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China deeping its higher education links with Europe

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Academics and policy-makers who took part in the European Union (EU)-China people-to-people high-level dialogue in Brussels last month said China and European countries had moved on from mainly facilitating student exchanges, to discussing institutional-level cooperation and creating joint research platforms that would also include partners from outside China and Europe.

 According to China’s official media, one of the aims of the meeting in Brussels of both policy-makers and university presidents from China and Europe was to “provide policy suggestions and enhance compatibility” between the higher education systems of the two sides.

Yang Xinyu, deputy secretary general of the China Scholarship Council, told that: “We are interested in the European university model to facilitate increased mobility and to understand how universities can work together.”

The EUA, together with the Academic Cooperation Association and the China Scholarship Council, organised the first meeting of the EU-China Higher Education Platform for Cooperation and Exchange (HEPCE) in Brussels on 25 April, which included university leaders and ran alongside the EU-China policy dialogue.

The event attracted 200 delegates and 80 university representatives. It was also attended by the EU’s Commissioner for Education Androulla Vassiliou and China’s Vice Minister for EducationDu Yubo.

Delegates said it was evident that EU policy-makers and many European university leaders have moved on from their recent mindset of seeing China merely as a source of fee-paying students, and from a tendency to regard China as a competitor rather than a partner in research.

In the past four to five years, institutions in both China and Europe have become more outward looking and internationalised and therefore more able to build deeper international collaborations acknowledging the contradiction that public universities were established for national purposes and funded with national money.

Yang said compared to the past, China’s universities had created a “more friendly environment” for collaboration and exchanges. “Services [in Chinese universities] have improved dramatically – government policy is really supporting that,” she said.

The EU, for its part, is interested in promoting European-style higher education in China.

“My impression is that the EU wants to export some of the instruments of the Bologna reforms, such as qualifications frameworks, and recognition of periods of study in China,” said Academic Cooperation Association Director Bernd Wächter.

China’s interest in Bologna and other higher education models as ways of strengthening a country’s competitive edge, is also linked to China’s broader policy of improving higher education quality, and reducing disparities between universities in the richer eastern part of the country and the more deprived west.

Du Yubo, China’s vice minister for education, said in Brussels that the country was seeking to attract more foreign students. By 2020 some 500,000 international students would be in China, making the country the “largest Asian destination for international students”.

Some 35,000 students from EU countries are currently studying in China. Du said that in the next five years the Chinese government would offer some 30,000 scholarships for European students and researchers.

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