East meets West but Right steers clear of Left

February 24, 2006

It is a delicate diplomatic dilemma - how to ensure that Bill Rammell and Boris Johnson do not end up in the same room at the same time wooing the same Chinese higher education dignitaries.

With all political parties looking to China as an emerging superpower, both Mr Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, and Mr Johnson, his Conservative shadow, are finalising plans to fly to China in April on separate missions to talk to key figures in the higher education arena.

Mr Johnson said: "I believe there have been very complicated arrangements going on.

"Staff have been puzzling over how to make sure we aren't in the same city at the same time."

He added: "The brand of Universities UK overseas is incredibly important.

Our relationship with China is a huge success story and I want to do my bit to plug it."

British politicians will soon be a familiar site in Chinese universities.

This week John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, flew to Ningbo to open Nottingham University's £40 million campus - the first such Western institution inside China.

Mr Prescott said: "There are now more than 20 million students in Chinese colleges and universities.

"And there are huge opportunities for Britain and China if we collaborate through investment and cultural and business exchanges."

This week, Mr Rammell was visiting Saudi Arabia and Libya, in a bid to strengthen educational links between the UK and the Arab world.


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