We’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the different motivations behind why countries pursue internationalization in higher education. These motivations range from economic to diplomatic concerns — and everything else in between. Because I live and work in the United States and have a particular interest in U.S. history and politics, I have found myself always relating internationalization back to the U.S. — what are we doing well, versus the (many) things we need to work on. This week, in both the reading and in my professional life, I have been particularly interested in China’s strategies for internationalization in higher education. I will first discuss what I found interesting in this week’s readings and then I will explain what piqued my interest about China this week at work.
In this week’s reading, I was particularly interested in learning about China’s Confucius Institute in Africa, which began in 2000 and has “resulted in an increased number of Chinese government grants for African students in 2012, the establishment of 100 joint research and development projects, and the strengthening of the teaching of the Chinese language in Africa” (American Council on Education, 2015 pp. 47). Reading this, I immediately wondered if this huge investment in higher education in Africa is a way to increase the ROI of China’s economic investment in African countries; according to The Economist, “China has become by far Africa’s biggest trading partner, exchanging about $160 billion-worth of goods a year; more than 1m Chinese, most of them labourers and traders, have moved to the continent in the past decade.”
A report from Peter Kragelund, a Professor of Sociology at Roskilde University in Denmark seems to back up my initial inkling. Kragelund’s paper “sets out to explore the extent to which this collaboration resembles a new type of South- South collaboration in higher education or rather resembles soft power initiatives of the Africa’s ‘traditional’ partners” (Kragelund, 2014, pp. 2). By South-South collaboration, he is referring to political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental collaboration between what are often referred to as “developing countries”, whereas “traditional partners” refers to relationships between developing countries and Western countries, which have historically had colonial or neocolonial undertones. Kragelund states that the history of higher education in Africa “is also the history of external support, academic partnerships and adherence to Western standards that either directly or indirectly have shaped the particular outcome of the present‐day universities in Africa” (Kragelund, 2014, pp. 3).
Kragelund ultimately concludes that the Confucius Institute more closely resembles the “traditional” Western types of partnerships, “i.e. partnerships dictated by the external partner exhibiting highly uneven power relations, and not necessarily in line with the vision and strategy of UNZA [University of Zambia, which he specifically studied]”. (Kragelund, 2014, pp. 15). Like all other countries who are internationalizing in higher education, China is mainly concerned with promoting its own interests. Given its economic investment in Africa, it makes sense that it would also seek to increase its cultural investment through the Confucius Institute.
On the professional front, this week I learned about Schwarzman Scholars, a scholarship program “created to respond to the geopolitical landscape of the 21st Century”, which funds a 1-year Master’s program in Public Policy, Economics and Business, or International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing. This program is brand new — its inaugural class was just selected and will begin classes in August of 2016. According to a recruiter for the program who spoke at Roosevelt House last week, around half of the inaugural class is American, a quarter are Chinese, and a quarter come from other countries. Classes will be held at Schwarzman College, which is a residential college within Tsinghua University.
I am particularly interested in the structure of the program — a new college solely dedicated to this particular program within an established university. Going off of this week’s readings, “to offer formal degree programs in China, a foreign university must establish a joint legal entity with a Chinese partner institution. Such programs must be approved by the Ministry of Education and subsequently operate under the ministry’s supervision” (American Council on Education, 2015 pp. 41). As it stands, independent foreign institutions cannot have nonprofit status and cannot grant degrees, which, I imagine, is why the program is hosted at a U.S.-built residential college within Tsinghua University.
With China playing an increasingly important role in global affairs, it makes sense that the scope and ambition of its higher education internationalization efforts will continue to increase.