Thunderbird, the Arizona-based business school that prides itself on its international focus, has become the latest US school to sign up with a commercial education company in a bid to extend its global reach. The partnership with Laureate Education should enable Thunderbird to open multiple international campuses, expand its online and executive education programmes and teach undergraduate degrees.

As both state-financed and private US business schools have seen student numbers drop at home, most are looking overseas to increase their influence and revenues. Many are doing so with a commercial partner that can finance the expansion.

The first prominent school to develop such a relationship was the Kenan-Flagler school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which works with 2U (formerly 2tor) for technology support and some marketing. Others have followed suit. The Smith school at the University of Maryland, for example, is working with Pearson, owners of the Financial Times.

Laureate supports education in more than 29 countries in fields ranging from architecture and engineering to education and art. In business it supports the online MBA programme run by the UK’s University of Liverpool, for example.

Thunderbird and Laureate will set up a joint venture that will provide capital support to Thunderbird, though the school will retain its independence as a private not-for-profit educational institution. Thunderbird will also retain its role in ensuring the academic rigour of programmes and the selection process. “We will be working in close consultation with our accreditors to ensure that all of the elements of this exciting partnership are executed to meet accreditation standards,” says Larry Penley, Thunderbird’s president.

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