Colleges face foreign challenges (China Daily)

Competition from Western schools one of many obstacles for Chinese programs in other countries

Southeast Asian countries are seeking more cooperation with Chinese universities, but challenges remain, as China Daily reporters find out in Guiyang, Guizhou province.

Chinese universities running branches and programs in Southeast Asian nations are facing some unexpected challenges.

Liu Ersi, head of the Bangkok Business School, said running a school overseas is much more difficult than he had expected.

“The costs, the teaching resources, the course design there are so many difficulties to be overcome, so many problems to be solved,” he said.

The school was set up last year by China’s Yunnan University of Finance and Economics in cooperation with Thailand’s Rangsit University. Located in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, it now has six undergraduate and graduate programs on economics and administration, enrolling 60 students from Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Liu said he had been troubled by a series of headaches, a major one being competition from similar programs sponsored by Western universities.

The school applied to the Thai Education Ministry to set up an international business program a year ago, he said. The program is popular in China and it was expected to succeed in Thailand, too.

“However, when the program was finally approved, we found that universities from Western countries also have such programs at their Thai branches. Their programs are very strong, posing great competition to ours,” he said, adding that the situation made it difficult for his school’s program to recruit students.

Running branches or programs overseas has become a common practice for Chinese universities in recent years. The country now has four institutions and 98 programs overseas, according to Yan Bingchen, an official from the International Cooperation and Exchange Department of the Chinese Ministry of Education.

“A majority of these institutions and programs are in Southeast Asian countries,” he said.

Wang Jiexian, vice-president of Soochow University in Laos, said countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are major destinations for Chinese universities, because China’s education quality is generally higher. The university was set up in 2011 in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and now has four programs, including Chinese language, computer science and economics.

“China has some advantages in economic development and quality of education compared with ASEAN countries, except for Singapore,” he said. “For this reason, students of these countries are willing to pay to attend local branch schools or programs established by Chinese universities.”

Struggle for balance

But reality is never so simple.

Apart from the competition from the programs of Western schools, Chinese university branches and programs also struggle to maintain financial balance.

Liu, head of the Thai business school, said their courses are taught in Chinese and Thai languages, but now they find it hard to keep courses taught in Chinese going because of the high cost.

“It’s expensive either to send our Chinese teachers to Bangkok or to hire local teachers who can teach in Chinese. We tried to keep the courses, but I’m afraid they won’t last long,” he said.

Soochow University in Laos, which currently rents a space in a hotel for classes, will complete its first phase of campus construction by April 2016, also has concerns about income and expenses.

Wang said the construction area for the first phase is 6,000 square-meters, which is enough for about 300 students.

“But according to our calculations, the budget will only be balanced when at least 1,000 students are enrolled,” he said, adding that they charge each student $1,500 for tuition per year.

Increasing the number of students is not easy, said Wang Ruifang, head of China’s Xiamen University in Malaysia, which started construction in Kuala Lumpur last summer.

He said that in Malaysia, schools like his must chase students, in the hope that they will choose Xiamen out of a crowded field of schools. “To lure students, we have to improve every aspect of our school and increase its attractiveness,” he added.

But the universities are working to solve these problems. Wang Jiexian said that Soochow University cooperated with domestic enterprises in China, including Pioneer Wood Corp, a materials company in East China’s Jiangsu province where Soochow is based, to obtain a donation to support the construction of the university’s campus in Laos.

Teacher shortage

Running branches and programs overseas means that teachers should be able to teach in both Chinese and the local language, but the number of bilingual teachers is far from adequate, said Yan, the Chinese education official.

Wang Ruifang said teachers at Xiamen University in Malaysia now can teach in Chinese and English languages, but their number is still insufficient and should be increased.

Liu Ersi, head of Bangkok Business School, said the school faces a risk of brain drain, as some bilingual teachers from China are recruited by other educational institutions in Thailand.

“It’s a loss for us because we made painstaking efforts to bring these teachers overseas. But they didn’t stay,” he said.

Wang Jiexian of Soochow in Laos said the university is planning to introduce a localization policy to solve this problem.

“We plan to select some of the best Laotian students at our universities and offer them the chance to study the Chinese language and earn postgraduate degrees in China. And then we will recruit them as teachers for our university in Laos,” he said.

Contact the writer at zhaoxinying@chinadaily.com.cn

An educator from an ASEAN country inspects a high-speed railway training center in Guiyang, Guizhou province. Many Southeast Asian nations have begun to recruit railway technicians from Chinese vocational colleges. Ou Weiwei / Xinhua

Undergraduates from Soochow University in Laos have classes in China. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily 08/31/2015 page5)