Be­friend­ing China’s academia

Many US uni­ver­si­ties see a close China re­la­tion­ship as a way to at­tract top fac­ulty mem­bers, stu­dents and re­sources. But that ap­proach in a crowded mar­ket is chal­leng­ing and in­volves risks, MICHAEL BAR­RIS re­ports from New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - IN DEPTH -

TGrad stu­dents

Chi­nese grad stu­dents’ em­brace of US busi­ness-ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams played a role in the set­ting of US-China busi­ness-school part­ner­ships, cur­rently num­ber­ing 329, the high­est be­tween two coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion to Ad­vance Col­le­giate Schools of Busi­ness, or AACSB, a global non­profit group of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

China’s role as the US’s largest source of doc­toral stu­dents also pro­vides a door­way to re­search op­por­tu­ni­ties. More than 63,000 Chi­nese stu­dents earned US sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing doc­tor­ates from 1991 to 2011, ac­count­ing for 27 per­cent of the awards to for­eign stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to the AACSB. “This large re­search talent base of Chi­nese doc­tor­ates would fur­ther fa­cil­i­tate re­search col­lab­o­ra­tions when some of them go back to China,” Choudaha said.

MIT’s pur­suit of a deeper China en­gage­ment un­der­scores how even a top school with dozens of No­bel lau­re­ates and Na­tional Medal of Sci­ence re­cip­i­ents and a 130-year his­tory of en­gag­ing China, pri­or­i­tizes the need to be­friend Chi­nese academia.

A 2010 re­port to MIT’s pres­i­dent pre­pared by the MIT Greater China Strat­egy Group urged the school’s ad­min­is­tra­tion to pro­vide fund­ing for an am­bi­tious plan for China en­gage­ment that would “pre­pare our stu­dents and fac­ulty for the in­creas­ingly con­nected world in which China plays an ever more prom­i­nent role”.

“China is very im­por­tant to MIT’s fu­ture,” the re­port, ti­tled the MIT-Greater China Strat­egy, be­gan. “The phenom­e­nal growth in this re­gion of the world — eco­nom­i­cally, tech­no­log­i­cally, and po­lit­i­cally — means that our grad­u­ates are in­creas­ingly asked to work with people in China, or even to work in China.”

With is­sues such as air pol­lu­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion, ur­ban­iza­tion and traf­fic he ur­gency in Vic­tor Zue’s voice was un­mis­tak­able.

“If we don’t en­gage with China now, 10 years from now we’ll have to take a num­ber,” the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT) elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing and com­puter sci­ence pro­fes­sor said. “Our strat­egy must be driven by the de­sire to work with a po­ten­tial peer.”

Zue’s words at an in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship fo­rum at the renowned pri­vate re­search univer­sity in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, last fall un­der­scored the se­ri­ous­ness with which US higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions view the need to form closer ties with Chi­nese schools.

With new re­search and ed­u­ca­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties grow­ing daily in the world’s sec­ond­largest econ­omy, many US schools have pri­or­i­tized col­lab­o­rat­ing with China in their quest to build global rep­u­ta­tions and com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally for top fac­ulty, re­sources and stu­dents.

But pur­su­ing a mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship with Chi­nese academia is no cinch. And it can be a risky propo­si­tion, po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing a school’s stand­ing or cost­ing it pre­cious dol­lars if the out­reach back­fires, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

“Ev­ery­body is try­ing to part­ner with the same Ts­inghuas and Pek­ing uni­ver­si­ties of the world,” said Rahul Choudaha, chief knowl­edge of­fi­cer with World Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vices, a New York-based in­ter­na­tional-ed­u­ca­tion re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“Of course, they are not avail­able to part­ner with ev­ery­one. So that mis­match be­tween what (US) uni­ver­si­ties may want to do and what the re­al­ity may be once they reach out to a par­tic­u­lar mar­ket is some­times a sur­prise for some in­sti­tu­tions.”

US academia’s fas­ci­na­tion with China’s higher-ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions has grown as years of in­ten­sive ed­u­ca­tion in­vest­ment by the Chi­nese govern­ment aimed at ex­pand­ing the na­tion’s econ­omy have broadly up­graded China’s aca­demic bona fides.

The Asian na­tion now holds an edge over the US in award­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion diplo­mas. The num­ber of Chi­nese grad­u­at­ing from a univer­sity has swollen seven­fold since 1999 to nearly 7 mil­lion last year, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion re­port.

China also has gained an ad­van­tage over the US in pro­duc­ing “first univer­sity de­grees”, or pro­grams that open the gate into ad­vanced re­search pro­grams or jobs, ac­cord­ing to the Fe­bru­ary re­port from the NSF, an in­de­pen­dent US Con­gres­sional agency.

The in­creas­ing youth­ful­ness of Chi­nese US univer­sity stu­dents is seen as ex­pand­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for US-China re­search col­lab­o­ra­tion. “Tra­di­tion­ally, Chi­nese stu­dents used to come (to the US) for mas­ter’s and doc­toral de­grees,” Choudaha said. “In­creas­ingly, they are com­ing at a younger age for un­der­grad­u­ate de­grees.”

w‘ If e don’t en­gage with China now, 10 years from now we’ll have to take a num­ber. Our strat­egy must be driven by the de­sire to work with a po­ten­tial peer.” VIC­TOR ZUE MAS­SACHUSETTS IN­STI­TUTE OF TECH­NOL­OGY (MIT) ELEC­TRI­CAL EN­GI­NEER­ING AND COM­PUTER SCI­ENCE PRO­FES­SOR

con­ges­tion, China, the re­port noted, “of­fers some of the most chal­leng­ing prob­lems, whose so­lu­tions may be dif­fer­ent from those in the Western world. For MIT to re­main a leader in global prob­lem solv­ing, we need to en­gage deeply with China.”

“Whether in in­fra­struc­ture, en­ergy and the en­vi­ron­ment, trans­porta­tion and lo­gis­tics, neu­ro­science, eco­nom­ics or medicine and the life sci­ences, China is where some of the most in­ter­est­ing prob­lems will be, and where some of the best an­swers will come from,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Zue, who chaired the MIT China strat­egy group that pro­duced the re­port, told the MIT-China In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship Fo­rum (MIT-CHIEF) con­fer­ence in Novem­ber that al­though MIT has had many dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ships with var­i­ous na­tions, China’s size and growth have el­e­vated the im­por­tance of China ties. China’s “tremen­dous in­vest­ments to up­grade its uni­ver­si­ties” mean that “very soon they are go­ing to be at the level of the United States”, Zue said. “The im­pact of this re­la­tion­ship will far ex­ceed any re­la­tion­ship that we have had.”

The strat­egy re­port called for pro­mot­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween fac­ulty, re­search staff, stu­dents and their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts, es­tab­lish­ing spe­cial re­la­tion­ships with Chi­nese aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, es­tab­lish­ing an MITChina in­no­va­tion hub that links re­search, ed­u­ca­tion and in­no­va­tion, de­vel­op­ing ex­ec­u­tive ed­u­ca­tion style train­ing pro­grams for gov­ern­men­tal of­fi­cials, ed­u­ca­tors and re­searchers in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, as well as busi­ness prac­ti­tion­ers and es­tab­lish­ing a re­source de­vel­op­ment ef­fort to sup­port the im­ple­men­ta­tion of its China strat­egy.

In an email to China Daily, Zue said that since the re­port was is­sued, MIT “continues to work ag­gres­sively to­wards China en­gage­ment”. In ad­di­tion to the MIT-CHIEF an­nual con­fer­ences in Cam­bridge, a ma­jor MITChina con­fer­ence was held last Oc­to­ber in Bei­jing. He also cited a con­sor­tium of 29 leading Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties’ se­lec­tion last fall of edX’s open source plat­form — de­vel­oped by MIT and Har­vard Univer­sity — to power China’s new­est and largest on­line learn­ing por­tal, Xue­tangX. The mas­sive open on­line course and blended learn­ing por­tal will fea­ture cour­ses from leading uni­ver­si­ties in China.

Claude Canizares, co-chair of the MIT In­ter­na­tional Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil that helps to shape MIT’s in­ter­na­tional strat­egy, said MIT is “con­tin­u­ing to build con­nec­tions along many fronts, in keep­ing with the rec­om­men­da­tions

Duke Univer­sity’s plan to es­tab­lish a col­lege in Kun­shan, Jiansu prov­ince in was com­pli­cated by Chi­nese stu­dents’ be­lief that the real value of a Duke ed­u­ca­tion lay in study­ing in the US and re­ceiv­ing a cross-cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence.

A con­fi­den­tial con­sul­tant’s re­port com­mis­sioned by Duke, made widely avail­able on­line by a pro­fes­sor crit­i­cal of the Kun­shan ef­fort in 2011, said stu­dents per­ceived that for­eign uni­ver­si­ties wa­tered down their aca­demic pro­grams abroad, the Chron­i­cle of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion re­ported.

In in­ter­views with 50 Chi­nese stu­dents at elite uni­ver­si­ties in China, 40 per­cent said they would con­sider the de­gree if it were of­fered on Duke’s main cam­pus in Durham, North Carolina. Just 16 per­cent said they would con­sider en­rolling in China but only if the of the MIT Strat­egy re­port”, but didn’t of­fer de­tails.

China’s cen­tral­ized govern­ment is ea­ger to draw on the ex­per­tise of Western academia to solve its growth-re­lated prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. “As China be­comes much more of a stake­holder in such is­sues as trade, diplo­macy, sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ment, man­u­fac­tur­ing and ed­u­ca­tion, the Chi­nese have been seek­ing part­ners who can in­te­grate the People’s Repub­lic into key global sys­tems. .. There is a on­cein-a-century op­por­tu­nity for MIT to serve as one of China’s valu­able part­ners in sci­en­tific, eco­nomic and ed­u­ca­tional de­vel­op­ment in the 10 to 20 year hori­zon,” the re­port said. Em­pha­siz­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion

Since the pub­li­ca­tion of its 2006 medium and long-term na­tional plan for sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment, China has em­pha­sized col­lab­o­ra­tion. That year, China spent a $136 bil­lion on re­search and de­vel­op­ment, mak­ing it the world’s sec­ond-high­est R&D in­vestor af­ter the US. The 12th Five Year Plan, is­sued in 2011, said China will ac­tively ex­pand im­ports of for­eign tech­nol­ogy and brings in “se­nior talent” and ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy from over­seas to set up R&D cen­ters in China.

MIT is not alone among Western uni­ver­si­ties in want­ing to be part of the “China story”, Choudaha said. “Miss­ing that story in your ed­u­ca­tion re­search ex­pe­ri­ence is a big loss, not just aca­dem­i­cally but, for many, fi­nan­cially also. Just be­ing part of the whole China equa­tion is not even a choice any­more for a lot of in­sti­tu­tions. It’s a ne­ces­sity,” he said.

Typ­i­cally, a US-China univer­sity col­lab­o­ra­tion starts with a stu­dent ex­change pro­gram in which Amer­i­cans study in China, or Chi­nese stu­dents at­tend US schools. From there, the re­la­tion­ship can grow to in­clude cross-bor­der aca­demic col­lab­o­ra­tion and even the es­tab­lish­ing of out­posts in the Asian na­tion. Each layer of en­gage­ment car­ries its own level of risk, depend­ing on the re­sources re­quired to build en­gage­ment, Choudaha said.

Stu­dent ex­changes are “rel­a­tively low-risk” en­deav­ors with a “low re­turn in terms of the ex­tent of en­gage­ment”, Choudaha said. China is no stranger to stu­dent ex­changes. The num­ber tu­ition were sig­nif­i­cantly lower than what it would cost at the main cam­pus.

Duke’s pres­i­dent, Richard H. Brod­head, pushed for the branch cam­pus, say­ing that for Duke to con­tinue to be a top-tier in­sti­tu­tion, it needed to strengthen its in­ter­na­tional pres­ence. Classes at the Chi­nese col­lege started this aca­demic year. In all, Duke’s in­vest­ment is es­ti­mated at $42.5-mil­lion from 2011 to 2017, the Chron­i­cle re­ported.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Kun­shan is pro­vid­ing 200 acres for the cam­pus leased to Duke for 10 years at no cost, and is pay­ing for con­struc­tion. Duke is shar­ing op­er­a­tional costs with Kun­shan for six years, af­ter which the joint com­mit­ment may be re­newed. A third part­ner, Wuhan Univer­sity, is play­ing a gov­er­nance and ed­u­ca­tional role, but has no fi­nan­cial stake in the ven­ture. of Amer­i­cans study­ing in China in­creased by more than 500 per­cent in the past 10 years, mak­ing China one of the top 10 study-abroad des­ti­na­tions for US stu­dents, and one of the top 10 host coun­tries for all in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion, an in­de­pen­dent non­profit in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Some 800,000 Chi­nese stu­dents and schol­ars have stud­ied out­side their home coun­try since 1978, when Deng Xiaop­ing be­gan to send stu­dents and schol­ars to study abroad in large num­bers as part of his broad mod­ern­iza­tion ef­forts.

Re­search part­ner­ships are seen as a rel­a­tively low-risk way for US schools to en­gage China’s univer­sity com­mu­nity. Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity’s Sigur Cen­ter for Asian Stud­ies, an in­ter­na­tional re­search cen­ter, has awarded more than $1 mil­lion to stu­dents and fac­ulty for in­ten­sive lan­guage study and field re­search in Asia.

The In­di­ana Univer­sity Mau­rer School of Law and China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law an­nounced on May 22 a co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment that would es­tab­lish the Academy for the Study of Chi­nese Law and Com­par­a­tive Ju­di­cial Sys­tems, af­fil­i­ated with China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law’s Col­lab­o­ra­tive In­no­va­tion Cen­ter of Ju­di­cial Civ­i­liza­tion.

The new academy will “fos­ter lec­ture and re­search ex­changes among leading fac­ulty at both In­di­ana Univer­sity and China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law,” ac­cord­ing to a re­lease.

While branch cam­puses can bring ben­e­fits such as at­tract­ing top re­searchers and grants and pro­vid­ing ac­cess to a new pool of stu­dents as the num­ber of col­lege-age Amer­i­cans de­clines, the ven­ture is high-risk. A branch cam­pus project in­volves “very high in­vest­ment, high re­turn and a high de­gree of com­mit­ment to the part­ner­ships be­tween the two coun­tries,” Choudaha said.

Yale Univer­sity has dozens of re­search col­lab­o­ra­tions with Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties. In 2007, the New York In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, a pri­vate univer­sity of­fer­ing ca­reer-ori­ented train­ing, opened a Nan­jing cam­pus in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nan­jing Univer­sity of Posts and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, and dozens of US uni­ver­si­ties of­fer joint or dual de­grees through Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties. Kean Univer­sity

Kean Univer­sity-Wen­zhou, a 300-acre cam­pus of New Jersey’s pub­lic Kean Univer­sity in Wen­zhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, went into oper­a­tion this year. The de­gree-grant­ing branch cam­pus cur­rently is op­er­at­ing as a three-year pi­lot project with Wen­zhou Univer­sity, with Chi­nese provin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments fund­ing the con­struc­tion and oper­a­tion. The project re­ceived a 1.5 bil­lion yuan ($236 mil­lion) in­vest­ment from China’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion last year.

Kean, which main­tains aca­demic con­trol of the cam­pus, mak­ing all cur­ricu­lum and hir­ing de­ci­sions, is one of only three US uni­ver­si­ties ap­proved to op­er­ate a full-scale cam­pus in China. The other two are New York Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley.

An out­reach to Chi­nese academia in­volves a jour­ney across an al­ready crowded play­ing field.

“The chal­lenge for some Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties is that in the rep­u­ta­tion build­ing process there has al­ways been a kind of fash­ion pa­rade,” Choudaha said. “Ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion wants to part­ner with one that has a higher rank­ing than their own in­sti­tu­tion.”

Since the num­ber of po­ten­tial part­ners for top schools is limited, “it may take US uni­ver­si­ties longer to find a peer than was an­tic­i­pated ini­tially”.

The high­est-ranked uni­ver­si­ties that are cov­eted by part­ners in for­eign coun­tries of­ten re­ceive sub­si­dies for con­struc­tion, rent or other costs. Sec­ond-tier schools — the ones that are good but not in the same league as Har­vard, MIT and Columbia — are left fight­ing it out for China’s at­ten­tion.

US schools eye­ing out­posts in China also have to con­tend with a chal­lenge from UK and Aus­tralian schools, he said.

But while many US uni­ver­si­ties strive to es­tab­lish pro­grams in China to raise their rep­u­ta­tion and at­tract for­eign stu­dents, prob­lems have led some to re­con­sider ex­pan­sion.

A no­table ex­am­ple is Duke Univer­sity’s plan to set up a cam­pus in Kun­shan, Jiangsu prov­ince. Orig­i­nally set to open in 2012, the project has been plagued by con­struc­tion set­backs, and is now slated to open in Au­gust. Duke also scaled back planned busi­ness-school cour­ses af­ter fac­ulty ex­pressed con­cerns about low de­mand.

Duke is spend­ing an es­ti­mated $8 mil­lion on startup costs and $6 mil­lion an­nu­ally over seven years at its China out­post while the city of Kun­shan is spend­ing an es­ti­mated $260 mil­lion to build the 200-acre cam­pus.

While the open­ing de­lay is un­for­tu­nate, “it’s given us more time to be thought­ful about what we’re go­ing to do,” Wil­liam Bould­ing, dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Busi­ness, in Durham, North Carolina, was quoted by Bloomberg News.

Al­though the fi­nan­cial loss can in­flict pain on a medium-ranked school at a time of scant pub­lic funds, fail­ing in a China out­reach can be even more costly for an elite school when its rep­u­ta­tion is im­pugned.

“The big­ger ones are putting a much big­ger risk on their rep­u­ta­tion,” Choudaha said. “The scars from rep­u­ta­tional dam­age will last for a much longer time.”

To some ob­servers, the rocky at­tempts to en­gage China are just grow­ing pains in a larger US-China higher-ed­u­ca­tion re­la­tion­ship.

“In the next five to 10 years, more in­ter­na­tional ac­tiv­ity will be hap­pen­ing in China than out­side China,” Choudaha said. And as more for­eign univer­sity cam­puses ap­pear in the Asian na­tion, the num­ber of stu­dents who want good in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion at home will “ex­pand sig­nif­i­cantly”. The num­ber of stu­dents con­tin­u­ing to go abroad to study will “stag­nate”, he said.

The im­pli­ca­tions of such a change for US schools won’t be known for five to 10 years, but they could be sig­nif­i­cant, Choudaha said. “Amer­i­can uni­ver­si­ties are be­com­ing de­pen­dent on the China talent sup­ply chain.”

The risks notwith­stand­ing, US schools’ col­lab­o­ra­tion with Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties is in the US schools’ best in­ter­est, ac­cord­ing to Tom Watkins, a for­mer Michi­gan state su­per­in­ten­dent of schools and a mem­ber of the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute board of ad­vi­sors.

“There is not a ma­jor is­sue to­day that does not im­pact China,” Watkins said in an in­ter­view. “The world has a stake in as­sur­ing that China pros­pers.” Con­tact the writer at michael­bar­ris@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Kean Univer­sity Vice Pres­i­dent of Stu­dent Af­fairs, Janice Mur­ray-Laury (far right) wel­comes the found­ing Wen­zhou-Kean stu­dents in 2012. She is joined by Kean Univer­sity (NJ, USA) stu­dent lead­ers (in match­ing blue shirts).

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