Domestic Affairs

A few details to work out before NYU arrives

By Patrick Mattimore (
Updated: 2011-05-04 14:00
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Some naysayers are questioning whether an American liberal arts education is readily transferable to the Chinese market. There are two answers to that.

First, quality is readily transferable anywhere. The experience and quantity of Chinese students in American universities already suggests that Chinese students thirst for something other than a traditional mainland university education.

Second, China has more top quality students than the leading Chinese universities can accommodate. Many of those students forego college altogether if they can't get into a top-notch school. Adding another quality university to the mix merely satisfies existing demand.

Recently, more serious concerns about American universities opening branches in China have been raised by another prestigious American university. Sixteen months ago Duke University's faculty approved the first phase of development of a new campus in Kunshan, China, in partnership with Wuhan University. Now some Duke professors are starting to raise objections. Faculty members have questioned initial cost estimates, which are now slated to run more than three times higher than originally reported.

Of even greater concern to the instructors however, are the issues of academic freedom and Internet access in China. With regard to those issues, professors have questioned how Duke would extricate itself from its commitment should the faculty decide that Chinese government policies were too restrictive.

These are serious issues and while they should not derail US and Chinese joint university partnerships, they will necessitate some agreements and likely some concessions on both sides.

China is poised to become the world's next superpower and one element of a great nation is a great university education system. Chinese President Hu Jintao has asked education institutions throughout China to attach great importance to the growth of students in order to cultivate and nurture the nation's talent. In his remarks in April at the commemoration of Tsinghua University's centennial, President Hu said that the "overall quality of the entire country's higher education should also be promoted." One way to do that is by having NYU and Duke as backyard models. Before that happens though, there are still some details that need to get hammered out.

Patrick Mattimore is a fellow at the American-based Institute for Analytic Journalism and an adjunct law instructor in the Temple University/Tsinghua University LLM program in Beijing.

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