Penn finds friends in China's education

By Lan Lan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-05-24 07:57
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Penn finds friends in China's education 

Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, at the university's campus. She said the university would put more emphasis on courses that teach students to understand the role of business in the broader society. Provided to China Daily

US and Tsinghua universities unite faculties to tackle climate change

BEIJING - One of the great things Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), celebrated in her recent trip to China was the fact that many alumni who returned to China became leaders.

The university's preeminent Wharton School has helped fulfill many Chinese scholars' dreams of becoming entrepreneurial helmsmen. Of the university's approximately 3,000 former students on China's mainland and in Hong Kong, 811 graduated from the school.

Business educational establishments have been criticized over the past two years by some who said they failed to anticipate the economic crisis.

Wharton has been implementing changes in its curriculum as the school strives to be a force for social and economic good, said Gutmann.

"Probably the most important answer is that universities need to put more emphasis on the courses that teach our students to understand the role of business in the broader society," she told China Business Weekly.

"We teach our students not to look at business as solely a matter of narrow financial analysis, but to look at financing, marketing and management as part of the way that business contributes to economic growth and quality of life."

A new program called "the social impact program" has been created for both MBA and undergraduate students in the school's Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department.

There are also many existing courses relating to social responsibility and business ethics, she said.

These courses have long been offered to the students but the economic crisis has made it clearer how important they are. The school tries to convince students to take these courses as seriously as their analytical technical courses of business and finance, she added.

"Wharton is dedicated to the idea of demonstrating that business can be a force for good in our society," Gutmann said.

The academic is a professor of political science and was appointed by US President Barack Obama to chair the new bioethical panel of the US, but her role is more than that of a scholar.

Penn finds friends in China's education

As the largest private employer in Philadelphia with its three hospitals and 12 schools, Penn itself could be a successful MBA study case on how it dealt with the crisis and practiced social responsibility.

All universities including the Ivy Leagues were hit by the recession. Penn's finances were less affected than most "partly because of our prudent way in investment and managing our finances. We do as we say - more is less," Gutmann said.

More than 50 percent of the university's endowments were put in low-risk Treasury bonds and cash equivalents, which were less affected by the dive in the stock markets.

The university managed to increase financial aid, replacing loans with grants for all undergraduate students with financial needs, which helped it to recruit more and better students than before.

"We provide an opportunity for the most talented individuals, regardless of their background, to come to Penn," she said. The policy also applies to Chinese students.

None of her employees was laid off during the recession. In fact the university is currently recruiting talented teachers.

But the president herself has strictly abided by the principle of a tight budget. She was absent from last year's World Economic Forum in Davos to save money. She attended the session this January and plans to go to next year's Davos, given the better economic situation.

The president said her team weathered the crisis well and "we came through this stronger" by running the business operation prudently.

Meanwhile, she is considering in what practical ways scholarship can make a difference to climate change.

Penn and Tsinghua University jointly established the Penn-Tsinghua T.C. Chan Center in 2006 to create energy-efficient strategies for carbon-friendly buildings and sustainable environments by bringing faculties from both universities together.

Engineers come up with technologies to reduce energy use efficiently and the architects come up with better ways to design buildings to use less energy. The economists and business scholars through Wharton translate these ideas into practical business solutions, while corporate leaders can put that into practice in a market friendly and competitive way. The term "green business" is becoming increasingly popular because of the work that the center's scholars are doing, Gutmann said.

"Climate change is where our university leaders can make a difference. Tsinghua is also going to be a climate friendly model. It's important that we as universities become models," she said.

Penn is going to reduce its carbon footprint by 5 percent in 2010 and the target for the next five years is to cut it by another 17 percent, she said.

"Penn's founder, Benjamin Franklin, always put knowledge into practice. As president, I try to further that vision, Gutmann said.

In June, the university will launch a new Global Technology Entrepreneurship Program with Tsinghua involving team projects focused on technology innovations in energy and sustainability.

"Both for China and the US, technology and technological breakthrough are going to be absolutely essential. We are partnering in technological innovation with business innovations, policies and recommendations," she said.

Penn is further enhancing its overseas performance and "partnership with China is extensive and important", said the president.

The university has signed a host of academic agreements with four Chinese universities, including Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Tsinghua, Peking University and Fudan University.

China Daily

(China Daily 05/24/2010 page17)