Surrey sets up Chinese joint project

November 9, 2007

Vice-chancellor outlines ambitious growth plan building on career- oriented curricula. Melanie Newman reports. Surrey University launched an institute in China this week as the first of a series of international ventures planned under the university's strategy to boost student numbers by 40 per cent.

The university aims to increase its student intake to almost 18,000 by 2017, while increasing its turnover by 150 per cent in the same period to £500 million.

Christopher Snowden, the vice-chancellor, hopes to achieve these targets in part through expansion into Asia and the US.

"We are aiming over the next ten years to develop Surrey into an international brand with several institutes around the world," Professor Snowden said. "For the university to thrive in the 21st century, we see it as vital that we can attract students from around the world and compete on a global level."

The Surrey International Institute, a partnership with Dongbei University of Finance and Economics (DUFE) in the Chinese city of Dalian, is the first step. Almost 140 undergraduates are enrolled and the institute has permission to take up to 2,000 students.

Students could begin their degree in one country and complete it in another, he suggested.

Pro vice-chancellor John Turner set up the institute in Dalian, a joint venture in which Surrey holds 50 per cent. He told The Times Higher the Surrey deal differed from Nottingham and Liverpool universities' China campuses in that it was using existing buildings. Surrey's expenditure "to the point of fees" was estimated at £1 million, he added. Postgraduate and undergraduate students will study in English for a Surrey University degree or a dual degree from Surrey and DUFE. The syllabus will be exactly the same as that offered at the university's UK campus in Guildford, allowing students to move between the two sites.

"We believe that transnational education is going to change in quality and style over next decade; it will not be based so much on people travelling into Anglophone countries," Professor Turner said. The institute was aimed at Chinese students who were financially less well off and so could not afford to travel to the UK, he added.

The "quality premium" attached to a British degree in China will be sustained, he believes. "We want to develop the education we specialise in here, which is related to the world of work, with a professional training year and close contacts with industry."

As well as its international aspirations, the university has also outlined plans to offer more courses in arts and humanities, a move away from its traditional strengths in science and engineering. The university is merging with the Guildford School of Acting and providing an English literature degree for the first time in 2008.

Marion Wynne-Davis, who is setting up the English course, told The Times Higher that, as with other subjects at Surrey, the "career context" would have a strong influence. "The aim of employability is integral," she said. Students will be able take years out in journalism, publishing and in libraries. The university also wants to make more money from commercial exploitation of its intellectual property and carry out more research with institutions in the US and Asia.

Professor Snowden said: "You might feel that a 150 per cent increase in turnover seems dramatic over ten years, but we do not see it as particularly ambitious - it is realistic within the bounds of everything we've done."

Thanks in part to its graduate employability statistics, applications from students increased by 40 per cent last year, allowing the university to tighten its entrance requirements, Professor Snowden added.

- Westminster University has put its China plans on hold pending a decision by Geoffrey Petts, the new vice-chancellor. Vice-president Maurits van Rooijen, who is in China this week with the university's chancellor, is the brains behind the proposal for a campus in China's Jiangxi province.


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