I recently returned from two weeks abroad that included several destinations (a visit to silicon valley and San Francisco among them) but which was built around an 8-day, two city trip to China. In that country, I travelled to the campuses of several universities, met with representatives of government bodies (a highlight was the China Scholarship Council, which funds many graduate students at Queen’s and this year will begin to fund select undergraduates for year-long visits), the Canadian consulate in Shanghai, attended two combined alumni/recruitment events (joined by international recruiter Andrea McIntyre and Queen’s School of English Director Elaine Armstrong), and enjoyed a number of meals with senior alumni or Queen’s parents. Owing to internet access restrictions, and an exceedingly busy schedule, it was not possible to blog from China, so I am providing now an overview of the mission and what we learned and achieved.
This was the first visit to China by a principal of Queen’s since 2000 when Bill Leggett travelled there. Ideally, there should not be another such gap. China, much like India, is not a country one can drop into on occasion, leave some business cards and brochures (though in fact we did that) and then tick it off the ‘to-do’ list. Relationships are both institutional and personal, and they require frequent contact and regular, if less frequent, visits.
We have yet to map out the international strategy for Queen’s over the coming years–appropriately, the academic plan needed to come first–but it is in progress. Without prejudging that exercise, I think it hard to imagine that China would not feature prominently in our internationalization plans. For one thing, it is by a substantial margin the biggest source of international students for Queen’s at both the undergraduate and graduate/professional level. For another, it is the fastest growing economy in the world and it is important that our graduates be able to engage meaningfully with it and that, ideally, they learn something about its culture and practices.
China is not India, the other very fast growing Asian economy. Things can occur quite slowly in India, especially where government is involved. In China they move with lightning speed. At one university in Shanghai we toured a brand new library, about four times the size of Stauffer, that was built from shovel-in-ground to opening in barely a year. New universities are being created all the time, and there appears to be a limitless, or at least a very large amount of money to fund them: though, be it noted, the Chinese have decided on a very clear differentiation among their universities, ranging from ‘small’ (by Chinese standards) local ones through several higher gradations leading to the top tier of a very small number of institutions. These are Beijing’s Tsinghua (science and engineering mainly, though now with a medical school recently re-merged with it); Peking University, also in Beijing (very strong in humanities and social sciences, but with a polymer chemist as its current president); and Fudan in Shanghai, our long-standing anchor partner. There is a ‘985’ group (this is not an area code, but refers to a particular party speech on a given date, articulating an ambitious vision for China’s universities) and a ‘211’ group (same idea). Differentiation is a policy that in China, with a national, rather than state, jurisdiction over education (though in fact there are PSE institutions described as regional and even municipal) it is much easier to enforce than in Canada, with our provincial jurisdictions and, by and large, political reluctance to date, to enforce differentiation.
There are also specialist institutions, three of which we visited. CELAP in Shanghai, a training ground for senior civil servants, is a government sponsored institution with which Queen’s already enjoys a relationship, one that will be strengthened by our recent visit. We had the opportunity to visit the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing (a school with which I have a personal connection having, in my last job, negotiated a ‘1 plus 3′ degree arrangement between it and my former university/faculty. In addition, its dean of international studies was in Kingston quite recently, as her son graduated from Queen’s last year and is now working in Moscow).
All of the visits were productive, some exploring possible new relationships, others advancing existing ones. A few schools have specific bilateral exchange arrangements with Queen’s faculties (in particular, Queen’s School of Business), which we would like to broaden. Memoranda of Understanding were signed to facilitate such discussions. Expanded relationships would include exchange opportunities for students in other faculties, and enhanced research linkages. Queen’s Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and Vice-Provost (International) John Dixon, both of whom travelled with me, were able to open doors for our researchers by raising awareness, at the universities we visited, of our areas of expertise.
The wisdom of Principal Emeritus Leggett and of Dr. Dixon (who will be leaving his international role later this spring after 12 years and 7 visits to China), of starting slowly in China, with a single major partner, Fudan, has I think paid off, as that relationship is especially strong. It can now provide the base from which to expand to other universities.
Fudan hosts our China office, staffed by Queen’s Political Science part-time PhD candidate Dr. Zhiyao Zhang (he already has a PhD from a Chinese university). Dr. Zhang, as our full time representative in China, helps students seeking admission to Queen’s, visits with other universities, and keeps Queen’s ‘on the radar’ in China. He has done a remarkable job of this in just five years (in 2007, Queen’s became the first Canadian university to open a China office, a pattern now being emulated by others, and a very good initiative on the part of Dr. Dixon).
Our delegation (one does not visit Chinese institutions, officially, as individuals, as I’ve learned over 4 different trips since 2005) also included Jonathan Kong (Arts ’11), who spent time in our Fudan Global Development Studies semester abroad program (a real jewel, which puts our students in the same class as Fudan students, not merely swapping places with them). Jonathan, now working for Queen’s Advancement office, was also a ‘Castle Kid’, who spent his first year at Herstmonceux, and we were struck at many of our meetings by the enormous interest in Queen’s presence in the southern UK, something that truly does set us apart from most other North American institutions. Fortunately we also had with us Dr. Bruce Stanley, the newly appointed Director of the Bader International Study Centre. Bruce’s vision for the BISC is to include many more international students and, eventually, international faculty members, who may wish to come for short periods or for conferences.
Was the trip worthwhile? Unquestionably. Its ultimate worth will be demonstrable down the road when we see more widespread recognition of Queen’s degrees and of the Queen’s name abroad, when there are greater opportunities for our students to spend time at a Chinese institution, and in an increased number of Chinese students choosing to come here either on exchange or for their full degrees. The ones that come have a good experience. We hosted two public events, in Shanghai and Beijing, for alumni and prospective students and their parents. At the Beijing event, a student from Tsinghua who had spent a term at Queen’s School of Business here in Kingston indicated enthusiastically that her term at Queen’s had been the best experience of her academic career. So we are off to a good start. But there is scope for much much more engagement between Queen’s and China.