A group of public university presidents traveled to China last week to kick off a new approach for collaboration between colleges there and in the United States.
The Institute of University Design, which is being created at Arizona State University, will sponsor projects in which presidents and educational leaders from the two countries will collaborate on projects of mutual interest. The first project will be a book, jointly written by presidents of universities from the two countries, on the "toolkit" needed to create the future of the academic institution.
The meeting was organized by Michael Crow, Arizona State's president, along with the Chinese Ministry of Education and Xie Heping, president of Sichuan University. More than 40 presidents or top leaders of Chinese universities attended and plan to participate in the new institute. Most of those presidents are from China's Western provinces, which tend to be more rural and whose universities are less developed than those in other parts of the country.
The American universities that participated in the conference -- and that will be charter members of the new institute -- are Arizona State, Colorado State, Louisiana State, Michigan State and Ohio State Universities; the State University of New York at Albany; and the Universities of California and Utah.
Mariko Silver, director of strategic projects at Arizona State, said that the institute will sponsor a number of programs -- such as joint research and periodic meetings -- between the American and Chinese institutions. "Despite all of the differences, there are a lot of similarities in the challenges we face, especially as they relate to access and trying to offer a broad education and research excellence."
She also said that Chinese universities and American universities shared a strong interest in promoting economic development in their local communities.
Given the tremendous growth in Chinese higher education, Silver also said it was "very important for American institutions to have a sense of what's going on" there, and she said the new institute would indirectly encourage many collaborative efforts between individual members in both countries.
Kermit L. Hall of SUNY-Albany, one of the American presidents at the meeting, said he thought the model of the institute had promise. "There is real power in comparison and the institute, once going, should raise important issues and, even more importantly, offer substantive suggestions for change."
Hall said that through the institute and Albany's individual efforts, his university planned to make China the focus of its international reach. In particular, Chinese universities are interested in Albany's work in nano-scale science and its success in getting research support from both state and corporate sources. Albany also has an East Asian program that deals with language, culture and history.
"We intent to make China a focus of our international efforts, in part because of the emerging expertise in the nation, in part because of the dramatic developing of higher education there and because we have the right combination of science, technology, culture and linguistic skills that are so critical to the Chinese in seeking partners," Hall said.
A team from Albany will be returning to China in September, Hall said. Given all the activity, the new institute at Arizona State "is a perfect match" for Albany's goals.