Chinese leaders learn about U.S. higher ed.

As part of Yale’s efforts to bolster its status as a global institution, the University recently hosted an academic administration program for officials from some of China’s top universities.

The University Leadership Program, which was sponsored by Yale and the Chinese government, was the first of its kind throughout the over 150-year academic relationship between Yale and China. During the last two weeks of August, senior administrators from major Chinese universities learned through panel discussions and lectures how to adapt U.S. university practices to suit their own schools.

Topics included how to attract an exemplary staff and student body, how to acquire funding through alumni giving, how to build a world-class research enterprise, and how to implement a liberal education. The officials hope to advance their universities to levels where they can be competitive with the top U.S. institutions, Yale President Richard Levin said.

“The theme was building world class universities,” Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said. “China is in the middle of a huge expansion in its university system.”

But because of economic differences, China may have difficulty in directly translating some of these programs, Levin said. Graduate School Dean Jon Butler agreed.

“What they take from the American experience and how they implement it in a society that is very different than our own is something they will have to decide,” Butler said.

Levin said instead of instituting a radical shift in educational ideals to match those of American liberal arts colleges, officials from China are currently more likely to create trade-specific universities to produce the engineers the nation needs to sustain its economy.

But Levin said the administrators saw value in creating an educational environment in which students are expected to question authority and interact more closely with their professors.

“They need to encourage a break from the traditional pedagogy,” said Levin, who took a business trip to China weeks before the conference.

The conference also emphasized the importance of having a pool of qualified professors in creating top-notch universities.

In China, where universities receive most of their funding from the government, teaching is a civil service job. Most Chinese administrators do not use a pay scale or evaluation system for their professors, Levin said.

“They need a system of hiring faculty that is more merit-based instead of a civil service [system],” Levin said. “If they want to get to a higher quality, they need to use more incentives.”

The country’s current progression towards a more capitalist society is encouraging, Levin said.

“The economy is already transforming,” Levin said. “The openness of the economy is changing Chinese society and the education system.”

The conference had a few more light-hearted moments. A trip to the Yale golf course was especially popular among the Chinese administrators, Levin said, adding that another memorable experience involved karaoke and “spontaneous singing.”

Though there are no specific plans for another conference, Levin said he is open to “following up” and said he plans on contacting the Chinese minister of education soon.

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