taking a different path. The Columbia Global Centers will provide flexible regional hubs for a wide range of activities and resources intended to enhance the quality of research and learning at the university and around the world. The focus is on establishing a network of partnerships in international capitals to address complex global challenges collaboratively by bringing together scholars, students, public officials, private enterprise, and innovators from a broad range of fields.

In the 19th century, there was an explosion of scholarly specialization—in response, Columbia helped invent the now familiar disciplinary departments. In the early 20th century, there was a need for institutions to house research and teaching spilling across departmental boundaries—in response, Columbia helped invent the now familiar interdisciplinary centers and functional Institutes. And in the mid-20th century, there was need for strengthened language instruction and area expertise. In response, Columbia helped invent the now familiar regional institutes. The history of universities is spelled out in institutional re-invention when current structures inadequately service expanding scholarly ambitions and courses relevant to new careers.

The faculty demand for global scholarship and student demand for global careers is not being adequately met today, especially in ways that do not require a lifetime commitment to regional expertise. Global Centers offer an opportunity to take advantage of these opportunities.

What are the Global Centers?

They are not satellite campuses, overseas profit centers, or operations under the umbrella of a partner institution. Each is or will be independently chartered.

Directed by resident faculty members, and guided by university-wide faculty steering committees, centers individually and the network collectively favors teaching and research that coordinates across two or more world regions, that connects multiple departments and schools; and, that involves scientists and scholars from those regions. Activities that combine research and teaching with service opportunities – as is the case for many professional school and Earth Institute initiatives – receives valued logistic support from the Centers.

Unlike traditional satellite campuses, the centers are strictly research offices with skeleton staffs, designed to make Columbia's approach to the globalization of education stand out - and to cost relatively little, compared to full-scale teaching operations like those run by New York University. Each center will pursue a set of University-wide core activities that will evolve over time. The centers are expected to encourage collaboration across academic disciplines at Columbia. Some of the research and scholarly initiatives will be regionally focused; others will involve multiple centers, and in some instances the full complement of centers will be engaged across many continents.

Although faculty and students are expected to travel through these centers and spend time in these regions, the long-term viability and sustainability of the centers is contingent upon a continuous, rotating faculty presence. This could be accomplished through the establishment of center-specific research fellowships and affiliate or visiting faculty positions. The centers are also intended to support a significant expansion of opportunities for Columbia students to do work abroad, particularly those who may not want to spend a full semester or academic year off-campus.


Columbia’s Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs, Kenneth Prewitt, is director of the Office of Global Centers (not to be confused with the Office of Global Programs, which coordinates study abroad). Each center will have an oversight advisory board consisting of campus-based and regional members and a campus-based faculty steering committee, which will recommend and develop appropriate programs and projects.

Columbia Global Center | Middle East

Global Center, Amman, Jordan

The Amman center, officially called the Columbia University Middle East Research Center, opened with the assistance of Jordan's Queen Rania and was funded by grants from both the US government and the government of Jordan.

Safwan Masri directs the global center in Amman. For more than two decades, he has been a member of the Columbia Business School faculty, including 13 years as the school’s Vice Dean. His expertise is business development in the Middle East, with an emphasis on education and economic reform, and his academic work has focused on supply chain management and structural change in the financial service industry. He sits on a number of nonprofit boards and is also chair of the board of King’s Academy, a high school for academically gifted students in Jordan.

Current activities

Current projects in Amman include collaborating with Jordanian resources toward accomplishing educational reforms and enhancing teacher and social worker skills, as well as undertaking several initiatives in the arts and architecture.

The signature program in the region, and the catalyst for the center’s launch in Jordan, is an independent training and education center, under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah through the Queen Rania Teacher Academy (QRTA), is a collaborative effort of the Center, Columbia’s Teachers College, and Jordan’s Ministry of Education. Providing in-service training programs and the country’s first-ever induction program training new teachers to nearly 400 teachers in 2009.

The Columbia School of Social Work has partnered with Jordanian nongovernmental and government entities to offer an intensive course on the foundations of social work to regional practitioners. This program, designed by the school’s faculty and regional collaborators, provides a model for Columbia faculty engagement with opportunities, needs, and expertise throughout the Middle East. This summer, the Jordan Social Work Education for Excellence Program (JSWEEP) graduated nearly 100 service workers and managers—bringing the total number of program graduates to roughly 200—as part of a broader effort to promote professionalization of the discipline in Jordan.

The Center has also been selected, working with the Earth Institute, as the MENA-region node of the Global Soil Mapping Initiative. Professor Jeffrey Sachs initially identified Jordan as a potential locus of this research, following his visit to the Center, and the Earth Institute will work with Jordan’s Ministry of Agriculture to house the research endeavor at the Center. The Ministry will delegate a full-time staff member to begin gathering soil composition data from Morocco to Kazakhstan, and this information will be digitized in publicly accessible, searchable databases. A formal ceremony announcing Amman as the node could take place in summer 2010.

In addition, in preparation for 2009's global environment summit in Copenhagen, the Center partnered with the Embassy of Sweden and Jordan’s European Union delegation to host a conference in October examining the regional implications of global climate issues.

Other innovative partnerships include Professor Andrew Dolkart and eight GSAPP students completing the first stage of the Ibrahim Hashim House Preservation Project to restore the historic 1930s home of Jordan’s first prime minister in downtown Amman.

Future Activities

The Center and QRTA are jointly exploring a partnership with Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies to implement Jordan-based components of a global teacher exchange to promote professional development and growth.

Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation will launch a major research lab at the Amman center to be used for collaborative research, events, projects, exhibitions, and cultural exchanges involving students, scholars, and designers from Columbia University and throughout the Middle East.

The School of the Arts is also pursuing initiatives in the region, including the engagement of film scholars with regional experts, participation in film festivals, and facilitation of graduate student exchanges.

Planning continues regarding the Music of the Muslim World archive, in partnership with the Archive of Contemporary Music, Columbia’s Arts Initiative, Columbia University Libraries, and others. A project manager has been hired locally to organize preparation for the April 2010 launch of the digital music archive and live-music initiative.

The center is also collaborating with SIPA and the Earth Institute to explore the feasibility of offering executive education programs, including possibly master’s degrees, in international development for senior managers.

Columbia Global Center | East Asia

University President Lee C. Bollinger speaking at the opening of the Global Center in Beijing, China

The Beijing Center, also launched in March 2009, provides a base for activities throughout East Asia, where Columbia's ties are longstanding and deep.

Xiaobo Lü, professor of political science at Barnard College and former director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia, served as the first Director of the Beijing center. In June 2010, after a two year leave of absence to establish the center, he stepped down to return to teaching, and was replaced by Geng Xiao.

Current activities

The Center's current projects include providing assistance with the negotiation and legal processes to establish a Collaborative Center for Advanced Genomic Research by Tsinghua-University and Columbia. Research at the Center will initially be concentrated in the field of genomics and personalized medicine. The Center also plans to facilitate student and faculty exchanges between Tsinghua University and Columbia, providing for laboratory and study visits in Beijing and in New York by research scientists on the faculty and graduate students from the two institutions.

A signature program in the Beijing Center is Studio X, initiated by Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). According to GSAPP Dean Mark Wigley, the fact that fully one-half of all construction projects underway in the world are underway in China creates an imperative for Columbia students to gain experience there. GSAPP has rented a large urban space in Beijing to provide studios for Columbia students working with Chinese counterparts on design and preservation projects and to provide a venue for Columbia-related activities. The Beijing Center is facilitating steps to bringing this project to fruition. The studio — like its Studio X counterpart in New York — will provide a dynamic design center for collaborative projects, experimental research, and regular gatherings of colleagues dedicated to emergent thought. These studios allow historians, theorists, graphic designers, spatial data analysts, media analysts, video artists, and landscape designers the opportunity to come together and remove barriers between education and action.

The Executive Public Policy Training Program at Peking University is an eight-week, mid-career program for senior Chinese government officials. The curriculum, which combines policy, economics, and management, was designed and is taught by faculty from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, the London School of Economics, Sciences Po, and Peking University. Columbia faculty who travel to Beijing each summer to teach in the program will benefit from the opportunity to base themselves at the Beijing center. They will also add to the intellectual life of the center and benefit from the opportunity to use the center to interact with Columbia alumni and scholars who are in the city for other projects.

Held at the end of October 2009, CGC Beijing worked with Initiative For Policy Dialogue (IPD) to organize a conference in Beijing of the China Task Force, a collaborative research project of IPD with several Chinese and British universities. A co-sponsor of the first China Task Force’s meeting to held in China, Chinese and Western scholars and Chinese policymakers will discuss financial regulation in China after the financial crisis, as well as regulation in other sectors, as part of IPD's ongoing policy-oriented study of China's transition to a market economy.

Future activities

CGS Beijing is also in the process of developing and supporting a summer program in Beijing for Columbia's Center for Career Education, aiding the School of Social Work to develop a program of elderly care and professional training in social work with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and Peking University and a Visiting International Student Program in partnership with Barnard College.

Columbia Global Center | Europe

In March 2010, the Columbia Global Center | Europe was formally launched at Reid Hall, Columbia's historic Paris property.

According to a newly signed memorandum of understanding between Columbia (on behalf of the Mailman School of Public Health) and L’École des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique (EHESP), Reid Hall will host the consortium’s ambitious project to shape public health in the 21st century. As a part of the agreement, MSPH and EHESP will search for innovative, productive and forward-looking ways to utilize Reid Hall for joint programs or programs of mutual interest, including teaching and research. An Arts-focused initiative in West Africa is also using Reid Hall as the base of operations.

The School of the Arts is also operating a summer theatre program there.

Columbia Global Center | South Asia

Columbia's Global Center for South Asia was launched in Mumbai, India, in late March 2010.

Earth Institute economist Nirupam Bajpai has called the Center "a huge project both physically and in its programming". One major initial project will be "India 2047", a sustainability initiative meant to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of India's independence.

Among the new collaborations is Studio-X Mumbai, a GSAPP project. Studio-X is the architecture school’s global network of leadership laboratories for collaborative research, exhibitions, and public dialogue about the future of the built environment. Studio-X Mumbai occupies a loft-like space in a heritage building near Victoria Terminal and joins an existing network of Columbia architecture labs in Beijing, Amman, Rio de Janeiro and Moscow.

Future plans

Columbia envisions opening additional such centers in the coming years. Formally, interest and momentum are building toward expansions to Turkey, East Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America.[1]


Columbia is currently working toward opening a global center in Istanbul. Interest in its activities has been expressed by the School of the Arts and the Journalism School; the possibility of joint programming with the Europe Center in Paris is also under consideration.

East Africa

The university initially considered opening including a New York-based office to coordinate the university's activities in Africa, potentially forestalling or precluding the opening of a formal Global Center on the continent.

Recently, however, there has been momentum toward opening a formal center to facilitate the university's East African activities in Nairobi. The center would lean heavily on the existing East African footprint of the Earth Institute, which carries out much of its work in the region. The growing Swahili language program at Columbia has also expressed interest in turning the center into a study abroad base.

Central Asia

The work of the School of Social Work's Global Health Research Center of Central Asia, based in Almaty, Kazakhstan has inspired the idea for a formal Global Center in that country. There is currently no consensus over whether it should be located in the country's former capital and business center, Almaty, or in the new capital city of Astana.

Latin America

The center in Rio de Janeiro would be based around GSAPP's Studio-X workshop there.

Other expansion possibilities

Its acquisition and creation of a study center at Casa Murano in Venice raises the possibility that a Global Center could be created there, although having given the Paris center the title "Global Center | Europe", this seems unlikely.

The university has also expressed interest, in the past, in opening a Global Center in Russia. As in Rio, GSAPP currently has a Studio-X program up and running in Moscow.

Global Centers map

This map reflects Columbia's current and officially planned facilities around the world.

<googlemap lat="42.032974" lon="30.234375" zoom="2" width="700" height="500">

31.817827, 34.582032, Global Center Amman, Jordan 40.05789, 115.792969, Global Center Beijing, China 46.691654, 2.941407, Planned Global Center Paris France 17.157588, 73.957032, Planned Global Center Mumbai, India 40.860357, -74.050781, Columbia University, New York, USA </googlemap>

External links