Friday, 17 February 2012

The Increasing Importance of Cultural Exchange: Indications of a New Strategy to Internationalize Chinese HE?

An earlier post on this blog (The Internationalization of Chinese HE Part II - October 14th 2011) clearly expressed the opinion that, given the objectives outlined in recent national and MoE policy documents, a shift in the strategic focus for the internationalization of Chinese HE was on the cards.

The post argued that the PRC government is now following a three-pronged strategy to rapidly modernize, internationalize and improve the quality of Chinese HE. The first objective appears to be a shift away from teacher-led learning strategies to a more student-centred learning approach in HE, specfically as this is seen as the basis for creative and innovation in science and technology which the CCP view as central to the next stage of economic and social development. This will be realized through the achievement two further policy objectives: (1) the introduction of robust quality control systems for both teaching and research, and (2) the internationalization of Chinese HE, with increased numbers of overseas students helping to transform classroom and campus culture.

In an article published in the People's Daily (人民日报) on 13th Feb 2012, entitled "Hand in Hand, Towards the Future, Together we Go 携手同进,继往开来", the recent visit by Vice-President Xi Jinping to the US prompted some consideration of the importance of cultural exchange between China and the US.

Minister of Education, Yuan Guiren was quick to reference previous successes, specifically dialogue between CPC Politburo member and State Councillor Mme Liu Yandong and US Sectretary of State Hilary Clinton. Firstly, the Chinese govt has provided scholarship assistance for 10000 young Chinese to undertake study in the humanities at US universities. Secondly, for the training of primary and middle school teachers in the US in order to help facilitate the acceleration of education provision in the central and western regions of the Chinese mainland. Yet these trends still appear to be flowing in the direction of East-to-West

While in 2010/11 academic year there were 157558 Chinese students undertaking study at US HEI's, a growth rate of 23.3% over 2009/10 academic year, the imbalance is stark, with the US sending only 24000 students, most of whom are on short-term programs or language study programs, not full degree.

It is this apparent "cultural deficit" or lack of enough young Americans with the requisite cross-cultural and linguistic skills needed to effectively deal with China (in spheres such as business, education, diplomacy etc) that prompted the Obama administration to develop and launch the "100k Strong" initiative back in early 2010, with the aim of building to a figure of 100000 US students studying in China across all levels by 2015.

While China does not appear keen to restrict the numbers of students going overseas for higher education, they are certainly making noises about rebalancing these numbers. With the USA's "100k Strong" initiative and the EU's Leuven Initiative, and the fact that China still has the aura of a country unscathed by the financial turmoil that has embroiled the west, there is every reason to believe that this rebalancing will begin to accelerate.

One problem which will continue to face Chinese HE is the issue of teaching in the Chinese language. Chinese universities hoping to attract large umbers of full time students from N. America, EU, UK and Australasia will need to increase their capability for delivering programmes through English as the Medium of Instruction. If this is not done, Chinese universities will continue an effective "linguistic segregation" of their international student cohorts, which undermines the effectiveness of using international students as catalysts for transformation of classroom and campus culture.

The Sino-Foreign JV universities seem particularly well-placed to take advantage of this key tidal change in emphasis. However, it must be said that they must first wean themselves off their addiction to transferring Chinese students back to their parent campuses overseas, or at least balance exports with international students coming to study in China. Whether its Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU), Nottignham Ningbo (UNNC) or the Sino-British College (SBC), or even the potential new entrants of Duke Kunshan (DKU) or Shanghai New York (SHNYU), whoever can deliver the policy objectives regarding internationalization first is going to be flavour of the month with the MoE. Those that don't may well find ever decreasing ranges latitude and room for manoeuvre regarding the regulations under which they exist.

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