|Faculty Q&A: Boosting UND's international exposure|
Editor’s Note: Universities in the People’s Republic of China —- the world’s most populous country and now an economic powerhouse -— are eager to forge more strong, ongoing ties with universities in the United States and throughout the world. For its part, the University of North Dakota sees such ties as a vital part of its future and has already taken bold steps to create a big institutional presence in China.
In the following Faculty Q&A, UND President Charles Kupchella -— who recently returned from an international conference hosted by the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST) for its 100th anniversary -— discusses UND’s international initiatives, the China connection, and his vision for “academic diplomacy” in the global setting.
OUR: Please tell us about this latest trip to China and its part in your overall plan for boosting UND’s international exposure.
Kupchella: There were several dimensions to my visit to the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. We’ve had a USST program in place for close to a decade; this program includes a joint degree. We’ve got faculty on the ground there, including two executives in residence who are alums of the UND College of Business and Public Administration who are teaching marketing and other business courses related to their experience as entrepreneurs and business people. I also met Barbara Hauser from Switzerland who is pursuing a master’s degree in English at UND and is currently teaching English at USST.
The other significant context with respect to this trip -— and the many others I’ve made overseas in the last several years -— is our institutional interest in globalization.
Of course, we’ve had this interest expressed in our strategic plan for many years. We want to expand the number of students from abroad studying here and provide more opportunities for our students to go for a study-abroad experience. Thus we developed this relationship with USST and kept it moving, most of that being carried by Victoria Beard, our associate provost and professor in our school of business. Victoria has, for the past several summers, taken a group of American students to Shanghai. Victoria and people like Dean Wang of USST’s College of Business have worked to make this relationship substantial and sustainable.
The third major context for this trip was the celebration of USST’s 100th anniversary. I was invited to be a part of that celebration and to participate in a forum of university presidents from a number of institutions that have collaborative relationships with USST (which was founded by a group of Baptists from Texas). It’s one of China’s 100 world-class universities; the Chinese government sees it as a key player in ramping up opportunities for Chinese students to get the benefit of advanced degrees. China literally is establishing hundreds of new universities and will designate a special group of 100 of them as “world-class” institutions.
OUR: Where is this relationship going?
Kupchella: Actually, we’re going to take up that exact question in earnest here now that we have an established base there. China obviously is going to be one of the leading economies of the world. We see a role for UND both educating American students in Chinese business practices, and then having a cadre of Chinese students in China educated as to American business practices. We’re also going to set up a way to broker business deals on into the future, so this is a great start.
We now have American companies over there that have long accepted UND students into internship roles; there also are some Chinese companies doing that. Now, we’re involving some of those very same American and Chinese companies in accepting USST students into internship roles.
OUR: This is an important academic relationship; what impacts do you expect on UND’s curriculum. For example, do you see more Chinese language and culture courses?
Kupchella: Absolutely! We are currently developing a Chinese studies degree program; we already offer Chinese language courses, and we expect to find ways to facilitate academic exchanges. Maybe that will include subsidizing travel to and from China by students and faculty from the two countries. I think we have five Chinese students here currently and a group of 10 to 20 who would like to come to UND.
OUR: You’re developing such relationships in part because you expect a payoff; would one of the important outcomes be new economic activity at both ends?
Kupchella: Right -— I’ve been at other universities where we’ve seen companies directly involved in subsidizing and even endowing such exchanges when they see that there’s a business interest in having such a relationship flourish.
OUR: What is China in general -— and USST specifically -— looking for from UND and the American higher education model?
Kupchella: I’ve been to China eight times, and I’ve learned this -— they understand the need for globalization. They know that they have to connect with other countries. They want to learn whatever they can from us, especially because in several respects we’ve had more time to develop various dimensions of our economy; we also know how to educate large numbers of people. Of course, this also is true in reverse: we can learn from China, too.
OUR: What did you learn on this trip that enhanced your global vision for UND?
Kupchella: One of the highlights of this trip for me was the session on globalization. I heard from both local Chinese Communist Party officials and Chinese higher education leaders acknowledging that what they need to get from higher ed in terms of adapting to globalization is creative, innovative people.
The conference started with a statement by a Chinese official who said China has had a problem with that in the past because of how students have traditionally been taught in China: it’s all been by rote memorization.
China’s leadership now recognizes that’s not the way to actually draw out and encourage creative, innovative kinds of people. So I heard a lot of emphasis on experiential learning and acknowledging different learning styles; I also heard that there needs to be more of a dialog between teachers and students. The teacher-student relationship is a lot more than just one-way lecturing, as we have come to recognize here.
It’s one thing to take ideas from the world and manufacture something more cheaply because labor is cheap; it’s quite another to reach the level of inventiveness and creativity that puts a country at the leading edge of new ideas and innovation, and that’s where China wants to go.
OUR: Ostensibly, one of China’s main educational successes has been its output of highly qualified scientists and engineers -— how will this new model of higher education take this into account? Do you see any similar changes here?
Kupchella: Chinese students still don’t have anywhere near the freedom our students do to emphasize other areas such as the humanities; the pressure still is there to get into engineering, technology, science, and mathematics. Majors like that are popular because they are likely to produce a quick economic benefit to the country. Thus a much higher percentage of their students are enrolled in science and engineering. We experienced a similar push here right after World War II and right after Sputnik was launched. And again in the United States, we’re experiencing a renewed call for emphasis on engineering, mathematics, and science.
OUR: Globalizing higher education is a big task -— bigger than UND alone. Do you see a broader national higher ed strategy?
Kupchella: Clearly, we need ways of bridging differences between countries, and I believe that academic exchanges and cooperative programs are among the best ways of accomplishing that. What I would like to see is a greater emphasis on this by our own government.
One experience that I would share in this context is traveling to Russia a few years ago with a group of American university presidents sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. We found that the total annual budget of the United States supporting academic exchanges with Russia was about $100 million, roughly the equivalent of Ohio State University’s athletic budget, and this with a former Cold War adversary that caused us to spend billions and billions of dollars every year on defense. It seems to me that we have not yet taken advantage the potential that academic exchanges offer in world diplomacy and improving the image of our country abroad.
I was fortunate to be invited to a conference on this topic; I met with (U.S. Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice and (U.S. Secretary of Education) Margaret Spellings at this conference and we talked about how to facilitate academic exchanges and what roles academic exchanges play in world diplomacy. Much of that conversation had to do with how to make it easier for students to get visas to come to the United States to study here, and to make it easier to get multiple-entry visas. But the broader context of the conference was academic exchanges as a means of diplomacy in the world today.
We had a great conversation, and the consensus was that academic exchange is one of the best, most cost-effective ways to establish good, positive relations with people throughout the world. Many of the people who are going to be involved in such exchanges will end up being world leaders at some point, so if they have some personal experience in our country and we in theirs, it bodes well.