Many foreign universities and business schools have been exploring opportunities in China over recent years but only one US academic institution has a permanent presence there the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, established way back in 1986. The credit can go to former presidents of Nanjing University and Johns Hopkins University, who in the late 1970s were looking for partners in each other's country, convinced that US-China relations would improve if people from both sides were better acquainted.
In these early days of bilateral exchanges, it took a long time and high-level government involvement to get the partnership approved. This was particularly difficult since academic freedom is pivotal to the centre's principles, which means an uncensored library, the freedom for students and faculty to discuss whatever they want, and, in recent years, access to the internet.
As things turned out, Nanjing has been a good choice of partner for Johns Hopkins, being less bureaucratic and politically sensitive than Beijing, the obvious initial choice for a partner university. Nanjing is also more representative of China, says Ms Elizabeth Knup, American codirector of the centre.
Even so, it is no easy task to run a Sinoforeign joint venture educational establishment. The interests of both universities have to be secured and every decision is made by consensus.
The centre's buildings were purpose-built next door to Nanjing University's campus. "Here, we want to remove obstacles that get in the way of study," says Knup. For example, electric power came from two separate sources to overcome blackouts and every dorm has hot water throughout the day.
Each year the programme accepts up to 100 students, roughly half of them Chinese and half American. In 2000, there were 46 students from the American side and 50 from China. The programme introduces Chinese students to Western concepts and topics, economics being one of the most popular disciplines. The course in Mandarin for American students looks at Chinese history, contemporary issues such as state enterprise reform, and international relations from a Chinese perspective.
All students need to be bilingual and courses are conducted in their non-native language. This requirement limits the number of international applicants, although Knup says the pool should widen in future as more American schools and colleges teach Chinese. The strength of the US economy in recent years has been another drain on enrolment – the centre loses students to the job market but not to other courses. To boost the number of applicants, non-American international students are now accepted.
Despite these constraints, the centre enjoys a good reputation. Mr. Graham Earnshaw, a British businessman based in Shanghai, has employed two people from the centre and has made contact with many more. "The overall quality of the foreign students studying there is higher than just about anywhere else in China," he says. "The school expects a lot from them, and the culture of the school is that the students take it seriously."
There are lots of extra-curricula activities, including lectures and seminars on subjects such as Tibet, US-China relations, the World Trade Organisation and American literature. Teachers are encouraged to work together, jointly giving lectures or cooperating on research projects, although since most of the faculty are not bilingual it's difficult for the US and Chinese lecturers to work together. The Chinese faculty is broad and most come from Nanjing University, while the five-strong American faculty is drawn from all over the US and actually now includes other Western countries. It is common for the American faculty to come on one-year sabbaticals, which is not good for continuity, but some stay for longer periods. They are not China scholars, although the centre is looking for more Mandarin-speaking staff and of ways to bring classes together.
A primary goal is to facilitate mutual cultural appreciation. This was really put to the test last year when all participants took part in an emotional discussion following Nato's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Knup says the American students failed to fully appreciate the depth of feeling on the Chinese side, but eventually they worked things out: "Nowhere else were people talking together, having such an emotionally charged political discussion."
Competition for places among Chinese students is strong, particularly from those living in inland regions. A qualification from the centre is highly regarded and there is an important career development element to the course for all students.
A resume of all students is given to corporate investors in China and a career development seminar is held every year. There is no shortage of networking opportunities with US-based multinational corporations. Knup says her graduates can be placed just as easily as MBA students. She adds that because China's educational system channels students into certain disciplines at an early age, the opportunity to take courses in any of the disciplines on offer is a great opportunity for them to broaden their skills and outlook. She says the centre encourages students to think analytically and take the initiative, which makes them better equipped to enter the workplace.
As for the foreign students, Earnshaw believes they get a sound training in a disciplined environment: "They are required to do all classes and papers in Chinese, and a high standard is expected. If I saw Johns Hopkins Centre on a CV, I would expect them to be able to at least really handle spoken Chinese, and be pretty good on reading."
Tuition costs for American students are US$11,000 a year, although generous financial assistance is provided. Chinese students pay Yn11,000. These fees are insufficient to meet operating costs, so fund-raising is a constant challenge.
Looking to the future, the centre wants to develop shorter programmes for professionals. An executive programme has been discontinued ?other people do it better, admits Knup – but a six-week professional-use Chinese-language programme for intermediate and advanced students was launched in the summer of 1999. This is a Chinese language programme that focuses on language skills relevant to the workplace. The programme hopes to enroll 40 students next summer after a 30 percent increase in enrolment this year.
Last December an agreement was signed to set up a research institute for Chinese and international researchers to carry out joint work on a range of contemporary global and Chinese topics. The institute was formally established last month and administrators hope it will open next spring.