By Professor James Smith
Vice-Principal International, The University of Edinburgh
I write this from my hotel room, having just flown into Hong Kong, tired but excited about what promises to be an important week for the University of Edinburgh and our work with partners across China.
Over the coming days, our delegation of some 30 people will visit Hong Kong, Shanghai and Hangzhou. The large number of people involved reflects two things: firstly, the importance of China to the University, and secondly the sheer variety of exciting partnerships and joint activities which we are developing across the Country.
China is important to us for a number of reasons. Each year we welcome more than 2,000 students from China, resulting in a large and highly engaged alumni community all of whom are of huge value to the University. I’m looking forward to the alumni receptions we’ll hold in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, allowing me to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
We also enjoy strong relationships with several outstanding universities in the region, many of which we are visiting on this trip. These include Hong Kong University, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Shanghai Jiao Tong, Fudan, Donghua and Zhejiang Universities. They are also institutions where, in various ways, we can complement each other, collaborating and developing innovative teaching and excellent research together.
Ultimately China is important to us simply because China is so important. Its growing political, economic and cultural significance is felt globally and it is important that Edinburgh engages constructively to ensure our work has impact, in all its forms. China is also significant in terms of how it has embraced new ways of doing things. Transnational education – the delivery of teaching and awarding of qualifications from an institution in one country to students in another – is crucial to how we deliver education now and in the future.
New technologies and ways of thinking, new economic centres of gravity, and emerging disciplinary areas converge to drive fresh ways of teaching new material to meet new demands. China is embracing these approaches to help meet the demands of their students and we are exploring them to meet our goals of broadening global access to our education and impact of our research.
So, China offers enormous possibilities through both scale and innovation. It is no surprise that some of our most enterprising partnerships and teaching takes place there. With Donghua University we have an exciting collaboration with Edinburgh College of Art around fashion and the creative industries. Edinburgh academics regularly travel to Shanghai to teach students there, and students in Shanghai have the option of spending the final two years of their degree programme studying in Edinburgh.
This academic year we welcomed the first group of students into our new undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences, taught through our joint institute with Zhejiang University. This involves the teaching of a four-year undergraduate degree entirely in English at Zhejiang’s new international campus, near Shanghai.
During our visit we will be developing other collaborative possibilities, around low-carbon innovation, for example. These are opportunities for us to explore, engage and innovate, and work together to develop joint teaching and research that can equip students to shape their futures. It promises to be an exciting visit at an exciting time for international higher education.