School's in for first overseas campus

Updated: 2013-06-17 07:52

By Luo Wangshu,Cao Yin,Wang Hongyi (China Daily)

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School's in for first overseas campus

Malaysian student Bong Meen Szer (center) takes part in calligraphy contest at Xiamen University. She welcomed the college's plan to open a campus in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia.

Cross-border expansion signifies China's growing clout and rising world interest in country, report Luo Wangshu in Chongqing, Cao Yin in Beijing and Wang Hongyi in Shanghai.

Loke Pui Yan has been studying for her master's degree at Xiamen University in Fujian province since the autumn. The campus, which is along a beach, is a sight to behold. It is scattered with elegant historical buildings, enjoys pleasant weather and ocean breezes, and almost, but not quite, erases any feelings Loke has of culture shock and homesickness.

Although the 29-year-old Malaysian has enjoyed her studies and her stay in China, she was thrilled to learn that the college is ready to establish a campus in her homeland.

Xiamen University will be the first Chinese college to open a campus abroad to showcase its ideas and culture, improve China's image in the world and enhance relations with other countries.

Unlike Western universities, which have flocked to China, the country has come late to the party.

Now it is trying to play catch-up and ride the globalization of the education business.

Over the past decades, a large number of overseas universities have come to China to set up joint institutions and exchange programs. The Ministry of Education put the number of joint projects now at about 1,500, including Shanghai New York University, Wenzhou Kean University and Kunshan Duke University.

But the number of Chinese higher education institutes going out and establishing cooperation with overseas education bodies is small, although the Chinese government is supporting the internationalization of higher education to spread influence in the world, a process known as soft diplomacy.

Zhang Xiuqin, director of international cooperation and exchanges at the Ministry of Education, said China will support and help eligible universities to go out and globalize.

Xiamen University announced in February it will be the first one to take the step. And in May, Zhejiang University, one of the nation's top-five colleges, said it will also build a campus in London. It also has signed a Memorandum of Understanding for furthering academic collaboration with London University's Imperial College.

Innovative model

"This is indeed an exciting opportunity but needs much innovative effort," said Song Yonghua, executive vice-president of Zhejiang University, speaking of the establishment of the London campus.

He said Zhejiang University and Imperial College will start exploring the feasibility of establishing facilities in the new Imperial West campus for joint academic activities.

Xu Liping, deputy director of the South Asian Studies Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, "It is innovative for Chinese universities to go abroad to show their educational ideas and culture."

Most activities so far between Chinese universities and foreign institutes are too simple and superficial, and do not provide long-term development, Xu said.

Chinese universities started to expand toward the end of the 20th century. With the fast development of colleges, many universities are seeking international cooperation, including faculty collaboration and student exchange programs.

In addition to these programs, most Chinese universities reach foreign counterparts through Confucius Institutes, offering language and cultural classes.

However, setting up campuses and granting degrees is still a new field.

"Xiamen University is attempting to break through the superficial educational or teaching communications between countries," Xu said, adding it will be good for China to improve its image in the world and enhance its relationship with neighbors.

Xiamen University's 60-hectare Malaysia campus will be built in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, at a cost of about 1.26 billion yuan ($205 million).

Construction will start in January 2014 and recruitment will begin in the autumn of 2015. The first class intake will be 500 students.

The student population will number 5,000 by 2020. The campus is ambitious to become home to 10,000 students, including 9,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduate students.

Five majors will be open to students in the first stage at the Malaysia campus: Chinese language and culture, Chinese medicine, computer sciences, economics and electronic engineering. All lectures will be in English, except for those on Chinese language and culture and Chinese medicine.

"We have set up these schools after several in-depth surveys and consultations with experts on the needs of Malaysian society," said Zhu Chongshi, president of Xiamen University.

He said that five more schools will be added in the second phase - chemical engineering and energy, biology engineering, ocean and environmental studies, material sciences, as well as animation and mass media.

Najib Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia, invited Chinese universities to set up campuses in his country. Chinese education authorities picked Xiamen University because of its long and lasting ties with Malaysia.

Xiamen University was established in 1921 by Tan Kah Kee, a prominent businessman, community leader and philanthropist in the overseas Chinese community of Southeast Asia.

"Xiamen University is going to Malaysia, where Tan grew up, 92 years after he set it up in China," Zhu said. "It is a historical payback.

"The faculties and students are very excited, believing it will meet Xiamen University's global university development strategic plan."

The college already has about 200 Malaysian students, one of the biggest international student populations in China.

The new campus will open to the world to recruit students and build faculties. Students from China and Malaysia will account for two-thirds of the student body.

Degrees will be granted by Xiamen University in the same way as at its main campus in Fujian.

Tuition fees will be cheaper than at other international university campuses in Malaysia but more expensive than domestic private universities.

Further details including full curriculum details at Zhejiang University's overseas campus haven't been revealed yet.

Soft power and beyond

Education is often seen as an important part of a nation's soft power. Supporting China's universities to establish overseas campuses will help improve China's soft power, extend its influence and help people better understand the country and its culture, according to Liu Baocun, director of the International and Comparative Education Institute at Beijing Normal University.

"Establishing campuses overseas and developing academic research will see more positive effects than Confucius Institutes, of which there are more than 700 abroad that teach the Chinese language and promote Chinese culture," Liu said.

Xu at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences agreed that a country's educational development also reflects its soft power.

"If the campus is run well, it'll bring rich results for China," he said.

China is experiencing soaring economic development, but it also wants its culture to be appreciated by other countries, Xu said, that is why such campuses will have far-reaching significance.

Song Yinghui, a researcher of Southeast Asian studies with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said she believes overseas campuses will be of benefit not only in the field of education but will also have a positive effect on business and politics.

"Take Malaysia as an example. The country has just undergone a national election. The new government has an open attitude and is starting to pay attention to Chinese elements across all industries," she said, applauding Chinese universities' plans to establish campuses abroad.

"Xiamen University's campus will attract big enterprises in both countries and will inevitably boost their economic development. This campus is helpful not only for education but also for other industries," she added.

Foreign campuses of Chinese universities will help them attract high-quality students and maintain their competitive edge, said Wang Huiyao, director of the Center for China and Globalization, a public policy think tank in Beijing.

Over the past seven years, the number of students who took China's college national entrance exam has declined. One reason is students are more likely to study abroad, even from an early age.

"More Chinese students, especially excellent students, are seeking higher study overseas, which inevitably puts pressure on Chinese universities. In this regard, they have to compete for more students," Wang said.

He said that the foreign campuses may help attract more quality students and increase the number of those from abroad.

"This is also a step toward adapting to the trend of globalization. In a world of globalization, education resources should also become mobile. Students all around the world can freely choose the education they want to have. Chinese universities should see this trend," Wang said.

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