Event Takeaways: American Higher Education in China: Opportunities & Challenges

Event Takeaways: American Higher Education in China: Opportunities & Challenges

19th April 2021

As the first installment of a virtual series focused on highlighting American business and institutions working on Greater China, last week the Committee of 100 hosted a discussion on the opportunities and challenges in running US-affiliated universities in China. The conversation was moderated by Eric Zheng, Committee of 100 Greater China Regional Chair, and featured Jeffrey Lehman, Vice-Chancellor of NYU Shanghai, David Q. Pan, Executive Dean of Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University.


Since China’s “opening up” in the late 1970s, American universities have attracted millions of Chinese students to study abroad. Eric started the conversation by sharing his own experience among the first wave of students who came from China to study in the US. Over the past few years, American universities have also established their operations in China, either through joint-degree program or through joint universities. They are playing an increasingly prominent role in higher education in China.


Said Eric “There are many good joint-degree programs or joint universities in China. Certainly, I don’t think we’ve talked enough about their presence in China. So today I’m very happy to highlight two programs in NYU in Shanghai and Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University.”


Created in 2012, NYU in Shanghai is China’s first Sino-US research university. On average, the university has about 2,000 undergraduates and 350 graduate students. During the discussion, Chancellor Lehman discussed NYU Shanghai as a clear example of a different kind of education from traditional education at other universities in and out of China. “We are more focused on effectiveness in multi-cultural environments. We are more focused on nurturing creativity than traditional academic programs. We are happy to be under the microscope, and we are happy for others to study us and see if there are things that we were doing that might be valuable to them.”


Founded in 2013, Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University now has over 600 alumni. Each year, the Schwarzman College is joined by 150 students worldwide, where 20% are from China, 40% from the U.S., and 40% from the rest of the world. Dean Pan shared that Schwarzman College serves as a platform for students from diverse backgrounds to learn from each other and learn from the professors who are also coming from different parts of the world. The program at Schwarzman College is also designed for students to learn from outside the classroom.


As Chancellor Lehman shared during the conversation, today we all work and live in multicultural communities. To be effective, students need to develop the ability to work together in partnership with people who grew up in different cultures in different countries. Institutions like NYU Shanghai, Schwarzman College, and many others, with their program designs and diverse student bodies, enable their students to learn and understand the concept of cosmopolitanism and prepare them to perform well in the future.


Over the past few years, American higher education in China has been impacted by the increased tension in US-China relations. However, both Chancellor Lehman and Dean Pan believe that the pressure has brought positive attention to their schools. Dean Pan expressed that today it’s a good time to understand each other, more than ever. In this challenging moment, the mutual understanding from both sides started from the young generation.


Chancellor Lehman added, “Part of what has defined universities since the University of Bologna was established almost a thousand years ago has been a certain kind of culture, which is embedded in a larger society. And it’s a culture of sympathetic engagement with disagreement. It’s a culture of open-mindedness, outreach, and acceptance of a way of exploring the world together through respectful debate. . . I think in this particular moment, universities can offer helpful models of a different way of handling differences. We are about engagement and cooperation, competition, and sometimes argument, but always in a way that takes as a founding principle the fact that we share a planet and we need each other.”



For more information on NYU Shanghai, visit https://shanghai.nyu.edu/


For more information on Schwarzman College at Tsinghua University, visit  http://en.sc.tsinghua.edu.cn/


To watch a replay of the discussion, please visit https://youtu.be/ROuwYmgfWNs.

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