One foot in the future

April 2, 2004

Nottingham is the first university permitted to build a campus in China. Ian Gow reports

The internationalisation of higher education in China is proceeding at a phenomenal pace. The number and diversity of China's educational partnerships is astonishing. Accurate data are difficult to find, although the education ministry has suggested that the number of Sino-foreign links is approaching 800, including schools.

What is clear is that the Chinese authorities are looking beyond visiting lecturers and fly-in modular-taught programmes and are encouraging foreign universities to commit to permanent campuses in China.

This has been made possible by the Sino-foreign educational enterprises law, allowing foreign universities to establish their own campuses - albeit with a Chinese joint-venture partner. Previously, foreign universities were limited to establishing themselves on existing Chinese campuses.

The new initiative will create more places at top-flight universities in China for able Chinese students, since the country's universities cannot expand fast enough to absorb growing demand. It will encourage new methods of teaching and learning. By permitting degrees to be taught entirely in English it will provide important lessons for Chinese universities that see English-language teaching as a key element of their own internationalisation and as a way to attract more fee-paying international students.

Leading universities such as Nottingham are reaching saturation point in terms of absorbing Chinese students on their home campuses - Chinese campuses will allow foreign universities to offer places at much-reduced fees, opening up foreign education to less well-off Chinese students.

Partnerships with China are seen by Nottingham as a major part of an internationalisation strategy in which Asia plays a central role - evidenced by its successful Malaysian campus.

Nottingham's China strategy faces both ways. "China at Nottingham" is reflected in the Asia Pacific Institute, the Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies and the new "think-tank", the China Policy Institute.

"Nottingham in China" is based on key research and teaching partnerships with Chinese partners in the global research-led consortium Universitas 21 - the universities of Peking, Fudan and Hong Kong. Three years ago Nottingham appointed the distinguished nuclear physicist Fujia Yang - former president of the elite Fudan University - as its chancellor.

Nottingham is now in a unique position to further develop links with a country emerging as the new superpower in the first half of the 21st century.

Nottingham's new campus is in Ningbo, an international port and one of the top ten cities for internationalisation, located in the rich province of Zhejiang. The university's joint venture partner is Wanli Education Group, a state-owned enterprise specialising in educational development.

The University of Nottingham Ningbo China will be completed in 2005 and located on Ningbo's pioneering University Zone. UNNC is the first foreign university venture to be granted a licence for an independent campus and is strongly supported at every level of government. It will focus initially on undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in international business, international communications and international studies.

There will be a significant international student population, with opportunities for Nottingham's own students to experience the new China, and it will provide a base for further study for the growing number of students specialising in Chinese and Asian studies at Nottingham.

Nottingham's expanded presence aims to strengthen research and teaching in China, as well as effectively tapping into the huge intellectual resources emerging there.

Nottingham may be the pioneer British and indeed European university seriously committing to China at this level, but it seems likely that more will follow.

China is building an internationalised university system increasingly capable of competing globally in terms of recruitment of international students and research, and British universities cannot afford to ignore the opportunities and/or threats that this provides.

Ian Gow is pro vice-chancellor (Asia) at Nottingham University and provost and chief executive of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.

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