Higher Education Webinar: The Role of Joint Venture Universities in China
Denis F. Simon, senior adviser to the president for China affairs and professor of the practice at Duke University, leads a conversation on the role of joint venture universities in China.
FASKIANOS: Thank you and welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I am Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic, if you would like to share it with your colleagues. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Denis Simon with us to talk about the role of joint venture universities in China. Dr. Simon is senior advisor to the president for China affairs and professor of the practice at Duke University. From 2015 to 2020, he served as executive vice chancellor at Duke Kunshan University in China. He has more than four decades of experience studying business, competition, innovation, and technology strategy in China, and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He served as senior advisor on China and global affairs at Arizona State University, vice provost for international affairs at the University of Oregon, and professor of international affairs at Penn State University. He has extensive leadership experience in management consulting and is the author of several books.
Dr. Simon, thanks very much for being with us today. I thought we could begin by having you give us an overview of joint venture universities in China. What has the last two years in U.S.-Sino relations and COVID-19 meant for joint venture universities and their long-term goals?
SIMON: Great. Well, thank you, Irina. I really am happy your team was able to arrange this. And I can’t think of a more important subject right now. The president of Duke University, Vincent Price, has called our joint venture a beacon of light in the midst of the turbulence in U.S.-China relations. And so, this is a rather appropriate time for us to take stock at where this venture is and where it may be going. So let me just give an overview, talk a little bit about what joint ventures are, how they operate, and some of the challenges of operating them, and some of the effects of the last, as you said, two years, with the tensions growing in U.S.-China relations.
Well, I think the first thing to recognize is that while there are over two thousand joint venture projects and initiatives involving foreign schools and universities, there are really only ten joint venture universities. These are campuses authorized to give two degrees—a Chinese degree and a foreign degree. The last one that was approved is Julliard, from the United States. So there are four U.S. joint ventures, two from the U.K., one from Russia, one from Israel involving the Technion, and the rest from Hong Kong. And so they’re not growing by leaps and bounds. Everyone is taking stock of how they are working. The one from Duke is a liberal arts or a research-oriented university, and I think the same can be said for NYU Shanghai also in the same category.
Joint venture universities are legal Chinese entities. This is very important. So, for example, our campus at Duke is not a branch campus. It is a legal Chinese entity. The chancellor must be a Chinese citizen, because they represent the legal authority of the university within the Chinese law, and also the Chinese education system. We are liberal arts oriented. The one involving Russia and Israel are polytechnic. They’re more for engineering. Kean University, which is the State University of New York, has a very big business-oriented program. The U.K. programs also have very big programs. So some are liberal arts, like Duke, but others are also polytechnic. So they span the gamut.
And finally, these are in many cases engines for economic development. In the cities in which they occur, these universities are sort of like Stanford in Silicon Valley. They’re designed to act as a magnet to attract talent, and also to train young people, some of whom hopefully will stay in the region and act as a kind of entrepreneurial vanguard in the future as they go forward.
Now, the reality is that they’ve been driven by a number of factors common to both the Chinese side and the foreign side. One is just the whole process of campus internationalization. U.S. universities, for example, over the last five to ten years have wanted to expand their global footprint. And setting up a campus in X country, whether it’s been in the Middle East or been in China in this case, has been an important part of the statement about how they build out a global university.
A second driver has been government regulation. So in China in 2003, the government set in place a series of regulations that allowed joint venture universities to be established. And I think we need to give kudos to the Ministry of Education in China because they had the vision to allow these kinds of universities to be set up. And I think the impact so far has been very positive.
And then finally, they’re a vehicle for building out what I would call transnational collaborative research. And that is that they’re a vehicle for helping to promote collaboration between, let’s say, the United States and China in areas involving science and technology, and their very, very important role in that. That’s why I said we’re not just a liberal arts university, but we are a research-oriented liberal arts university. And I think that NYU Shanghai, Nigbo and Nottingham, et cetera, they all would claim the same space in that regard.
Now, why would a city like Kunshan want to have a joint venture university? After all, Kunshan is rather unique. It’s one of the wealthiest cities in China, the largest site of Taiwan foreign investment, but it never has had its own university. So somebody in the leadership did, in fact, read the book about Silicon Valley and Stanford. And they decided, I think it was a McKinsey study that helped them make that decision, that they needed to have a university. And the opportunity to work with Duke was there. And it’s a little bit a long, complicated story, but we’ve ended up where we are today with a university which now will embark on the second phase of having a new campus.
But this clearly, for Kunshan, has been a magnet for talent, and an effort to help Kunshan transition from a factory to the world economy to a new knowledge economy, consistent where—with where Xi Jinping and the Chinese leadership wants to take China during the current period, and into the future. It also provides a great bridge for connectivity between the high-tech knowledge communities in North Carolina, and particularly around Research Triangle, and the companies in the Kunshan area. And that bridge at some times or others can be very vibrant, and there are people and activity moving across it. And it’s also a place where internationalization of Kunshan gets promoted through the visibility of Duke. Every year during my five years, we had 2,000-plus visitors come to our university, both from abroad and from within China, to understand: What do these universities mean and what’s going to happen to them?
Now, for Duke, a lot of people think it’s about the money. They think that these joint venture campuses make a lot of money. And I can tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. This is not about money. This is about, as I mentioned before, internationalization. But it’s also about the opportunity for pedagogical innovation. You can imagine that in existing universities there’s a lot of baggage, lots of legacy systems. You don’t get virgin territory to do curricular reform and to introduce a lot of edgy ideas. Too many vested interests.
But within an opportunity like DKU or NYU Shanghai, you get a white piece of paper and you can develop a very innovative, cutting-edge kind of curriculum. And that’s exactly what has been done. And so you get a kind of two-way technology transfer, obviously from Duke to DKU, but also interestingly from DKU back to Duke. And the same thing again happens with these other universities as well. And I think that’s important. So there’s a great deal of benefit that can accrue to Duke simply by having this campus and watching it go through this kind of evolving development of a new curriculum.
Now, we must not forget, these ten joint ventures, and particularly in the context of Sino-U.S. relations, are not all that’s there. Starting with Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and its relationship with Nanjing University, the United States has had projects like this going on in China. There are joint colleges. So, for example, the University of Pittsburgh and Sichuan University have one in engineering. And similarly, Michigan and Jiao Tong University also have similar kinds of ventures. And these all seem to be working very nicely. And then there’s a whole array of two-plus-two programs, three-plus-two programs. All of these are part of a broad landscape of educational engagement that exists between the two countries. It is much more extensive than anyone could have imagined in the late 1970s, when the two countries signed the bilateral agreement.
Now, what are some of the things that happen when you manage these joint venture universities? First, let me mention the operational issues that come across. So you probably, you know, ask: How do you find your partner? Well, in a joint venture university, you must have an educational partner. So for Duke, it’s Wuhan University. For NYU Shanghai, it’s East China Normal University. And for Kean University it’s Wenzhou University. And you go through these—finding these partners, and the partners hopefully form a collaborative relationship.
But I can tell you one of the problems, just like in all joint ventures in China, is the sleeping in the same bed but with two different dreams phenomenon. Duke came to China to bring a liberal arts education and to serve as a platform for knowledge transfer across the Chinese higher education landscape. Kunshan wanted a Stanford that can provide commercializable knowledge that can turn into new products, new services, and hopefully new businesses. And so they kind of exist in parallel with one another, with the hope that somewhere along the future they will—they will come together.
Another issue area is the issue of student recruitment. Student recruitment is very complex in China because of the reliance on the gaokao system. And the gaokao system introduces an element of rigidity. And the idea of crafting a class, which is very common in liberal arts colleges, is almost impossible to do because of the rather rigid and almost inflexible approach one must take to evaluating students, scoring them, and dealing with a whole array of provincial quotas that make X numbers of students available to attend your university versus other universities. And don’t forget, these joint venture universities exist in the context of over 2,000 Chinese universities, all of whom are trying to recruit the students. So you get intense involvement not only from the officials in the province level, but also Chinese parents. And the idea of Chinese parents make helicopter parents in the U.S. look like amateur hour. They are very, very involved and very, very active.
A third area are home campus issues that we have to think about. And that is that a lot of people have always said to me: Wow, you know, the Chinese side must give you a big headache. And with all due respect to all my dear colleagues and friends, I can say also sometimes I got a headache from the Duke side as well. And I think anyone who sits in these kind of leadership positions must figure out how to balance the interests and the perspectives of the home country campus and the host country campus, and their ability to work together. And there are a lot of issues that come up along the way that make it very, very complex.
And in particular, the idea of attracting faculty. Seventy-five percent of our faculty are hired locally. That is, they are in tenure or tenure-track jobs by Duke-Kunshan University. Twenty-five percent must be supplied by Duke. The reason is very simple: The Chinese authorities want to make sure that the quality of the education is no different than what’s offered at Duke. And because we have to give two degrees, a Chinese degree and a Duke degree, that Duke degree is not a Duke-B degree, or a Duke-lite degree. It is the same degree that you get at Duke University, signed by the head of the board of trustees, the president, the provost, et cetera, et cetera. So this is a real Duke degree. It’s not Duke-lite.
The fourth thing I want to mention, which I mentioned before slightly, which is money. These are not inexpensive ventures. And they also are a kind of elite education. And the degree to which they can be replicated over and over again in China is something that remains to be—remains to be seen. We’ve had a lot of people coming from Congress who have looked at these joint venture universities and said, ah, you’re selling out American values and academic freedom or religious freedom, in return for a big payday. And as I said, that’s simply just not the case. These joint venture universities are very difficult to run. You must pay faculty according to the global faculty prices. And plus, there are lots of expat benefits that you have to pay to them.
The tuition rates that you can charge to Chinese students are set by the provincial authorities. And therefore, in our case, they’re about 50 percent less than what international students have to pay. And so already you’re in a deficit, technically speaking, because Chinese students are getting a, you know, preferential price. Also, the idea of building up a research capability is not inexpensive, particularly if you’re looking at developing a capability in science and engineering. These are, again, very expensive propositions. Now, I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all hardship. There are lots of rewarding moments. I think, as I said, the pedagogical side is one of those. And also the opportunity to really build true cross-cultural understanding among young people has been very important.
Now, let me just make a couple of comments about where we are in terms of the last two years in particular. No one—you know, when our joint venture was formed, and similarly for the other ones which were formed before ours—could have envisioned what was going to happen, particularly in terms of the U.S.-China trade war, the onset of the protests in Hong Kong, and the issues—human rights issues that have to do with Xinjiang, Tibet, et cetera. And also, as everyone knows, COVID also presented some amazing challenges to the campus. We had to, by late January/early February 2020, we evacuated the whole campus when COVID came. And for the last two years, all of the international students have been studying either in their home country or if they’ve been able to come to the United States, they’ve been able to study at Duke during this period. And the big question is, when are these international students going to be able to go back?
Which of course, that raises the big question about what is the campus like without international students? Our campus has somewhere between 35 to 40 percent international students. NYU Shanghai has 50 percent international students. Those make for very interesting pedagogical challenges, particularly given the fact that the high school experiences of these young people from China versus all countries—you know, we have forty-one different countries represented at DKU—make for a very challenging learning environment and teaching environment.
Now, a couple of the issues that really have been exacerbated over the last two years, first of all are visa issues. Delays in being able to get visas or sometimes denial of visas. Another one are the uncertainties about the campus. Many people think that as Sino-U.S. tensions have risen, OK, the Chinese side is going to shut the campus. No, no, no, the U.S. side is going to shut the campus. And there’s been the lack of clarity. And this also not only hurts student recruitment sometimes, but it also can hurt faculty recruitment as well—who are also wondering, you know, what’s going to happen in the future and what kind of security of their jobs.
Most recently we’ve also had—particularly because some of the policies adopted during the Trump administration—national security issues. So we want to build a research capability. Let’s say the city of Kunshan says: We’ll support the building of a semiconductor research capability. Duke University has to say no. That technology now is a more tightly controlled technology and it’s not clear what we can and can’t do. And so some of these kind of initiatives get interrupted, can’t go forward. And everyone is very vigilant to make sure that nobody crosses the line in terms of U.S. law. And, of course, watching out for Chinese law as well.
So where is this all going? I think these difficulties are going to continue. The most obvious one that everyone talks about is academic freedom, the ability to deal with these complex, controversial issues. I can say very proudly that up until this point, and at least until when I left in June of 2020, we had not had any kind of explicit intervention that stopped us from doing something, per se. We’ve had the national committee for U.S.-China relations, China town halls for several years. They didn’t have one this past year, but we’ve had it for several years. We have courses on China politics. We have courses on U.S.-China relations, et cetera. So we haven’t had that. But we’ve had to be flexible. Instead of having an open forum about Hong Kong, we created a minicourse to talk about Hong Kong. So those issues are out there. Academic freedom is a real issue that is one of those redline issues. And everyone is a little bit nervous all the time about getting into that.
The other thing, of course, is the fluidity in the Chinese environment itself. We know that China continues to witness political changes, further economic reforms. And a lot of the commitments that were made, you know, five years ago, ten years ago, the ability to see them through. DKU is covered by a CEA, a cooperative educational accord, that promises academic freedom in the engagement of the university’s work on campus. Now, if you go out and throw a brick through the mayor’s window, well, all bets are off. But while you’re on campus, you should be able to have, you know, academic freedom. And this is not a political issue. This is an accreditation issue. If the pedagogy and the learning environment were to become distinctly different, the Southern States Accreditation, which accredits the Duke degrees, could not accredit the degree that’s coming out of DKU. And so there must not be any kind of significant gap or significant differentiation in order to preserve that issue of academic integrity.
Now, finally, I would say—you know, looking now retrospectively, looking back at all of this, I think there’s no more important kind of initiative than these universities. Getting young people from all around the world to sit in the same classroom, engage with one another, even become uncomfortable. It’s great if they can do that when they’re eighteen to twenty-four so hopefully when they’re forty-five to fifty, they sit down and deal with these real issues, they can have some degree of understanding and some perspective of why the other side is thinking the way it does. This doesn’t happen automatically on these campuses. There’s a lot of orchestration and a lot of fostering of activity. But I would just say that he ability and the opportunity to do this makes this, and makes all of these joint ventures, really exciting opportunities that have larger impact than just the campus on which they sit. And let me stop here. Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. That was really a terrific overview. And you really brought your experience to the table. Thank you.
So let’s go to all of you now for your questions, comments. You can either raise your hand by clicking on the “raise hand” icon, or you can type your question in the Q&A box. Please include your affiliation so I can read it. And when I call on you, please unmute yourself and also say who you are and your academic affiliation, so to put it in context.
I’m going to go first, raised hand, to James Cousins. There we go.
Q: Hi. Yeah, this is Morton Holbrook at Kentucky Wesleyan College, along with James Cousins.
FASKIANOS: Great. (Laughs.)
Q: And thanks very much, Dr. Simon. A great explanation. Happy to hear about academic freedom. Could I hear a little bit more about, for example, textbook choice? Do you have to submit—do professors have to submit textbook choices to the party secretary, for example? I assume there’s a party secretary there. Is there self-censorship by professors who would want to skip over Tiananmen massacre or the Taiwan issue or the South China Sea issue? Thank you.
SIMON: OK. Great question. So I’m happy to say that each professor creates their own syllabus, as they would in the United States. We have three big required courses, one of which is China in the world. And it is to look at the impact of the West on China, and China’s impact on the West. And in that course, which every student has to take, we discuss very, very sensitive issues, including the Taiwan issue, including Chinese security policy, including South China Sea, et cetera, et cetera. There are some limitations on books that can be imported through the Chinese customs, because those will be controlled at the customs port. But because we have unlimited access through the internet right directly into the Duke library, any book that any instructor would like to have on their syllabus, that book is available to the students.
So we do not have to report any of these teaching intentions to the party secretary. In the case of DKU, the party secretary is the chancellor. That just happened when we got a new chancellor a couple years ago. And we also have a deputy party secretary. But for the most part, they do not intervene at all in the academic affairs of the university. And the main reason for this is that the university must remain accredited for giving out both the Duke degree and the Chinese degree.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go next to a written question from Michael Raisinghani, who is an associate professor at Texas Women’s University.
And two parts. What are some things you would have done differently going forward based on your experience over the last five years? And this is also—camps onto what the prior question was—does China censor the minicourse on Hong Kong?
SIMON: So let me take the second one first. The minicourse on Hong Kong was a sort of an in-place innovation. We got a directive from the government indicating that we were to have no public forum to discuss the events in Hong Kong. And we had had two students who were in Hong Kong during the summer, witness to the events that were going on. And they came back to the campus after the summer wanting to basically expose everything that went on in Hong Kong.
Now, obviously we wanted this to be a learning opportunity. And so we didn’t mind, you know, talking about the media, the press, you know, who’s vantage point, et cetera. So we felt that that could be best done within a minicourse. And so we literally, in real time, created an eight-hour minicourse. We had four of our faculty put together teaching about the society and the issues in contemporary Hong Kong. And each of those classes, you know, they discussed, you know, ongoing issues. I can tell you that there were lots of PRC students attending at the beginning of the session. There were fewer by the end. And we can, you know, extrapolate why they may have pulled out. But nobody pulled out because somehow someone was holding a gun to their head and said: You ought not to be here.
So, you know, there’s a lot of peer pressure about academic freedom issues. And there also is some issues about self-censorship that exist. And we try to deal with them. We try to make the academic environment extremely comfortable for everybody. But I can tell you, look, there’s parental pressure. We don’t know who the parents are of some of these kids. They may be even party officials. And so we basically, you know, let the kids determine. But we let the kids say: Look, in the classroom, all—everything goes.
And I instituted a policy which I would not have changed, and that is that no cellphones in the classroom. No cellphones at major events, without explicit permission of the participants. And that means that in the class you cannot record by video or by audio what’s going on in the classroom without special permission of the—of the instructor when that’s happening. During my five years, you know, that worked very well. It raised the level of engagement by all students. And I would say people felt much more comfortable. A hundred percent comfortable? No. That wasn’t the case. There is still some uneasiness.
What would I have done differently? That’s kind of a very interesting question. It kind of comes up because I’m writing a book about my experiences. I think maybe, you know, I would have tried to build more bridges with Duke earlier on. I think that Duke’s involvement in this was really what the Chinese side bought. And I think that we needed to get more Duke involvement in terms of trying to sell the DKU opportunity to the faculty. I would have become a little bit more proactive in getting them to understand the benefits of spending a semester or two semesters at DKU. I think we—that would have helped to build more political support for the DKU project back on the DKU—back on the Duke campus in the United States.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to raised hand, to Maryalice Mazzara.
Q: Hi. Hello to both of you. And, Dr. Simon, great to see you. I’m here at SUNY Office of Global Affairs at SUNY Global Center. And I must say, disclaimer, I had Dr. Simon as a boss, my first boss at SUNY. And he was wonderful. So and I’ve worked a lot with China, as you know, Denis, from when we started, and continuing on.
What would you say you would recommend going forward? So you just had a question about, you know, what would you have done differently in the last five years. For those of us, and all of us on the call, who are interested—very interested in U.S.-China positive relations, what would you recommend that we can do at the academic level?
SIMON: So one of the things I think we need to realize is that China’s Ministry of Education is extremely committed to not only these joint venture projects, but to international engagement as a whole. During my five years, I had an extensive opportunity to interact with a number of officials from the ministry, not only at the central government level but also at the provincial government level. And despite some of the noise that we hear about China regarding self-reliance and closing the door, I think that understanding that China is open for business. It wants to see more international students come into the country. There are now about close to 500,000 international students. China wants to grow that number. You know, there are about 700,000-plus Chinese students studying abroad, 370,000 of them, or so, in the United States. The ministry is very interested.
And I think that we need to basically build bridges that continue to be sustainable over time, so that we continue to engage in the educational sphere with China. And that means that perhaps it’s time for the two countries to sit down and revise, update, and reconfigure the education cooperation agreement that was signed back when Deng Xiaoping visited the United States in ’78, and then formalized in ’79. I think that we need to think about altering the rules of the road going forward so it takes into account that China is no longer a backward, or a higher-education laggard. China how has world-class universities, offering world-class curriculum. Collaboration and research between faculty in the U.S. and faculty in China is extensive. We need to make sure that initiatives, like the China initiative through the Justice Department, doesn’t take hold and basically lead to the demise or the decoupling of the two countries.
Basically, the bottom line is: Keep going forward. Keep being honest with your Chinese partners and your Chinese colleagues. Let them know some of the challenges that you face. And make them feel committed to playing by the rules of the game. And we have to do the same on our side. And if we can do that, I think that the basis for collaboration is not only there, but the basis for expanded collaboration is very real and can help, hopefully, over the long term overcome some of the difficulties and the tensions that we face because of lack of understanding and lack of trust that currently plagues the relationship.
FASKIANOS: Great. The next question is from Emily Weinstein, who is a research fellow at Georgetown University.
Curious about issues associated with intellectual property. Since JV universities are Chinese legal entities, in the case of DKU does Duke maintain the IP or is it the independent DKU entity?
SIMON: Well, right now let’s assume that the faculty member is a permanent member of the DKU faculty. Then that faculty member, in conjunction with the Chinese regulatory environment, would own a piece of that IP. The university doesn’t have a technology transfer office, like you would see at Duke in the United States, or Stanford, or NYU, et cetera. And I think that probably no one really can see that there would be, you know, just a lot of new IP coming out of this. But I think that now, given the momentum that’s been built up in some of these areas, I think that that is an issue.
And I think that that’s something that will get decided. But right now, it’s a local issue. The only way that would be different is if a faculty member from Duke came over, participated in a research project, and then laid claim. China has a—(inaudible)—kind of law in place. And of course, we know the United States does. That would tend to be the basis for a sharing of the IP. And I think that was the basic notion going forward, that as a joint venture whatever came out of these collaborative research engagements, they would be on a shared IP basis.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Wenchi Yu, who has raised a raised hand.
Q: Hi. Thank you. Hi, Denis, good to see you again.
A question about—first of all, just a small comment about China still welcoming collaboration internationally at higher ed. I think that’s been the case for a couple years. The question now is not so much about their will, but more how, right? So in order to collaborate in a way that neither side compromises our own values and principles, I think that’s more of the key question. So I think moving forward if you can just maybe go deeper on this point. How can we really collaborate without, you know, feeling that we’re making too much of a compromise?
And the second related is, I think what we’re seeing in terms of the change of attitude is not just at higher ed level. You and I have talked about K-12 as well. It’s also been extremely difficult for international schools as well as online education to even, you know, try to connect students with anything international, whether it’s curriculum or, you know, international foreign tutors, educators. So, I mean, do you think, you know, this will impact higher ed? You know, and what is your interpretation of Ministry of Education’s attitude? And, you know, how much is what local officials can actually be flexible when it comes to implementation of those bigger policies?
SIMON: So I think one of the—one of the challenges I didn’t get to mention, but I’ll talk about it now, is this issue of homogenization. I think that the Ministry of Education, because of its general approach to curriculum and things of that sort, would like all universities basically to operate very similarly and that there’s not a whole bunch of outliers in the system. The special provisions for these joint venture universities are indeed just that, they’re very special, they’re very unique. And in fact, just like lots of regulation in China, they couldn’t cover the entire waterfront of all the operating, all the administrative, and even all the political issues that might come across. And so many of these, the CEA agreement, or the equivalent of that, was signed, you know, are very unique to those nine or ten joint venture universities. And they—as you know, in China just because you sided with Duke doesn’t mean that if you’re up next you’re going to get the same terms and conditions. And I think that right now because of the tensions in the relationship, it would be difficult to actually replicate exactly what Duke, and NYU, and some of the other universities had, particularly because of the very pronounced way academic freedom issues had been—had been dealt with.
But I think that each of our universities is very clear about the red lines that exist regarding issues as sensitive, like academic freedom. In other words, there are very few issues that would invite the kind of deliberation about potential withdrawal, but academic freedom is one of those. Religious freedom, in terms of what goes on on the campus is another issue. Again, the campus is sort of like a protected territory in the way an embassy would be, in many ways. And it’s not exactly the same. It doesn’t have that legal status. But what I’m suggesting here in terms of the operating environment is sort of like that. So up till now, we’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t felt the full brunt, you know, of some of the political tightening that some Chinese universities have experienced. And so we’ve been pretty—the situation has been pretty good for all of us.
But I think that part of the problem is that we were dealing with China in a very asymmetrical, hierarchical kind of manner in the past. And that is that the gap between the two countries was very large in capability, particularly in education and higher education. And therefore, it was from the haves—Europe, the United States, et cetera—to the have-no country. That’s no longer the case. And so therefore, that’s why I think that in order to get more accommodation from the Chinese side, we have to bring China much more to the table as a co-equal.
And as China sits at that table, then we have to secure commitments to say: Look, we commit to doing this when we’re in China. You have to commit to doing this, whether it’s regarding IP theft, whether it’s regarding the censorship of Chinese students in the United States, whether it’s all other kinds of things that we know are problems. And at the same time, as many U.S. university leaders have done, we promised to protect our Chinese students, that they don’t become the object of attack because we have a kind of anti-China, you know, fervor going through the country, and somehow these students are going to be, you know, experiencing some problems.
This is a very difficult period. But I don’t see how we can continue to go forward based on a document, or set of documents, that were signed forty-plus years ago. I think we need to begin to consider, both in education and in science and technology, to sign a new agreement that looks at new rules of the game, reflecting the different status of the countries now versus what it was forty years ago.
FASKIANOS: I’m going to ask the next question from Qiang Zha from York University in Toronto, Canada.
Two questions: A rise in nationalism and patriotism can be observed among Chinese young generations. How is it going to impact the JVs in China? And whether and now the JVs in China impact the country’s innovation capacity and performance.
SIMON: So it seems that there’s two questions there. Let me respond. Professor Cheng Li, who’s at Brookings Institution, has just written a very interesting article about this growing patriotism and even anti-Americanism among young Chinese, that I would recommend. And it’s a very important article, because I think we had assumed in the past that young Chinese are very global, they’re cosmopolitan, they dress the dress, they walk the talk, they listen to the same music. But I think that what’s going on in the country especially over the last ten years is an effort to say, look, you know, stop worshiping Western things and start attaching greater value to things Chinese.
And I think that that’s sort of had an impact. And I think when you go and look at a classroom discussion at a place like DKU, where you have students from forty different countries talking about a common issue, Chinese students tend to band together and be very protective of China. I think that’s just a common reaction that they have. Now, in a—as a semester goes on, a few of them will break away a bit from those kind of—you know, that rigidity, and open their minds to alternative ways to thinking about problems and issues, and particularly in terms of Chinese behavior. And I know that I’ve advised a number of students on projects, papers, et cetera. And I’m almost in awe of the fact of the degree to which they in fact have broken away from the old molds and old stereotypes that they had when they entered the program back in 2018.
So this is part of a process that occurs over time. And I think it’s something that we have to have some patience about. But I am worried. And I’ll just give you an example. You know, a young Chinese student comes to the United States, has their visa. They get to immigration in the United States, and they’re turned back all of a sudden and they’re forced to go home. No apparent reason, but somebody thinks they’re up to no good, or they don’t—they weren’t from the right, you know, high school, or whatever is the case. We’ve got to really be careful that we don’t start to alienate not only young Chinese—which I think that’s a big problem—but also Chinese American faculty and staff who are at our universities, who now feel that they’re not trusted or they’re under suspicion for doing something wrong.
And I know in conversations that I have had with numerous of these people who have talked about should I go back, should I go to a third country? If I’m not in the U.S., should I be in—you know, in Europe? What’s a good place for me to go, because I don’t feel good—nor does my family feel good—now in the United States. We have created a big problem that’s going to have a very negative effect on our talent needs in the 21st century. And that includes young Chinese who would come to the United States for advanced education and hopefully stay here when they get their doctorates, or whatever degree they came for, and Chinese Americans who are here who have been loyal, who have been hardworking, who now feel that somehow they are not trusted any longer.
And we’re in a big dilemma right now at this point in time. And I think that my experience at this JV university says, look, as I said, it doesn’t happen naturally that there’s a kumbaya moment that everyone gets together and hugs and is on the same wavelength. There’s a lot of intense discussion among these young people that we must recognize. But hopefully, through the process of being put together and making friends and building trust, they can begin to open their minds for different perspectives and different ideas. And I think that if DKU, or NYU Shanghai, or these other campuses are going to be successful, they must continue to push in that direction. Not to close the door, pull the shades down, and simply hide. But they must be open.
And one of the things at DKU, all of our events, open—are open. Our China town halls, we invited officials from Suzhou and Kunshan to come and listen to whether it was Henry Kissinger or somebody else who was—Ray Dalio, who was on, or Fareed Zakaria. They’re all the same thing, we invited people to come to listen and to have an open mind to these kind of events. So I think that we are a beacon of light in the midst of a turbulence. I think President Price’s comment is very apropos to what this represents.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take two written questions. The first is from Peggy Blumenthal, who is senior counselor to the president at the Institute of International Education. Do you see a difference in the kinds of Chinese students who enroll in Duke-Kushan versus those who applied to study in Duke in North Carolina? Are they less from elite political families and less wealthy families? And do you have any students from Taiwan or Hong Kong?
And then a second question from GianMario Besana, who’s at DePaul University, the associate provost for global engagement. How is faculty governance handled? Are faculty teaching at the JV tenured as Duke faculty?
SIMON: OK. So, yes, we have students from Taiwan. And we don’t always get students from Hong Kong, but we’re open to having students from Hong Kong. So there is no limit. The only thing is, and I’ll mention this, that all Chinese students, PRC students, must have a quote/unquote “political” course. And that course has been revised sharply by our partner at Wuhan University to make it much more of a Chinese history and culture course. The students from Taiwan must take that course. Now, they don’t want to take it and they reject the idea of taking it, but that’s a requirement. And so they do take it. But I can assure you, the one that we have is much softer than some of the things that go on at other Chinese Universities.
In terms of the caliber of the students, one thing is very clear. As the reputation of places like DKU and NYU Shanghai, et cetera, have grown, the differentiation between who applies to the U.S. campus and who applies to the DKU campus, that differentiation is getting smaller and smaller. And the reason is very simple: we cannot have a two-track system if we’re giving a Duke degree to the students graduating at DKU, and the same thing for NYU Shanghai. We must have near equivalency. And we have a very strong requirement in terms of English language capability. We don’t trust, frankly, TOEFL. And we don’t trust, you know, some of the other mechanism. We now deploy specialized versions of language testing so we can ensure that the quality of the language is strong enough so at the beginning of the engagement on campus, when they matriculate, they are able to hit the ground running. And that helps a great deal.
In terms of faculty governance, the faculty in place, you know, at DKU, as far as I know, are able to—in effect, they meet as a faculty. There’s an academic affairs committee. We have a vice chancellor for academic affairs who oversees the faculty engagement, in effect. And the faculty do have a fairly loud voice when there are certain things that they don’t like. There’s a Chinese tax policy is changing. That’s going to have a big impact on their compensation. They’ve made their concerns well known to the leadership. If they don’t like a curriculum that is being, you know, put in place and they want to change it, they will advocate, you know, to redo some of the curriculum that has been done, and also alter the requirements.
So their voice is heard loudly and strongly. But it’s through the vice chancellor for academic affairs to the executive vice chancellor of the campus. It doesn’t necessarily go through the chancellor. And I don’t mean to suggest that there’s full compartmentation of the Chinese side. But there are certain things in which we closely operate together and joint decision making. And then there are things in which basically, at least up to my time, the engagement was a little lighter on the academic side and more intense on the operational side. And I think that that was the model that we had hoped to sustain from the beginning.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to take the next question from David Moore from Broward College in Florida.
Do you know of any issues the Chinese have with required courses at Duke in U.S. history or U.S. government/political science? And just to give context, he writes, Florida has recently imposed a new required test in civic literacy, which has questions related to the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and major Supreme Court cases. Next year students in China will need to take this test in order to graduate. Are you aware of any such requirements imposed by other states?
SIMON: So I’m not aware right now that North Carolina, for example, has this kind of requirement. But I can tell you that we do teach courses about American government, American society, American culture. In other words, American studies gets a full, you know, treatment, if that’s what your major is or that’s something that you choose to study. Now, like many places, even on a U.S. campus, except from what you’ve just told me, I mean, you could go through an entire university education without doing American studies whatsoever. But I think from what I’m hearing from you, that’s not going to be the case in Florida now. (Laughs.)
We don’t—we haven’t had that problem. The only requirement, as I said, is on the Chinese side, that Chinese students must have this one course on Chinese history and culture, and they also must have military service. They do this short-term summer military training that they must go through. And I’ve gone to the graduation. It’s a—it’s kind of fascinating to watch it. But, you know, it’s something that’s for bonding purposes. And, you know, that makes China different. Remember, this is not an island existing, you know, in the middle of in the entire China. In some ways, the campus and the fact that we’re in China become part of the same reality.
It is not the case—you know, we can’t be an island unto ourselves. That’s when I think real problems would occur. I think the more that we can integrate and understand what’s going on in the larger societal context, it’s important for our students, particularly the international students who come. And the international students are such a critical element because they represent an alternative perspective on the world that they bring into the classroom, as does our international faculty bring new ideas into the classroom. And those are what basically can open up the minds of our Chinese students.
We’re not here to make Chinese students think like Americans. We’re here to raise global awareness. That’s all we want to do. We want to give them alternatives and options and different perspectives on the world, and then let them make up their mind. Let them decide what’s the right, or wrong, or comfortable way to think about an issue, and then feel that on this campus and then, you know, further on in their lives, they have the power and they have the capacity to think for themselves.
And that’s why—just one point I want to make—critical thinking is such an important part of our pedagogy. How to think critically and independently about issues and express yourself in a lucid fashion are part of what we call seven animating features that we want with each of our graduates. And another one is something called rooted globalism. And that is the ability to understand your own roots, but also the ability to understand the roots of others, and bring that to bear as you begin to look at a problem like: Why do these two countries have different views on climate change?
Or why do they think different—so differently about handling pandemics, or handling even things like facial recognition and video surveillance? We have one professor who studies this, and he and I have had many numerous conversations about how to involve Chinese students in these discussions, so they don’t feel intimidated, but get exposed to these kinds of debates that are going on. Now issues like what’s the future of AI, in which we’re looking at moral, ethical issues that face societies—all societies, not just American or Chinese society—and how do these get worked out? These are what the opportunities are that we can accomplish in these kind of joint venture environments.
FASKIANOS: A next question from Lauren Sinclair. I’m administrator and faculty at NYU Shanghai.
I’m very interested in the notion of pedagogical reciprocity and cross-cultural exchange. Do you see any evidence that this is occurring? Do you have qualitative or quantitative measures through institutional or student-level surveys?
SIMON: So this occurs—this kind of what I call knowledge transfer occurs because we do have, as I mentioned, 25 percent of the faculty on the campus at any time are Duke or Duke-affiliated faculty. So when we are doing things on the campus at DKU, there are Duke faculty who are exposed to these experiences, they get to hear the students’ presentations, et cetera, et cetera. They’re part of the discussions about the curriculum. And I can tell you that the Duke curriculum and the DKU curriculum are different in many respects, ours being much more highly interdisciplinary, for example. And we have a project called Signature Work. When our students do this, they get a chance to spend—under normal situation, not COVID—but a semester at Duke. And during that semester at Duke, that also serves as a vehicle for the students to bring with them the things that they’ve learned, and the way that they’ve learned them. And we also have vehicles for our faculty in certain cases to spend time at Duke as well.
And one best example I have to give you is the COVID experience. DKU was online by March of 2020. With the help of Duke’s educational technology people we started delivering curriculum to our students in March, April, May, so that they could finish their semester. Quickly, by time June rolled around, Duke, as well as all sorts of U.S. universities, were faced with the dilemma of how to go online. The experience of DKU in handling the online delivery to students who were located all over the world, and the Duke need to be prepared to do that, had great benefit to Duke when it tried to implement its own online programs. That experience was very positive. The synergies captured from that were very positive. And I think that this serves as a reminder that knowledge and information can go in both directions.
You mentioned cross-cultural. And again, I think the more faculty we can get to come and have an experience in China, and that they bring back with them the learning that’s occurred, we’ve seen that now get transported back to Duke, and delivered in Duke classrooms based on the experience that they’ve had in China.
FASKIANOS: Well, this has been a fantastic hour. Thank you very much. We are at the end of our time. It came, alas, too quickly, and I could not get to all the questions. So my apologies. But we will send around the link to this webinar, the transcript, and other resources that Dr. Simon has mentioned. So, Denis, thank you very much for doing this. We really appreciate it.
SIMON: My pleasure. And thank you for having me.
FASKIANOS: And we will be having our next Higher Education webinar in January 2022. So this is the last one for this year. And we will send an invitation under separate cover. As always, I encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter and visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for more resources. I’m wishing you all luck with your finals, grading, all of that, wonderful things that you have to do as faulty and as academics. And hope you enjoy the holidays. And of course, stay well and stay safe. And we look forward to reconvening in the new year.