Upping demand for higher education

Updated: 2013-10-20 08:00

By Matt Hodges (China Daily)

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Chinese universities are quickly becoming globally competitive, but there are still ample opportunities for international partnerships as demand for higher education is so high that state-run facilities can't keep pace, according to a senior executive at a British university.

"Demand for higher education in Asia is doubling, and it can't be met by just the state universities," says 67-year-old Malcolm McVicar, group chief executive of the University of Central Lancashire.

"The opportunities for good-quality, value-for-money private education are huge."

The British university has posted significant achievements while working with Chinese students, researchers and professors over the past quarter of a century. McVicar says the partnerships it has forged become more exciting and productive with each passing year.

UCLan began collaborating with Guangdong University of Foreign Studies in 1985 and now has partnerships with leading institutes of higher education in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. One of these, Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, recently nominated McVicar for a prestigious local award, which he won.

UCLan also engages in fruitful research collaborations with its Chinese partners and is "not far from taking out patents in nanotechnology" at Shenzhen Virtual University Park, where it is the only participating UK university, McVicar says.

One of its key future projects involves developing a joint college with Hebei University focusing on creative industries like advertising, animation, film and media.

"UCLan is now poised to enter an exciting new era of international development," says Brian Harris, chairman of the university's board of governors. He credited McVicar with guiding it from being "a regional player into a major university, not just in the UK but also abroad".

Upping demand for higher education

Although scores of foreign universities have established a presence on the Chinese mainland in the past five years or so to tap its fast-growing market for higher education, UCLan was one of the first to get its proverbial foot in the door.

"The system we have has worked very well over a long period of time, and there has been a very strong relationship between the leadership from both sides. In China, relationships work on the basis of trust and getting to know each other over time," says McVicar, who spent two years teaching himself Mandarin on the road using audio tapes.

Under UCLan's joint programs, Chinese students get to spend one or more years at its main campus in England developing their academic, language and entrepreneurial skills, he says. They leave armed with new ways of thinking and international experience that can prove crucial back home in a country where graduate unemployment is soaring.

With living costs factored in, the program costs just under 20,000 pounds ($31,000) a year, which is competitive by British standards but still a huge investment for Chinese parents.

McVicar recently oversaw the opening of a campus in Cyprus and is currently fine-tuning details on another in Sri Lanka at the invitation of the government there.

On Sept 17 he accepted a Magnolia Award from the Shanghai Municipal Government in recognition of his contributions to the city's development and its exchanges with foreign countries.

He says UCLan is "not here to make a quick buck" or engage in "cultural imperialism", and that its winning edge is its ability to offer Chinese students an unparalleled level of service.

"Having a degree isn't enough anymore. So we also develop their interpersonal skills, focus on providing interactive experience, team-building, working with other groups - all sorts of confidence-building activities and internships," he says.

One of his goals is to double or triple the number of British students involved in exchanges with China, he says.

sundayed@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 10/20/2013 page5)