KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For U.S. universities interested in internationalizing their campuses, China is the promised land. Almost invariably, as part of their internationalization strategies, U.S. universities have sought to develop exchange agreements, dual or joint degree options, and/or short-term study abroad programs in this country of more than a billion people. They’ve even tried to open branch campuses,  albeit without much success.
But how does the American approach to internationalizing campuses comport with the approach to internationalization -- and concerns -- of Chinese universities? At the NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference, a session Thursday spotlighted Chinese perspectives on the internationalization of the country’s higher education sector. More than 70 Chinese universities are represented at this year’s NAFSA conference, which has attracted more than 7,000 attendees from 95 countries.
The internationalization of Chinese universities is happening amid rapid expansion. "Quality is the key in the new development,” said Jiang Bo, secretary-general of the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE). He added that with the development has come an emphasis on “opening up” the educational system and increasing the numbers of students who are incoming and outgoing. “We believe there are multiple ways of traffic,” he said, citing, for instance, 1+2+1 dual degree programs,  in which students begin and end their programs in China and spend the middle two years abroad.
And yet, when it comes to evaluating these key questions of quality, the popular dual and joint degree programs have proven challenging, Bo said. “We have found there are difficulties in finding out what is the quality of the joint schools and how do we assure the quality of the joint schools and programs?” CEAIE would like to create a Chinese-foreign joint accreditation program just for these types of programs, and, Bo said, the association has been in conversation with American accrediting agencies about this possibility.
In general, Bo said, a “dual degree is much easier than a joint degree.” It’s easier, he explained after the session, for two different universities to issue two different diplomas than it is to issue one diploma with two universities’ names.
Complications aside, close cooperation between China and the United States is clearly key to both countries’ strategies for internationalizing their universities. The United States is the second-largest sender of international students to China, after South Korea (and China, in turn, is the second-largest source country for international students in the United States). Jing Wei, director of U.S. programs in the Ministry of Education’s Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges, said that 18,650 Americans studied in China in 2009, accounting for about 7.8 percent of all international students. The growth of U.S. students has been rapid (as the American statistics  also bear out: while they describe a different time period, the most recent American data available on study abroad to China, for 2007-8, showed a one-year increase of 19 percent, to 13,165).
The greatest numbers of American students in China are non-degree seeking students participating in short-term study abroad. Per the Chinese government statistics, in 2009, 60 percent were studying on short-term programs, 29 percent on language programs, and only 6 percent were enrolled in either bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. programs (the other 5 percent were non-degree scholars). “Our goal is to increase the percentage of the degree-seeking students in our international student body,” Wei said, adding that Chinese universities are rapidly increasing their offerings of English-language courses or programs to this end.
Fudan University, in Shanghai, for instance, recently started 10 master’s degree programs taught in English. These include programs in Chinese politics and diplomacy; Chinese economy; Chinese society; Chinese history and culture; Chinese language and culture, and an L.L.M. in Chinese business law. These programs were designed with international students in mind. “In the past if an international student wanted to study in China they had to learn Chinese, but I know it’s very time-consuming and not all of the students want to learn it,” said Ding Jie, program director for Fudan’s International Student Office. “Most of the [English-language] programs,” she said, “opened after 2006.”
Those speaking at Thursday’s session generally described broad-based approaches to campus internationalization, incorporating a number of approaches – arranging international internships and volunteer opportunities, hosting international conferences, offering English-language summer programs or short-term non-degree Chinese language programs, and developing both short- and long-term exchange opportunities with partner universities abroad.
The Chinese universities represented on Thursday’s panel had many, many partners. Fudan, for instance, has 236 and, said Jie, “This number is changing, I can say, every month. It is on the rise.”