Study in China returned to the conference for the first time since the pandemic began, with a cohort of over 15 different universities.
But during a time of tension on a geopolitical level– especially between China and the US – The PIE News spoke to two attendees about how the unique experience can bolster higher education on both sides.
“[Chinese HEIs] need to actively introduce and recommend themselves to foreign friends and universities,” said Vincent Liu, of the North America International Education Group, based in Beijing.
Liu told The PIE that even attending the conference still posed a significant challenge as direct flights between both countries still have not entirely resumed their usual schedule.
“NAIE Group has always been committed to serving as a bridge and link between Chinese and foreign universities, facilitating the approval and implementation of cooperative education programs.
“Although our collaborations and promotions have been somewhat influenced by geopolitical factors, the truth is that through this conference and other exchanges with universities from various countries, some American universities maintain an open attitude towards cooperation with Chinese universities,” Liu explained.
That collaboration was true for Li Jiang, who travelled to NAFSA as part of the Study in China cohort representing the Shenzhen Institute for Information Technology.
“I feel very pleased that we finally return to NAFSA after three years’ absence in this great conference due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was my first time coming to the US as well as this conference.
“Before I arrived in US, I knew this conference was the largest in terms of participants in the industry. I expected to make contact with more peers of international education, and indeed, I made it,” Jiang told The PIE.
Tensions around China and its global counterparts have been high over the last year. While the UK mulled possibly closing Confucius Institutes (something UK PM Rishi Sunak has now reneged on), CSC students in Sweden were found to be signing “loyalty pledges” to the Republic.
“Some American universities maintain an open attitude”
Naturally, the US relationship with China is a driving focus, due to the country being a massive source market for thousands of US institutions.
Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, made a trip to China on June 19 for talks with the country’s Foreign minister Qin Gang.
At NAFSA, Liu stressed that perhaps things would start going in the right direction in terms of collaboration in our sector.
“Due to geopolitical influences, there are individual universities that adopt a relatively conservative and wait-and-see attitude towards cooperation with China.
“Some European institutions may still be simply observing and relatively conservative. However, there are still many European universities that hope to further collaborate with Chinese universities.
“However, more American universities I encountered were still willing to cooperate and engage, although there may be some limitations for some specific STEM programs.
“Upon my return to Beijing, some American universities have already contacted me to initiate discussions about collaboration,” Liu said.
Jiang added that he made contact with around 18 other universities at the conference.
“Some of them have reached preliminary oral agreement with us, including those from the US, Italy and Germany,” Jiang noted.
“We hope to enrol more from foreign countries”
As a university where, Jiang said, the number of international students is “very few”, he hopes that contacts at NAFSA will change this.
“We hope to enrol more from foreign countries. I believe next year the numbers of international students in China will return to the normal as the time before the pandemic,” he added.
Liu also said that there is “growing interest” from universities outside China in joint education programs – something that, Liu said, there is little knowledge about in terms of cooperation techniques.
However, he said he believes it is crucial for Chinese HEIs to diversify their portfolio.
“Chinese universities and institutions rarely choose an ‘outbound’ market development strategy. [Chinese institutions] should recommend themselves to foreign friends and universities. This will promote exchanges and cooperation, and jointly contribute to the prosperity and development of international education,” he added.