The Failures of American Universities in China

Delivering Degrees But Not Values

Hundreds of students take an open-air exam in Baoji, Shaanxi province, China, May 25, 2015. Reuters

Over the last three years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has intensified his campaign to crack down on every segment of Chinese society, including academia. From teaching to research, the repression has left its mark across a wide range of collegiate activities. Chinese professors have censored classroom lectures to avoid touching upon prohibited Western themes, while well-known scholars—such as Xia Yeliang, an economist and signatory of the human rights document Charter 08, who was fired by Beijing University—have paid a high price for their unorthodox views. These changes are certainly troubling for Chinese campuses, but so is the silence from the leaders of U.S. colleges and universities who have shown no signs of rethinking their growing ties to China.

It’s hard not to conclude that these university administrators have been silent because they hope to continue to tap a very lucrative education market. To be sure, as in other sectors of China’s economy, the opportunity has enormous potential. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese students seek to study abroad at brand-name universities, while thousands of others have set their sights on new foreign programs in China itself, such as those run by Johns Hopkins, New York University, and Duke in Nanjing, Shanghai, and Kunshan.

China’s ten-year plan to transform its educational system, an effort to bring Chinese schools to internationally competitive levels, continues to attract foreign institutions seeking opportunities to expand their brand as well as grow their revenues both at home and abroad. With well over 200 programs and partners in China, U.S. colleges and universities have grabbed the lion’s share of the market. Half of the more than two dozen foreign branch campuses in China are U.S. ventures (although they are all partnerships with China because Beijing does not permit stand-alone foreign campuses).

As part of its national development goals, Beijing encourages local governments to invest in these campuses. As a result, cities and provinces across the country are funding lecture halls and laboratories

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