Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and University Vice President Linda Lorimer led a group of Yale officials to Beijing last week to explore new academic collaborations with Chinese universities. Among their recommendations are expanding study abroad programs and internship opportunities for Yale students in China and establishing “sister school” relationships with selected Chinese universities.
Yale has a long and storied history with China, and we are thrilled that the University is planning to expand students’ opportunities there. However, we do hope that whatever successful programs the University develops there can be transplanted to other countries, too.
Study abroad has never been Yale’s strong point, although the University has been making commendable progress. In addition to the well-established Yale-in-London program, the University recently introduced new Yale-run summer study abroad programs, and the academic review recommendations seem to have spurred further interest in University-sanctioned study abroad options.
We are pleased that Salovey has made developing study abroad programs in China a priority of his leadership. We also like that he has specified that he wants any programs in China to be integrated within Chinese universities, not merely enclaves of Yale students, as is the case in London. It’s also important to have a reciprocal relationship with Chinese schools, and not merely use them as outposts in the great Yale empire.
We know that the administration has not yet detailed its plans for how the relationship with any so-called “sister school” might function, but we’d like to comment on our vision. What we don’t want is easy to define: We do not want a prepackaged Yale program like in London. We do not want to study abroad in China, only to be limited to four classes preselected by Yale and taught by Yale professors. What we do want is a self-directed study abroad program that Yale makes user-friendly. Credits from studying at that Chinese institution should transfer easily to Yale. The requirements and application procedures should be clear. And, although one-to-one student exchanges wouldn’t be necessary, perhaps the University could establish a way for students to have contact with a student at their particular Chinese university before the program begins.
We hope that the University can take whatever successes it has in China to countries all over the globe. As great as the program in China might become, our fear is that it will become a bright but isolated jewel in Yale’s crown — given an excess of funding, attention and press that detract from other international programs Yale could also be developing. Rather than putting all its resources into one or two countries — the U.K. and China — we wish the University would also commit to develop options elsewhere, especially in South America and Africa, which are embarrassingly underserved by Yale’s programs. We hope that the University understands that adding China to its study abroad offerings is a great first step but should not be the last one.