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US: UNC System wants to forge stronger ties with Chinese universities

With the Chinese interest in higher education booming – and that country’s economy rapidly maturing into one that not only makes goods but consumes them, too – University of North Carolina system officials say now is the time to develop a comprehensive strategy for forging stronger ties with universities there.

A delegation that included UNC system President Tom Ross and Board of Governors Chairwoman Hannah Gage recently visited several Chinese universities and came away impressed with the potential for more collaboration with those schools, and the business opportunities that could result for students and the state’s economy.

“I think it’s crucial for our kids to become familiar and comfortable with what’s going on over there, because there’s a huge opportunity emerging,” said Paul Fulton, a member of the Board of Governors and former dean of UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. “You put our kids over there and show them that opportunity, and they’re going to take advantage of it.”

In a meeting-packed eight days, the delegation visited four cities and six universities, two schools, the Chinese Education Ministry and UNC System alumni living in China.

They also visited the site of Duke University’s China campus, now under construction about 40 miles from Shanghai in the city of Kunshan. Several, including Fulton, said they were impressed by the size of the Duke project.

The delegation met Wednesday to hone its presentation on the trip before the full Board of Governors this morning. The members agreed that it was vital to foster a strong pipeline that makes studying in China easier and more attractive for students around the system.

No public money was used for the trip. Board members bought their own airline tickets and covered some expenses for meals and cultural activities. Travel within China and lodging were paid for by the Chinese Ministry of Education. Ross and Leslie Boney, a UNC system vice president, had earlier visited Taiwan with a similar mission. That trip was paid for by the Taiwanese Higher Education Ministry.

Education opportunities

The system’s broad goal is to create students who are better prepared to compete in the global economy. That means steps such as working with individual UNC campuses to foster more student exchanges, faculty swaps and joint programs. But given the system’s tight budget, it also means exposing students to Chinese culture via cheaper means, such as distance learning.

The system has a long-standing partnership with Fudan University in Shanghai and other projects under way. Several universities in the 16-campus UNC system have programs involving China, though sometimes even administrators at the individual universities don’t know the details.

Board member Bill Daughtridge said it would be smart to survey the campuses to determine what they are doing, examine existing programs to see what works and what doesn’t, and use the information to build a set of best practices to guide campuses as they create new programs.

It’s also important to make sure that UNC students learn about Chinese culture in a way that ensures it creates business opportunities, Daughtridge said.

Members of the delegation said that meeting Chinese university officials, and seeing their interest in collaborations, convinced them of the importance of having a representative in China. But, they said, given the state of the system’s embattled budget, any arrangement will have to be done on a shoestring.

UNC rep in China

The system, along with Appalachian State University, has been splitting the $10,000 cost of having a recent college graduate act a representative in China. In the fall, the system expects to change the commitment and pay $10,000 toward the cost of sending a full professor there. That faculty member mainly will be working for UNC-Charlotte, which is creating a new computer-science program.

The group agreed that the system should develop a plan for its approach to China for the full board’s eventual consideration. Ross said a comprehensive plan to foster international ties should also include Taiwan, India and other countries.

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