Chinese Offshore Branch Campuses: China's Latest Exports

China’s education development plan for 2010-20 assures funding and improvements to higher education quality, research, and internationalization, strengthening its competitive edge in the global higher education market that has been dominated traditionally by Western countries.

July 28, 2013


In spite of its domestic challenges in higher education, China has finally embarked on its latest export: offshore branch campuses. Similar to its economic development, two decades of higher education restructuring, expansion, and quality improvements have reshaped the country’s higher education sector and some of its universities have earned their place in the global league tables. In 1995 & 1998 respectively, project 211 and 985 provided substantial funding to roughly 100 and 39 (originally only to the C9, China’s Ivy League) universities to train professional manpower in key areas of national priority and to establish world class universities. Further, China’s education development plan for 2010-2020 assures funding and improvements to higher education quality, research, and internationalization, strengthening its competitive edge in the global higher education market that has been dominated traditionally by western countries such as the US, UK and Australia.

China’s latest export venture can be seen in at least four offshore initiatives. Of these four Chinese branch campuses, two (Soochow University and Kunming University of Science and Technology (KUST)) are not globally ranked, while Xiamen University and Zhejiang University are ranked at 451-500 and 170 respectively by 2012-13 QS. With the exception of KUST, these universities are part of Project 211, and Xiamen University and Zhejiang University are also part of Project 985.

The Chinese Offshore Branch Campuses

Soochow University’s Laos People Democratic Republic campus was initially part of the China-Singapore Suzhou industrial park or ‘New Vientiane’ project, a special economic zone initiated in 2009. Soochow University received approval from the Lao government to offer higher education services in 2010 and offered its first class in 2012. Still pending are two proposed campuses— one in ‘New Vientiane’ and another one on a 23 hectare property leased at a concessional rate of USD500/hectare in the outskirts of Vientiane. The current enrollment target is 5,000 students in various majors including Chinese language and literature, engineering, management, economics, computer science, law, and (in the future) medicine. 

The Kunming University of Science and Technology (KUST) offshore initiative, on the other hand, is located within Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU), a private Thai university. It was established as the KUST-DPU Chinese International College (KDCIC) in 2010 to offer bachelors programs in international business, tourism management, and to teach Chinese as a foreign language (TCFL).

Xiamen University’s case builds on its historical ties to the Malaysian Chinese community. Tan Kah Kee, the Henry Ford of Malaya, founded the university in 1921. In 2011, Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting’s (Prime Minister’s special envoy to China and Chairman of the Malaysia-China Business Council) and Dato’ Dr. Hou Kok Chung’s (Deputy Minister of Higher Education) proposed the opening of Xiamen University’s Malaysian campus, which is scheduled to open in September 2015. It’s campus will be on a 60.72 hectare property at Salak Tinggi, Putrajaya, Malaysia with an estimated set-up cost of RM 600 million (roughly 98 million USD). Funds for the acquisition of the site were provided by Datuk Ter Leong Yap (Deputy President of the Associated Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry).

Xiamen University’s Malaysia campus has a target enrollment of 10,000 students, comprising of 1/3 (each) Malaysians, Chinese and ASEAN/other nationals, with five faculties— electrical, bio- and chemical engineering, a medical school, Information and Communications Technology, business and economics, and Chinese Language and Literature.

Zhejiang University’s UK branch campus project is more of a collaboration between two global universities: a C9, China’s Ivy League, university and the prestigious Imperial College London, currently ranked 6th by QS rankings. However, it is not clear if it will actually be a branch campus as talks seem to focus on co-investing in research facilities and research collaboration. It should be noted that half of Zhejiang University’s 44,000 student population are post graduates and it also receives substantial funding from the Chinese government for research activities.

Moving Forward:

Given the Chinese initiatives mentioned above, it is apparent that China is now a player in cross-border education and in particular “the race” for establishing offshore branch campuses. Much like its economic development, China has hosted branch campuses, learned from their experience, developed their own higher education sector and institutions, and now ventured into higher education as a new export industry through the establishment of branch campuses offshore.

We can expect to see more of these Chinese offshore initiatives in the near future. However, the extent, reach and sustainability remains to be seen and will definitely face challenges from its own as well as its host country’s higher education systems, while at the same time competing with offshore branch campuses from the US, UK and Australia. What is certain is that China’s recent export venture will significantly impact the global higher education market, and change the higher education landscape in the near future. As such, the world awaits the success or failure of these new Chinese branch campuses, and future initiatives from China and the rest of the (developed and developing) world.    


Roger Y Chao Jr. is a PhD candidate in Asian and international studies at City University of Hong Kong, and vice-president of the Comparative Education Society of Hong Kong. He holds a M.Ed. in Mathematics from the University of the Philippines, and a European Masters in Lifelong Learning: Policy and Management from the Danish School of Education, Aarhus University and the University of Deusto, where he was an Erasmus Mundus Scholar. His research mostly focuses on regionalism, higher education and the internationalisation of higher education.

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Roger Y Chao Jr.

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