Call for hybrid approaches as unmet Chinese demand spikes

Bums-on-seats model ‘failing millions of Chinese’, conference hears

June 3, 2018
Nanjing Road, Shanghai, China
Source: iStock

Universities must embrace hybrid educational delivery models to meet the needs of millions of Chinese students, a Shanghai conference has heard.

US analyst Todd Maurer said that a golden age of international education – where homecoming Chinese students sailed into top jobs on the strength of highly regarded overseas degrees – was now over. He said that Chinese firms were becoming sceptical about graduates who had lost touch with the country during years spent abroad, and more accepting of those emerging from the rapidly improving local universities.

Meanwhile, traditional campus-based higher education – both domestic and international – was failing to meet the needs of countless Chinese. They included people who had never had the chance to go to university because they lacked the marks or that money, or had started families very young.

Others had come through China’s vocational schooling stream, which prepares students for work in heavy industry and trades, but now found that they needed degree-level qualifications to meet the digital and cognitive demands of their jobs.

Mr Maurer said that about 10 million students a year were emerging from the vocational schooling stream. Millions more had set their sights on academic pathways but had fallen short.

“I’m not suggesting they are college material per se, but there’s a big sector in China that still needs basic forms of higher education,” he said.

“There is an opportunity for foreign programmes that are well run, and have resources on the ground, to bring it to the larger segment of the Chinese population that has not benefited from the traditional path of education.”

Mr Maurer is a board member of CMS Global, a US-based online education firm led by former executives of the University of Phoenix and its parent company, Apollo Education Group. This week, it staged a US-Sino Online Higher Education summit with Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Massachusetts-based Online Learning Consortium.

Two new cross-border partnerships were launched at the summit. In one, students obtain degrees in digital arts and sciences through Jiao Tong and the University of Florida. In the other, Chinese students complete half of a master’s degree in education through CMS and finish it with the online arms of Colorado State University, Wilmington University in Delaware, Herzing University in Wisconsin or other participating institutions.

CMS chief executive Charlie Nguyen said that the approach would deliver master’s credentials for less than 30 per cent of the tuition costs of campus-based study with the same universities. Mr Maurer said that affordability was a key consideration for many Chinese students.

He said that a “flurry” of US attempts to work more closely with the Chinese higher education system, from about 1,300 small joint programmes to a handful of ambitious branch campus “branding exercises”, had borne disappointing results.

While some of these joint efforts had proven successful, many had fallen foul of regulatory constraints in China or a lack of support from US universities. “Lots of the programmes have just been forgotten. They’re almost programmes in name only.

“We’ve seen the first phase of partnerships in China, particularly from the US but also Australia and the UK, and that era is over. The question is, what’s next? China has deep needs for skills outside their traditional student base.”

Mr Maurer stressed that online partnerships needed “robust” design and resourcing. “The image of online learning is that it’s an inferior product,” he conceded.

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