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China’s Ministry of Education recently approved the termination of more than 200 Sino-foreign cooperative education programs and jointly managed institutions in what the ministry framed as a move to improve quality and regulatory control. The program closures span a wide range of fields, including business, computer science, education, engineering and health care-related fields, and at least for the most part do not appear to be directly related to ideological imperatives on the part of the Chinese government.

Slightly more than two dozen partnerships involving U.S. universities are included in the list of cooperative programs that have been formally terminated, which is published on the ministry’s website in Chinese. A total of 229 cooperative undergraduate or master’s programs were terminated, plus an additional five jointly managed Sino-foreign educational institutes. The largest number of terminated cooperative programs involved universities in the United Kingdom, followed by Australia, Russia and then the U.S.

As of June there were about 1,090 active Chinese-foreign cooperative institutions and projects at the undergraduate level and above, according to China's Ministry of Education.

The ministry described the recent terminations as "an important achievement in the recent improvement and innovation of regulatory methods in Chinese-foreign cooperation in academic administration" and as a move to "replace the old with the new, optimized, and upgraded."

“In recent years, there has been significant development in Chinese-foreign cooperation in academic administration, which has been effective in promoting reforms in educational systems and mechanisms, making innovations in training models, and serving major state strategies, in turn continuously increasing social approval for and international influence of such cooperation,” the ministry said in a July 4 statement about the terminations (translated from Chinese). “While development has accelerated, problems have appeared in certain institutions and projects, such as insufficient introduction of excellent educational resources, low instructional quality, weak specialized capabilities in academic departments, and lack of content-based development mechanisms. The problems have led to low student satisfaction and poor attractiveness of programs, making it difficult for academic administration to continue.”

"Strengthening withdrawal mechanisms is important for the thorough implementation of the central government’s regulatory powers over Chinese-foreign cooperation in academic administration both during and after their existence," the ministry said.

While the ministry statement stressed issues related to quality and regulatory control, the list of terminated programs from the ministry includes programs that ended for a variety of reasons.

At least some of the programs on the closed list were never implemented. For example, four joint master’s programs between New York University and East China Normal University are included on the terminated program list. NYU has a branch campus in Shanghai operated in partnership with East China Normal.

“During NYU Shanghai’s beginning stages in 2011, NYU and ECNU had also planned to open four joint master's programs, which were subsequently approved by the Chinese MOE,” Yu Lizhong, the chancellor of NYU Shanghai, said in a statement.

“However, these programs were never implemented as both sides were deeply invested in the establishment of NYU Shanghai, the first China-U.S. joint venture research university, in operation for now six years strong. As the umbrella of the successful ECNU-NYU partnership, NYU Shanghai now hosts its own graduate programs, including five joint master’s programs and one joint Ph.D. program, all approved by the MOE. To avoid public confusion, relevant parties agreed to cancel the four previous programs.”

Another program included on the ministry list is a master's in sports management between Ohio University and Beijing Sport University. A spokesman for the Ohio university, Jim Sabin, said such a program was never established. "The two universities did explore a partnership in 2006-2007 in which Ohio University's master's of sports administration degree would be available through Beijing Sport University, but it never came to fruition," Sabin said. He said the partnership between the universities was limited to a short-term series of guest lectures in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Another program on the list is a joint undergraduate program in English that the University of Indianapolis began operating with the Ningbo Institute of Technology in 2004. Indianapolis's associate provost for international engagement and shared governance, Jodie Ferise, said the university continues to run undergraduate programs with the Ningbo Institute in international business and finance, but that in renewing its agreement with Ningbo in 2016, it did not seek approval to continue offering the English program because of lower-than-expected enrollment.

"There was no formal notification that we would not be approved for one, and it was not terminated by active edict of the ministry," said Ferise, who described the decision to end the joint English program as being purely about enrollment. "We taught it all the way out to its conclusion.”

Two cooperative master's programs operated by Stevens Institute of Technology, in New Jersey, with the Beijing Institute of Technology -- one in telecommunications management and one in photonics and microelectronics -- were also on the ministry list of terminated programs. A spokeswoman for Stevens, Thania Benios, said via email that the university was "not aware that these programs were approved to be terminated and have not been formally notified of their termination, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with our relationship with BIT." Asked whether the university is still operating these programs or others with BIT, Benios said Tuesday she would have additional information on Wednesday, after Inside Higher Ed's deadline.

Michael Gow, a senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute who researches transnational higher education in China, said the list published by the Ministry of Education is a cumulative list of terminations, reflecting all program closures from 2006 to 2018.

“Since 2007, the MOE has been indicating its concern at the predatory market nature of many foreign university activities in China, including comments directed at official Sino-foreign collaborations,” Gow said in an email, adding that “125 programs were closed between 2006-2015, with a further 104 closed in 2016-18. The majority of these look like programs which were poorly conceived, hastily established. Many may never have become operational. Also, the majority were established 2001-2004.”

“It’s important to understand the mechanism for closing Sino-foreign programs,” Gow added. “They are granted licenses with an expiry date, for example 2015. If this is a 4-year [undergraduate] program, the last permitted intake will be in 2011, with license expiry set to allow any students to complete study and graduate. So all of these programs closed will have either (a) been terminated by mutual consent and only where all enrolled students are not affected by the closure or (b) will agree to close with time give[n] for a winding-up to ensure students are not affected.”

More broadly, Gow said, "it seems clear that tolerance of poorly run programs, established as de facto recruitment and pathway channels, are being eradicated from the Sino-foreign landscape. The authorities want genuinely collaborative programs that help Chinese universities develop teaching and internationalize their campus environments, alongside any accompanying research collaboration that might develop between partners. They are not willing to allow partnerships which foreign universities establish solely for the purposes of charging high fees and/or recruiting Chinese students on 2+2. Certainly, [the] trend since 2007/08 is that all [undergraduate] programs, with few exceptions, are for dual degree awards, which allows for greater oversight by the Chinese authorities on degree quality. So fewer foreign-only degrees and Chinese-only degrees (where foreign partners provide certificate or faculty for teaching), and none approved which specifically mention pathway conditions (i.e. 1+3 or 2+2).”

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