Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University and Liverpool International College

As has been noted recently in GlobalHigherEd (link here, here, and here), a number of educational institutions in the UK, including the University of Nottingham and the University of Liverpool, are forging relatively deep linkages with China. In this context I interviewed Kelvin Everest, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor and current Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, about the university’s venture in China.

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Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU), located in Suzhou in China, opened its doors in September 2006 to approximately 160 students. Second year intake of students was 570, with an expected 900 for 2008. Currently, the university offers degree programmes in only four subjects: electrical engineering, computer science, financial mathematics and a combination of one or more of these with management. Four new programmes will begin in 2008, including finance with English and Biological Sciences. Degrees in civic design and town planning will be introduced in the near future. Two new buildings are currently under construction to support the anticipated expansion.

The initiative has involved a close partnership between the University of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiaotong University. The University of Liverpool also partnered with a large private corporation – Laureate Education Inc., based in Baltimore (a private provider of post-secondary education, with an income of $160 million in 2005). Laureate supplies online educational services and also owns a number of private universities around the world, with a global presence (see the figures below from one of Laureate’s Factsheets that is available on their Investor Relations site).

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The company provided the £1mn bond necessary for the University of Liverpool to operate in China. To proceed, the new university required the permission of both the Chinese national government (Ministry of Education) and the provincial government in Suzhou. As the Changing Higher Education blog noted this year, China is clearly on Laureate’s radar screen after using Latin America as its launching pad.

The university is located in China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park, which has been built with money from the Singaporean government, as part of Singapore’s attempts to develop an ‘external wing’ of its economy, and embed itself in China. The industrial park is 84 square miles with factories and other facilities but mainly new production plants for huge multinationals – Siemens, Samsung, Volvo, Zanussi and so on – particularly electronic communications and transport. It has been described as a ‘hub’ for foreign investors, including 53 Fortune 500 companies, and reflects the Chinese government’s desire to build ‘local’ R and D capacity. At one corner of the park is the ‘higher education town’ and the plan is to build five or six universities there with connections to other countries. This will then generate a workforce that will populate the science park and partly address the enormous projected demand for skilled graduates in China.

All teaching and assessment at XJTLU is carried out in English – the perceived global language – meeting a widespread demand for English-language skills. However, because it is an ‘independent’ university, XJTLU does not come under the auspices of the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and the University of Liverpool will not be directly responsible for quality or standards. The university is run by a board, whose members include the US company Laureate, the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Chinese partner university.

The University of Liverpool is hoping to receive several benefits from this overseas development. In the long run, the University plans to sell various ‘products’ to XJTLU on a consultancy basis (such as curricula, quality assurance mechanisms, staff development experience, and so on). So some income will be generated in this way. However, the main advantage comes from an assured annual influx of Chinese students. Historically, the University of Liverpool has received significant numbers of international students from China studying in the Management School and in engineering and computer sciences. There has been a concern, however, that competition from other universities (especially from expanding HE capacity within China itself) threatens the long term dependability of these flows.

Starting next year, students at XJTLU will complete two years of their degree course in Suzhou followed by 2 years in Liverpool (with reduced international tuition fees). A four-year programme in Suzhou followed by a Masters degree at Liverpool is currently being developed and is attracting much interest. These structures ensure a constant and anticipated influx of Chinese students into the Liverpool university system. Electrical engineering at the University of Liverpool already has 50/50 home/overseas students and the new intake would change the balance to two-thirds overseas. This influx of students would allow the university to sustain itself and to grow as an institution.

The historic and cultural links between China and Liverpool are also deemed important to this development. Liverpool is twinned with Shanghai and has a higher profile in China than it does in Europe. Clearly, this initiative involves a high degree of risk and uncertainty. However, when it comes to China, possibilities would seem to outweigh the risks.

In a separate but related initiative, in May of this year the University of Liverpool announced an agreement with Kaplan Inc., another global educational and career services provider with an annual revenue of nearly $1.7 billion, and emerging interests in both the UK and China. Kaplan, Inc., is a subsidiary of the Washington Post Company. The joint venture between Liverpool and Kaplan will establish an international college located on the campus of the University of Liverpool. The aim is to prepare international students for entry into the University’s undergraduate and graduate degree programmes. Subject to meeting defined academic and English language standards, students who complete their course at Liverpool International College will be eligible for undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes at the University. Such colleges are already in existence in partnership with the University of Sheffield, the University of Glasgow and Nottingham Trent University.

Johanna Waters

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