Three years ago, Rev. Dr. Richard Waugh, national superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand, visited Indiana Wesleyan University. Waugh advocated the demand for Christian higher education in Australia and New Zealand.
Dr. Bridget Aitchison, IWU’s dean for international programs, understood the need, having lived 20 years in Australia.
“Students in the U.S. are so fortunate to have. … [the] choice of strong Christian universities, but in most of the world there are none,” she wrote in an email to The Sojourn.
This thought combined with Waugh’s demand and began a “long series of conversations,” Aitchison said, ultimately resulting in the partnership between IWU and the Wesley Institute of Sydney, Australia.
Earlier this month, IWU President David Wright officially announced the board of trustees gave the university approval to acquire Wesley Institute as the first international campus of the university.
The small college, he said, was “looking for a major Christian partner to become their umbrella so that they could grow to a university status.”
Founded in 1983, Wesley Institute was Australia’s first Christian arts college, according to its official website.
Aitchison said Wesley Mission in Sydney considered closing the school five years ago, but one of Australia’s top businessmen, Phillip Cave, rescued the school, hoping one day it would reach university status with the help of a larger, Christian partner.
IWU will serve as that larger, Christian partner.
“We have a lot of work in front of us,” Wright said. “When we put this opportunity in front of the board, they said this feels like something that God wants us to do with us and in us and through us.”
An important part of this partnership, however, is to maintain the Australian identity of the school.
“One of things we’ve said to all interested parties here is that we’re not really interested in just transplanting an American university to Australia. That doesn’t serve our purposes,” Wright said.
For example, Australians taking classes at the new location will not want a U.S. degree. They’ll want an Australian degree.
“We are creating a global learning community that honors the distinctives and the identity of each of the places but is one system,” Wright said. “We want something that’s a part of IWU but that is very distinctly Australian.”
IWU officials will spend the next nine months working out the process of partnering with Wesley Institute, Wright said. IWU will buy the institution for one dollar “because it has to transfer hands.”
Over the next five years, IWU will invest in some of its research and development money to support the financial demands of the project. It will take about $5.7 million to get Wesley Institute into a new location and “help them move from where they are to full university status,” Wright said.
According to Chief Financial Officer Duane Kilty, the funds of this project will not have a negative impact on students. For example, they will not directly lead to any tuition jumps.
Kilty said $3 million of the $5.7 million total will “renovate a new leased facility” and go toward a relocating Wesley Institute. The current lease, which cannot be renewed, expires in 2015.
Another $2 million will fund additional marketing during the first five years, and the rest will finance the development of new programs, additional faculty and other operational needs.
Wright said IWU will treat the $5.7 million as a loan the Australia location will pay back in years to come. Once IWU receives the money back, Wright said it will go toward other global opportunities for the school.
“We don’t see … IWU Australia as a way for IWU USA to make money,” Wright said. “We see this as a way for us to broaden and enrich the mission of Indiana Wesleyan University. The funds that we invest are really intended to extend the reach of Christ-centered higher education outside of this country.”
Kilty said, “Once the acquisition is complete, [there] will be wonderful benefits for Marion students.”
Aitchison hopes that having a plant in Australia will help students’ intercultural skills.
She cited Dr. Wright for saying if a student graduates and never leaves Grant County, there is still a high possibility he or she will work with international companies and suppliers.
“We have to prepare our students for the realities of a global world,” Aitchison said. “Having the links between IWU and IWU campuses in other countries will help with the internationalization of our students’ experiences.”
According to Aitchison, some IWU students have already had experience at Wesley Institute. The school, she said, is an affiliate member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and has hosted the BestSemester study abroad program in Sydney.
“This opportunity really provides a range of academic programs that our students can plug into and become a part of,” Wright said. “I believe it really will offer a rich smorgasbord of exchange opportunities, study abroad opportunities, [and] faculty collaboration opportunities.”
Wesley Institute offers undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in the per
forming creative arts, such as dance, drama, music and graphic design, Aitchison said. It also offers master’s degrees in education, counseling, music, leadership and applied ethics.
Instead of short-term study abroad trips, Wright hopes students and faculty consider staying a full year at the Australian location.
Though the board approved the partnership earlier this month, IWU must still have the approval of the Higher Learning Commission. Wright and his associates are writing a proposal for the committee due in December. The HLC, which monitors the accreditation of colleges in the North Central region, will review this proposal and either approve or deny it in June.
If the partnership goes through, IWU Australia will become the first and only Evangelical Christian university in Australia. It will also be the first Christian university of the Wesleyan Church outside of North America.