Venturing abroad: British universities in China

Lucy Hodges, one of England’s better higher ed journalists, has an interesting article in The Independent newspaper today. The article, titled “Should universities build campuses in the People’s Republic or set up joint degrees with Chinese institutions?”, explores a series of issues related to the past, present and future issues associated with forging relatively deeper linkages between British and Chinese universities. The article was partially inspired by an event (“a private seminar organised by the new higher-education think tank Agora and the Adam Smith Institute”), and interest in the viability of overseas campuses in China, especially those operated by the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, and the University of Liverpool (jointly with Xi’an Jiaotong University). A related article was also published in the Guardian on 4 September 2007.

The story of overseas campuses is a very topical one, especially given the risks associated with what have been, to date, top-down (what I call administrative entrepreneurial) agendas of the vice-chancellors (in this case Nottingham’s Colin Campbell and Liverpool’s James Drummond Bone). The ripples of the recent collapse of UNSW Asia in Singapore are also underlying such news stories.

The article includes comments from skeptics of this approach to the globalization of higher ed. It also reminded me of the 2006 Independent opinion piece that the LSE’s Howard Davies wrote on this topic, from which an extract is pasted in below:

The LSE does not have a remote campus. Our “centre” is snugly housed in a warren of buildings just north of Aldwych. Are we missing a trick? I discussed this question the other day with the (soon-to-be-ex) Harvard president Larry Summers, over in Europe to look after his alumni. In suitably Socratic style he answered with another question. “Why is it that, in the US, health clubs are typically franchised operations, while country clubs are not?” Just like Socrates, Summers also supplied the answer. “Customers go to health clubs for the equipment but to country clubs for the people they hope to meet”. Universities, he concluded, are country clubs, not health clubs. You can sell a Harvard T-shirt, or whoopee cushion, but you can’t franchise its degrees.

Davies ends his piece in a dismissive tone:

But the global higher education marketplace is changing rapidly, so one needs to keep a weather eye open. If I spot a Harvard centre on the Aldwych, or a Harvard golf and country club in Royal Berkshire, then we may need to take another look.

Yet a real peer of LSE, NYU, is expanding abroad, as noted in this blog just a few days ago. It is clear there are a myriad of contrasting views on this issue, most yet to be explored in any depth.

Kris Olds

One thought on “Venturing abroad: British universities in China

  1. Pingback: Different views on internationalisation « Registrarism

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