Domestic Affairs

A few details to work out before NYU arrives

By Patrick Mattimore (
Updated: 2011-05-04 14:00
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China's Ministry of Education has approved a plan by a US-based New York University to open a separate, full degree-granting campus in Shanghai. Partnering with East China Normal University, NYU's venture will be China's first international university, co-established by higher learning institutes from the two countries. The campus expects to open in 2013 and plans to enroll approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the majority of whom will be Chinese.

All courses, other than language courses, will be taught in English, primarily by NYU faculty.

NYU is one of the most selective and prestigious universities in the US. The university routinely ranks among the top 50 universities in the world, according to the renowned Shanghai Jiao Tong University annual rankings. NYU, like the majority of top American universities, combines a stellar undergraduate liberal arts program with a broad-based graduate research component. By way of contrast, no Chinese university is rated among the top 150 in the rankings.

NYU's and ECNU's partnership offers an opportunity to forge a dynamic new relationship between China and the US. While American universities have had branches at schools in China for several years, this liaison is unique and far more reaching. It's like the difference between a Chinese restaurant that serves Starbucks coffee and the coffee giant itself opening a cafe. The entire NYU experience will be available to Chinese students locally, albeit with a Shanghai twist. Other top-notch American universities will undoubtedly clamor to follow NYU's lead.

China is a particularly attractive option for American universities. Chinese students deservedly have a reputation for hard work and the world-leading performance of Shanghai students on the prestigious 2009 international exam (PISA) certainly raised a few eyebrows in the West.

In 2009, US President Barack Obama proposed a "100,000 Strong" Initiative, pledging to send more American students to study in China. In January, speaking to a group of students at Howard University, President Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, emphasized the importance of studying abroad, particularly in China. Ms. Obama urged students to go to China, opining that study abroad was a "key component" of the Obama Administration's foreign policy agenda. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked college and university presidents in the US to double the number of students who study in China.

As Ms. Obama pointed out, the relationship between Chinese and Americans is much more than a relationship between our respective governments. She said it is "about relationships between our people-...our educators... and particularly between our young people." Universities are fertile breeding grounds for cultural and intellectual exchanges between our peoples.

A roadblock to Americans studying in China has been the perception that Chinese university education is dry- rote learning as opposed to challenging students to think critically. Opening American universities in China will help sweep away the roadblock.

More important, the proliferation of Chinese students in US universities, where those students make up the largest block of international students, suggests that students in China will welcome a US educational experience at home. According to the SJTU 2010 rankings, 54 of the top 100 universities in the world are US colleges. Even if only a handful of those schools enter the Chinese market, those forays will stimulate China's domestic higher education system and force Chinese universities to adapt and improve.

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