SJTU partnership: UNSW ups the exchange rate

In the media
ARTICLE: UNSW Australia has signed a major new mobility partnership to provide more opportunities for UNSW students to study in China as part of the New Colombo Plan.

THE University of NSW has struck what it believes is one of the biggest student exchange deals between an Australian and a Chinese university.

The agreement with Shanghai Jiao Tong University allows 40 semester places each way, each year.

“Given that a typical exchange agreement with a Chinese university generally gives you a quota of no more than two students, this is a game changer for the entire business model that has governed the way Chinese and Australian universities have historically thought about mobility,” said UNSW’s pro vice-chancellor (international) Fiona Docherty.

The university not long ago hired Laurie Pearcey, whose background is in business and politics, as its director of China strategy, and has been thinking about how to make more of what is already a big Chinese presence on campus.

Mr Pearcey said UNSW had been linking up Chinese international students, locals of Chinese ancestry and students of Chinese language from whatever background.

The university already had about 30 students going to Shanghai Jiao Tong each northern summer taking courses in fields such as engineering, law and business. Some courses, such as management and advanced robotics, were offered in English.

Mr Pearcey said that by encouraging more interaction between Chinese internationals and others, the university had been able to reinforce the idea that a spell in China added great value to a degree.

“It’s just been about increasing that awareness among students, and really getting our academics on board,” he said.

The ingrained preference of Australian students for exchange in Europe and North America was one reason why mobility agreements with Chinese universities were small affairs.

“(As a relative newcomer to the sector) I was shocked that the average exchange partnership (with China) is two spots per partner,” Mr Pearcey said.

“There have been question marks over whether Australian universities in particular have been able to muster enough students to ensure that the relationships are balanced.”

Student mobility expert Rob Malicki of AIM Overseas said institutions put limits on exchange numbers to protect themselves from tuition costs in the event that many more students arrived than left.

“As a default, many exchange agreements start from the template premise of two in, two out per semester (or per year),” he said.

“Beyond that, depending on negotiations and priorities, institutions will tweak these to allow more.”

Mr Pearcey said universities would have to “do a lot more” in student mobility to rise to the challenge posed by the government’s New Colombo Plan, which is intended to mainstream study and internship in the region.

He said UNSW had to some degree sidestepped the language barrier by reaching out to Chinese background students; they made up about half of those already doing summer study at Shanghai Jiao Tong.

But the university was also trying to link up its many native speakers on campus with second language learners.

Since last August, it had staged regular “Chinese corners” with a cultural hook, some food, and a chance for second language learners to get some informal practice with native speakers.

“We’re living in one of the best environments that you could possibly imagine to speak Chinese,” Mr Pearcey said.

Last year, UNSW had just under 1000 students enrolled in Chinese language classes, including classes in interpreting and translation.

Meanwhile, on May 17, the first group of New Colombo students to go to Hong Kong leaves from the University of Wollongong.

The 15 students from the school of education will take part in a research project with the Hong Kong Institute of Education and work with local schools.

Hong Kong is one of four pilot destinations for the New Colombo Plan.

Steve Barclay, director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Sydney, emphasised the appeal of Hong Kong “as an international city with top-notch English language universities”.

Australia’s government sees the availability of English language courses as vital for the New Colombo Plan to quickly take off; languages are weak and patchy in Australia’s education system.

This article first appeared in The Australian.