By Ricardo Azziz | September 27, 2012
The Art of War
(6th century B.C.)
Great research universities are one of society’s most powerful assets. They ensure the education and competitiveness of our present population and, more importantly, of our future generations. They ensure preservation and continuity of human knowledge, while serving a critical role in generating new knowledge. And great universities do not simply benefit the community in which they are located. Great universities impact all of humankind through their global reach and relevance, which has been made easier by advancements in communication technology never before experienced by humans on this planet … technology that allows individuals or classrooms across the globe to instantaneously engage in debate or learning.
Students have already embraced globalization through their use (and sometimes abuse) of the many online venues available – Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare among them. In fact, I would bet that few of the younger readers of this blog would understand what the “wire” in the title refers to, having never received … or worse … waited for a telegraphic message.
The past two weeks have been a reminder of how globalization is rapidly engulfing our university.
Dr. Beheruz Sethna, president of West Georgia University, eloquently addressed the issue in his presentation “The World is Getting Even More Flattened – Are We Ready for it?” at GHSU’s 2nd Annual Diversity Summit. He highlighted the value of mixing (not homogenizing) diverse cultures and ethnicities in university life and learning.
We signed a partnership agreement with Jianghan University of Hebei, China, which allows students from Jianghan to train and graduate as nurses from our university.
And I’m writing this dispatch from mainland China.
On September 16th, I left the United States with a small delegation for a visit to seven institutions. Our first stop was Shanghai Children’s Medical Center, one of the largest dedicated children’s hospitals in China, and Shanghai Jiaotang University. SJU is one of China’s top 10 institutions of higher learning. The children’s medical center has an extraordinarily large pediatric population, with over 500 inpatient beds and more than two million visits yearly. They also have one of the largest cardiothoracic programs in China, performing more than 3,000 surgeries annually. Both institutions are interested in developing a partnership with our university around pediatric training, translational research, and pediatric epilepsy research and care.
Our next stop was a meeting with the president and leadership of East China Normal University, one of a China’s top liberal arts universities with more than 20,000 students, half of which are graduate students, and a strong global outreach. A number of American and European universities and consortia have a presence on the ECNU campus, which is also developing a more defined joint program with New York University, to be called the Shanghai-NYU partnership campus. ECNU is also an experienced partner in the creation of Confucius Institutes around the globe, anchoring seven of them in the US and Europe. Confucius Institutes are an exchange mechanism funded in part by the Chinese government to foster greater understanding and teaching of Chinese language and culture worldwide. Formation of a Confucius Institute may be a strategy that GRU should pursue as it expands its liberal arts offerings. This would also provide a link to the long standing heritage of the Chinese community in Augusta.
We met with representatives from Central South University who are interested in establishing a joint MD/PhD program. This would involve CSU medical students traveling to GRU to complete a PhD and then returning to China to complete their clinical training.
And later in the week we met with leaders from Hanban, the governmental agency that develops the Confucius Institutes worldwide, in partnership with colleges, universities, and other educational partners. At present, Hanban cosponsors close to 400 institutes and more than 500 Confucius Classrooms throughout the world, although few around healthcare and the health professions.
In Kunming City, in the Yunnan province, we met with the president and other leaders of Kunming University of Science and Technology. KUST is the largest university in Yunnan province, with over 66,000 students. KUST offers programs in the fields of engineering, agriculture, and environmental sciences. It also has schools of law, management, arts and media, and a newly established school of medicine. KUST leaders are hopeful that our Medical College of Georgia, with its extensive educational track record and history, may be able to provide guidance as they develop their new medical school curriculum, something we are well positioned to assist with. Interestingly, as KUST grows, many of its programs are moving to a new 500-acre campus about 30 miles outside of Kunming City. Along with 10 other colleges and universities, they will form part of a developing ‘University Town’.
We’ve made a lot of stops thus far and along the way have learned a number of interesting facts about Chinese culture, higher education and healthcare. Our Chinese hosts are always gracious, punctual, and attentive. Although many Chinese understand English much better than they speak it, conversations are often carried out through interpreters, providing a calm and thoughful cadence to meetings (note to self: I really need to brush up on my Mandarin!). And in China, there are clear standards of ceremony (who sits where and next to who, the exchanging of business cards and gifts, toasting at dinner, and so on). Protocol is important in Chinese culture.
Despite the broad cultural differences, over the past week we have discovered many similarities. For example, university presidents’ concerns are those we see everywhere, centering on obtaining sufficient resources to service their students and faculty. And while university presidents operate in varied political environments, our jobs require us to navigate and balance many different constituencies.
And Chinese universities, despite being state entities, are quite entrepreneurial. Many have sold off parts of their campuses to real estate developers for ready cash to invest. They own or co-own hotels and meeting centers, which they also use, and work hard to develop technology transfer opportunities and revenues.
Like we are undertaking now, China experienced a wave of university and college consolidations in the past ten years, bringing diverse institutions into one. Previously, Chinese higher education had followed the Soviet model, where groups of highly specialized primarily technical schools were established throughout the country (in medicine, in mineralogy/geology, in engineering, in science and technology, etc). But China is now focusing on creating the great comprehensive research universities that we are fortunate to have in the US and elsewhere (www.nottingham.ac.uk/cpi/documents/discussion-papers/discussion-paper-43-education-li-whalley.pdf and www.eai.nus.edu.sg/Vol2No4_ZhaoLitao&ZhuJinjing.pdf).
For example, CSU with over 50,000 students, was created through the amalgamation of the Hunan Medical University, the Changsha Railway University (a railroad engineering school, most recently working on high speed railways), and the Central South University of Technology. And KUST is the product of an earlier consolidation between KUST and the Yunnan University of Science and Technology. These mergers appear to be proceeding well, with strong central and provincial government support and financing, although many of the consolidations are still struggling to assimilate the varying cultures and missions, ensure appropriate long-term funding, and unleash their full potential.
And like us, many Chinese universities are very interested in moving beyond local relevance and insularity, developing a global presence and worldwide collaborations.
But they also differ in some aspects…
For example, Chinese students are generally expected to select their field of study immediately following high school. This has the advantage that the students will be highly versed in their field from an early age but has the real (and increasingly recognized) disadvantage that it allows little for changes in individual maturity or preference. This potentially narrows the perspective of these students, a potential problem in ensuring their creativity and research effectiveness.
China, contrary to the US, is investing heavily in upgrading and developing their infrastructure. Growing universities appear to have little difficulty in acquiring new campuses and constructing state-of-the-art facilities, with a building boom that is quite extraordinary. Witness the newly developing ‘University Town’ outside Kunming City.
And in China, quite differently from the US, there is significant emphasis on holistic and preventive approaches to health, in policy and in practice. This is no more evident than in the aged, who in the early morning walk to the many parks sprinkled throughout Chinese cities to exercise, sing, do tai chi, or simply socialize with groups of like-minded neighbors, striving to stay active and ensure mental and core body strength well into their 90s.
But as interesting as these comparisons are, it is valid to ask why we should pursue international partnerships. What do we stand to gain – and, of course, what might our international counterparts gain through these arrangements? And why China, or for that matter, any other specific nation? And finally, how exactly will we capitalize on the wave of globalization engulfing us?
These are important questions.
How do we benefit? By providing our students and faculty a more diverse and rich experience, exposing them to an international environment, locally through the hosting of international students, or remotely at the partner institution locale. By expanding our research partners, leading to new research collaborations, ideas and discoveries. And by increasing our relevance and impact, helping to educate future generations and leaders, and craft the future of not only our nation, but of the world.
And how will our international counterparts benefit? Very much in the same manner with the additional benefit that they may be able to expand their curricular offerings and provide their most promising students with a greater array of skills and approaches, greater dominion of the English language, the international lingua franca, and greater insight into the Western socioeconomic system (including how we foster and support research and academic creativity and our capitalist business model, which is rapidly emerging as the dominant economic system in China).
And why partner with institutions in China… or any other specific country for that manner? Because the choice of international partners usually builds on previous relationships, often forged by individual faculty or students. We have many long-term and productive ties between GHSU faculty and our Chinese counterparts. China is a re-emerging superpower with a desire for excellence in education and research very similar to ours. A logical partner for many industries, not simply higher education.
My last question –how we will effect internationalization – I’ll discuss in Part 2 of this blog in the coming week.
For now, signing off from the Far East…