Covid-era exemption for China’s joint ventures ‘could remain’

Interim policy that allows students with overseas offers to study domestically instead may turn long term

December 30, 2022
A student passes by an underpass with mural paintings at Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province of China. Illustrates how China’s joint ventures with foreign universities could remain
Source: Getty

Joint-venture institutions with foreign universities could play an increasingly significant role in Chinese higher education if Covid-era exemptions remain in place, according to analysts.

In September 2020, China’s Ministry of Education announced that students who had received an offer from an international institution but were unable to travel abroad because of travel restrictions could transfer to Sino-foreign campuses to complete their studies.

According to an updated list released by the government last July, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China and Wenzhou-Kean University are among seven qualifying joint institutions. An additional 67 joint programmes at 51 domestic universities are also eligible.

To enrol, students have typically needed to have obtained an offer letter from an overseas institution or to be already registered offshore. Graduates can be awarded a degree only by the overseas partner institution.

However – and significantly – students do not need to have achieved a gaokao score, sparing applicants the ordeal of taking China’s notoriously high-stakes college entrance exam.

Li Na, an associate professor in the department of educational studies at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, said the past two years “have made the benefits of gaining an international degree within China more visible to the public”.

“This policy indicates a sustainable trend because of the multiple benefits for every key stakeholder. For example, parents can save money and keep their children around. Students can learn in an international environment as global citizens but not in an entirely unknown environment,” she said.

According to one analysis, about 2,000 undergraduates have enrolled with joint institutions via this route each year, and about 7,000 postgraduates.

The policy is set to expire after 2025, but the author of that analysis suggested that it could be made permanent, as the practice is becoming “mature”.

Dr Li agreed that studying at a joint-venture university would remain popular with students even when China fully lifts Covid restrictions.

“If the Sino-foreign cooperative education institutions can provide high-quality international learning experiences, parents and students will be more willing to choose this new pathway. If the graduates from these institutions can demonstrate excellent employability and competence, this pathway will be even more popular,” she said.

“Education quality assurance, teacher professional development and advanced infrastructure development to support effective blended learning and teaching are essential to achieve these goals.”

Dr Li suggested that the Chinese government might have high expectations of this type of institution “to promote a broader spread of educational reform”.

“Traditional public universities can hardly realise the expected educational reform because they have long histories, and these organisations have been institutionalised within the constraints of the existing system,” she said.

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