Why joint-degree programmes between British and Chinese universities is a positive development

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Recent political and economic developments have brought China into the spotlight on the international stage. Initiatives driven by the government such as the ‘one belt, one road’ policy means that China is planning for deeper influence on the international economic stage.  It would logically follow that in this respect, increased influence in the field of education would also be a priority for the Chinese government. Indeed, this is an aspect that they are currently working on.  Much of the research to date has focused on how China is looking to the west as a model for future development, especially in education. However, with globalisation gathering pace, it is likely that the future could signal the need for the west to require deeper collaboration with China as a means of their future development and survival.  This article explores how this could be achieved in the area of joint degree programmes between British and Chinese universities, and how this might provide the basis for future success.

An excellent opportunity for students and researchers on both sides

The idea of joint degree programmes between Chinese and western partners is something that has been explored in recent years and is continuing to evolve.  Some examples have not been entirely successful.  For example, the decision of some western universities to establish satellite campuses in China and other Asian countries have met mixed success, with some closing since they were no longer financially viable.  Other areas that seem more successful are the programmes that permit students to spend one year in China and one year in the UK.  These ideas have largely been developed by universities in London but are currently being explored on a wider scale, since currently, more students from China visit the UK rather than visa-versa. This programme is particularly appealing for Chinese students who are seeking the experience of studying overseas. 

For these students, they benefit from the experience of studying for one year in a western environment and then have the opportunity to return to China to complete their studies.  If this initiative is developed further so that more UK students study in China, then the potential for good results seems positive.  For example, this would encourage cross-cultural collaboration between academics in the UK and China for further research and teaching projects. Additionally, it will allow UK students to experience a cultural environment that is very different – enhancing their cross-cultural communication skills and providing them with more skills to compete in an international environment.  Furthermore, the chance to learn the Chinese language would be invaluable to many for their future development.  While learning Chinese in one year would be an immense challenge, possessing a working knowledge of the language for your future career would not harm your career chances, especially if you chose to work in a multinational company, where connections with China are likely to become more important in the future.

Raise the profile of UK universities

In the UK, government austerity measures have meant that universities that are now operating in a neo-liberal academy have very little choice other than to explore areas where they can gain additional income and revenue streams.  For UK universities collaborating with Chinese partners (especially the elite universities), it is true that Chinese universities get large subsidies from the central government.  In this respect, the possibility of attracting more Chinese students to campus will boost the university’s income.  Moreover, the kudos of having a prestigious international partner outside the western world, especially in a growing economy such as China is likely to add to the prestige of UK universities operating in an ever-competitive environment.  In the process of training students from a range of cultural backgrounds, in addition to establishing meaningful academic networks and sharing resources with international partners, the global profile of the university will raise, and is sure to yield positive results.

The best of both worlds?

Recent research has focused on the differences between the UK and Chinese education systems.  There has been the argument that the greater intensity of the Chinese system has trained students to be more academically adept.  The counterargument (which, in my experience, has traction) is that the Chinese system, with the focus on rote learning, serves to starve the creative element of the learning process.  In this respect, the fusion of two systems would provide a great opportunity for students to experience the best of both the Chinese and western systems, and to become more rounded and employable individuals.  For UK students experiencing a year in the Chinese system, the long class hours and the number of classes is likely to be a shock.  For Chinese students entering the UK system, the greater expectation for them to self-study and pursue independent thought is likely to be a huge adjustment for them too.  Nevertheless, there are aspects from both systems that both the Chinese and western institutions could consider and use as a model for their improvement going forward.  The long-term implications are exciting and have the potential to create a more interconnected and improved education system for the future, thus helping to train students to a higher level and improve the quality of workers in the job market.

Can this work in the long term?

Logistically, this requires a lot of planning, and is a huge task.  In any future proposal to develop this idea on a wide scale, the need to demonstrate the mutual benefit of such collaboration would be key.  Nevertheless, despite the time and initial expense, together with the logistical complexities of setting these programmes up in the first place, many universities could find that the long-term results would be worthy of the huge effort required in the first instance for this very exciting initiative.

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