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Issue 513 | 30 January 2006
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Leader column

Professor Arthur meets East Asian studies students at the Beijing  Capital Normal UniversityEighteen months ago, the Zhijingang campus of our partner university in Hangzhou city was a greenfield site; today Zhejiang University has a beautiful new 200-hectare campus with landscaped gardens, exquisite courtyards and lovely space age buildings for its 13,000 first and second year students. That’s just the start - there are plans to triple student numbers across the country within the decade, and I believe that will happen.

The pace of change in China, as I discovered on my recent visit, is palpable; you feel it as soon as you arrive, as well as the enormous contrasts of incredible wealth and significant poverty, even in cities.

I went to China with our PVC for students and staff, Professor Stephen Scott and international office expert Ottolie Evers to understand what is going on in that country, what higher education is about there, what motivates Chinese people to come and study with us, and to support and improve our partnerships with Chinese and Hong Kong universities. And, of course, using the strategy map as a guide, to understand the potential for developing our international profile, and to think about whether or not we need to diversify and, if so, how.

The news is good! There are significant opportunities which flow from, and will inform, our international strategy.
For Chinese students, the over-riding issue is quality - they want to come to a serious and successful top class university. It has puzzled me why so many students would come to the UK, particularly when you think about the relative cost related to salaries in that country. But just as UK students (including my own daughter!) are benefiting enormously from their time abroad, young Chinese people are eager to learn about other cultures and broaden their education and horizons wherever possible.

In Hong Kong, for example, I met two of our own civil engineering students - they were having the time of their lives, in the land of the high rise building, learning from incredible local civil engineering expertise and on trips to mainland China about that country’s culture. I also met some of our 32 students from East Asian studies in Beijing, living with Chinese families and immersing themselves in a language, history and culture so different from their own.

So we are right to put strategic emphasis on the quality of the experience for international students, to meet the aspirations of those who come to Leeds, just as we are doing for our home and our European students. The international market is, however, more complex and sophisticated, as well as being unregulated, so we need to understand it, and work out how and where we can be most effective; and then we will need an action plan to make it happen!

We have a tremendous reputation in China, which is partly due to a long history of collaborative activity. The image and reputation of our university is what brings students here, and so much of that is down to recommendation, and to partnerships with other leading institutions. At Shanghai University I gave a formal presentation (including our strategy map) to leaders of all Shanghai’s partner universities from Europe, America and Australia (we were the only one from the UK). The Chinese were impressed by our map, and somewhat stunned to discover that we are involving our students in drawing it up and implementing it!

As with all our activity, internationalism must be grounded in excellence in teaching and learning, and research. Success will come from deep and enduring relationships, where staff and students are truly collaborating across many subject areas and visiting each others’ universities. It will flow out of collaborations like Flemming Christiansen’s summer schools onunderstanding contemporary China with Nanjing University; from Robin Brown’s plans for a joint programme in international communications with Tsinghua University; and from joint polar expeditions by Shanghai and Leeds scientists brokered by Jane Francis to Antarctica.

We also have a huge advantage in our membership of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN); its partners collectively have the intellectual firepower, resources, equipment, space and finances to outgun the Ivy League and ancient British institutions. Internationalism is important for creativity, for diversity, for coming at problems from different cultures, for financial and for ambassadorial reasons. Our challenge, as ever, is focusing on those activities which will help us fulfil our potential in the 21st century’s global education system.

Professor Michael J P Arthur
University Vice-Chancellor

More about the China-UK collaboration in the Antarctic.

Photo: Professor Arthur meets East Asian studies students at the Beijing Capital Normal University


 
Page owner: pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk | Updated: 30/1/06

 

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