A recent report from the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education and an article in University World News focus on China’s approach to foreign academic collaboration and exchanges — the Chinese Ministry of Education refers to exchanges as Sino-Foreign Cooperation in Running Schools — highlight China’s approaches and policies. By and large, the Chinese have got it right. The underpinnings of policy seem to be:
- Foreign institutions working in China should be quality universities in their home countries
- The programs offered in China should not be too costly
- Foreign institutions should partner with Chinese universities rather than operate entirely on their own. This ensures that there is direct Chinese oversight of the day-to-day operations as well as broader policy direction
- The Ministry of Education has control over final approvals of foreign collaborations. UWN reported that 70% of applications presented by China’s provinces and cities were rejected.
- China’s policymakers and officials want to ensure that foreign collaboration benefits China and serve national interests. They also want collaborations to offer programs, pedagogies, and arrangements to be different from standard Chinese practice so that innovative approaches can be demonstrated in China.
- At the same time, Chinese authorities reserve the right to control content, fees, and programs, in part to ensure that foreign offerings do not add to employment problems faced by many graduates
- Foreign campuses should not directly compete with surrounding local institutions, according to one observer.
Observers note that there is increased scrutiny of foreign academic initiatives in China. There has been some dissatisfaction with unfulfilled promises and poor quality by some foreign providers. Municipal and provincial authorities, often enthusiastically luring foreign institutions, sometimes turn a blind eye to issues of quality, and it is possible that some practices might be involved.
All is not well on the implementation front. Delays are often quite long. Rules and regulations may not be transparent, and a variety of players—at many different institutional and governmental levels, often with conflicting interests, are involved. Negotiating international agreements is never easy, and the combination of China’s bureaucracy and the inherent complexities of academic collaboration add up to a highly complex situation.
Yet, the essential framework developed by China’s national authorities seems to serve their interests well—and after all international academic collaboration must serve the interests and goals of the country in which the collaboration takes place. Other nations looking into the complexities of branch campuses and international collaboration, such as India, can learn something from the Chinese experience.