Hundreds of British academics are expected to take up university posts in China over the next few years as UK universities strengthen collaborations and Chinese institutions aim to boost academic standards.
More foreign expertise is being sought by Chinese institutions in a higher education sector that has quadrupled in size over the past six years and now comprises 1,000 public and 1,000 private universities with 20 million students.
A growing number of UK institutions are setting up Chinese offices and campuses, and are urging UK researchers to work in China to help them establish their overseas operations.
Hundreds of new academic jobs are being created through a massive expansion in the number of courses run in partnership between Chinese and UK or other foreign institutions. Foreign academics are being encouraged to take up posts by the Chinese Ministry of Education. Its concern is to protect quality as it processes more than 1,000 applications for new jointly run courses.
Although there are no official figures, the British Council in China says there is little doubt that there has been a significant increase in the number of UK academics working in China over the past five years.
Andrew Disbury, the British Council's education director in China, said employment opportunities were particularly attractive to young researchers, although there was also a strong demand for more experienced academics. He said: "The opportunities are attractive for many reasons, including professional, personal, institutional and diplomatic. For young academics, they present a chance to open their eyes to what is going on on the other side of the world and to develop their careers. It also links up with the fact that China is very keen on inward flows of academics and students through exchanges with foreign universities."
Academics' wages are much lower in China than in the UK, but Chinese institutions that have partnerships with foreign universities have been allowed to charge higher student fees and are therefore in a position to offer better pay, as well as free accommodation and travel expenses in some cases. But most UK lecturers and researchers working in China continue to be employed by their home institution and receive a UK wage in a country where the cost of living is much lower.
Another attraction is that many Chinese institutions offer world-class research facilities that might not be available to an academic working in the UK.
Gary Rawnsley, dean of Nottingham University's new campus in Ningbo, where 60 UK academics are employed, said: "If you are doing research on China, there are opportunities to expand your research and do much more than you could in the UK."
The language barrier was not a problem because most Chinese students speak good English, he added. "We have many staff here who can speak hardly a word of Chinese, yet they manage superbly," he said.
John Hoskinson, deputy registrar for Liverpool University, which is hoping to build a campus in China, said: "I am sure China offers attractive opportunities, particularly for young and unfettered academics. I would recommend they come here."
Steve Wilson, international co-ordinator for Portsmouth University's faculty of technology, said staff exchange opportunities were increasing rapidly in China.
"We are putting more people into Chinese institutions because that is what the Chinese want, and it is seen as good staff development," he said.