The UNC system wants to recruit more Chinese students here and offer Chinese language courses to students of all UNC campuses.
System leaders are developing goals for growing interest and instruction about China, the world’s second largest economy. A contingent of UNC leaders traveled to China and Taiwan in March to get a first-hand look at the higher education system there.
U.S. universities are rushing to engage with China, while China hopes to infuse its education system with American-style innovation and entrepreneurship. Duke University is establishing an entire campus near Shanghai, where it plans to initially offer master’s degrees in management studies and global health. Duke Kunshan University was supposed to open this fall, but Duke’s application is still awaiting approval by the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education.
The UNC Board of Governors is expected to consider a set of proposals in the coming months. If UNC students engage more with China and the Chinese language, UNC officials say, they will graduate better prepared to work in the global economy.
One idea on the table for increasing Chinese ties is to stop counting international students in the pool of out-of-state students in the UNC system. The system now limits out-of-state freshmen to 18 percent on each campus. Loosening the cap has been a controversial idea in the past because state taxpayers want to protect university seats for North Carolinians.
Nearly a decade ago, some UNC chancellors pushed for raising the cap on out-of-staters, but the proposal died under heated opposition.
“The last time we had this discussion, the world was very different,” said Hannah Gage, a UNC board member from Wilmington.
UNC President Tom Ross said removing international students from the out-of-state designation would only slightly increase seats for non-North Carolinians.
“A little more flexibility, particularly around international students, I think, would be a smart idea,” Ross said.
UNC campuses already have 87 official partnerships and links to Chinese universities, some more active than others. Still, six of the 17 campuses offer no Chinese and most only have a limited number of classes on Chinese language, history or politics. Of the UNC students who study abroad, 49.4 percent go to western Europe, while just 3.6 percent go to China. Only 1 percent of UNC system students were enrolled in Chinese classes in 2011-12.
UNC leaders have talked about offering a course systemwide on Chinese history and culture – a beginner’s look at the emerging superpower.
They want to make Chinese language courses available to any student at a UNC system school. The goal could be accomplished with a combination of online instruction and face-to-face classes.
There is also talk about ways to recruit more Chinese students to UNC campuses to diversify classrooms and give North Carolina students more international exposure.
“The thing you’ve got to appreciate is the value they bring to the educational experience,” said Paul Fulton, a UNC board member and former UNC-Chapel Hill business dean.
As China’s middle class grows, more Chinese students have the resources to study abroad, and they typically pay top dollar tuition. Nearly 2,000 Chinese students enrolled at UNC campuses in the 2011-12 year.
Chinese students disproportionately study science and technology disciplines, according to a UNC report, and are more likely than native-born students to start businesses if they stay in the United States upon graduation.