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Expert sees gain in UK-China partnership in higher education

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-04-19 09:34

LONDON-British technical universities can engage with China to support the development of the next phase in China's higher education environment, says a British university principal.

David Andrew Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University, said during a higher education webinar on Thursday that there will be great benefits through partnership development for British institutions as China has pledged vigorous efforts for high-quality development of its technical and vocational education sector.

Phoenix is a higher education professional who has worked extensively overseas, and has developed and led a research institute in China. He realized that though China's economic success fueled further expansion of the studying abroad trend which has brought obvious benefits to the country, the Chinese government also foresaw limitations of such a policy.

"There is a revolution in China particularly around technical education and this will only accelerate," he says.

China is dealing with three major challenges in the new phase-to make students in higher education better suited for the workplace in terms of skills at the end of their studies, to reform higher education curricula to increase the applied science student numbers, and to improve access to technical education that would allow China to expand its industrial base by being more self-reliant and improve the distribution of wealth across the population.

"The response to these three challenges will dramatically change the shape of Chinese education and also change the landscape for the opportunities of UK universities in China," he says. He also notes that collaboration with China is still at the top of the internationalization agenda for many British universities.

China is committed to ensuring high-quality development of various sectors including its education system during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) period, with robust efforts being made to advance industry-education integration into vocational education, making higher education accessible to more people and providing more resources for lifelong learning.

Phoenix says he believes the Chinese government's growing emphasis on job skills training could open "a new path for UK-China educational cooperation". He was given China's Friendship Award in 2016 for his outstanding contribution to the country's economic and social development.

"There is therefore a role for those UK universities with reputation as technical universities to engage with China and support the development of the next phase of China's higher education environment," he says.

However, he warns it is not really possible to "make progress without spending time in China" because of the way communication works.

"There is no substitute in China for sitting down with partners and talking things through to build trust and understanding. China is not going away and is set to be an industrial and educational giant for decades to come, and having an engagement strategy with China would be extremely prudent for any institution," says the vice-chancellor.

Zhang Jin, the minister counselor responsible for education affairs at the Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom, says there is great potential for a UK-China vocational education collaboration. She also says China is welcoming foreign enterprises and institutions to build joint schools in China.

She spoke about the latest developments of China's higher education reform at the webinar, highlighting that China has taken a bold step in establishing 23 vocational universities at the undergraduate level. The country is also going to shift the focus of half of its traditionally academic-oriented local colleges to be applied technology oriented.

"China is very open to international cooperation in education at all levels, including vocational education. We welcome your initiatives, new ideas, and new models of partnerships," she says.

Attended by more than 120 people from the educational, business and political circles of both countries, the webinar was organized by the 48 Group Club.

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