China's largest city, Shanghai, has been successfully pushing for Western universities to establish branches serving Chinese as well as foreign students. These ambitions stretch to America's elite Ivy League.
In January Mo Fuchun (pictured), governor of Shanghai Minhang District, said at the annual meeting of the district's People's Congress that his team was in discussions with Ivy League universities and was planning to attract two of them to the city by 2015.
According to his plan, the branches of Ivy League schools targeting Chinese high school graduates and children of foreign families would be supervised by the Minhang government, which administers a major swath of central Shanghai.
"We have reached out to the schools and things are so far going smoothly," Mo said at the meeting, adding that Cornell University and Columbia University could be the first Ivy League universities to establish branches in Shanghai.
Alice Pell, Cornell's vice-provost, acknowledged the approach. "We applaud the Shanghai government's initiative in reaching out to American universities," she told University World News, adding that Cornell had longstanding relationships with many Chinese universities.
"We will continue to explore new opportunities as they arise," she said.
Also in January, China's Ministry of Education approved the creation of a campus of non-Ivy League New York University (NYU), which will be located in Shanghai's financial centre Lujiazui, within Pudong district, and is scheduled to start operation in 2013.
"NYU Shanghai will be a US-style selective liberal arts research university with a four-year undergraduate college, together with graduate and professional programmes," said a note from John Sexton, President of NYU, and Provost David McLaughlin.
NYU Shanghai will be the third main campus of the university's global network, along with NYU Abu Dhabi and its New York base.
Mainly targeting talented Chinese students, NYU Shanghai will offer opportunities to its students to study at other university global outposts including in Tel Aviv, London and Berlin, according to the memorandum. The Shanghai campus is expected to ultimately teach some 1,600 undergraduates each year.
NYU Shanghai will be co-founded with NYU's long-term Chinese partner, the Shanghai-based East China Normal University (ECNU), and will not be funded by transfers of money from the New York campus.
The existing NYU study center at ECNU, which has been running since 2006 for students from the New York campus to study in China, will probably be relocated to the new campus.
ECNU president Yu Lizhong said at a conference on 19 January in Shanghai that the new campus will be largely funded by the government of Pudong district, along with sponsors.
To make the school appealing to Chinese students, Yu said tuition fees for NYU Shanghai will not match those of NYU in the US, where students can be charged about US$50,000 a year, while most Chinese universities charge around CNY5,000 to CNY6,000 ($758 to $910) a year.
"It will be a non-profit school, the tuition of which will be in line with the scope set by the Chinese government. Qualified but financially needy students will be assisted by our aid," Yu added. Under rules set by the China National Development and Reform Commission, tuition fees for Chinese universities must not exceed CNY15,000 (USD2,275) a year.
A spokesperson for ECNU said more details would be revealed at a press conference in April.
This flurry of activity should help Shanghai catch up with some rival cities that have already established foreign joint venture universities with their own distinct legal personalities.
For instance the neighboring city of Ningbo and the prosperous southern Chinese city Zhuhai have branch campuses of the UK's University of Nottingham and the Hong Kong Baptist University.
Shanghai could learn lessons from the other cities about running English-speaking universities.
For example, will original courses have to be re-designed to suit Chinese students? To a subtle extent, the answer is yes, said Professor Andrew Marton, dean of undergraduate studies at Nottingham Ningbo.
"For example, we offer more case studies from Asia or China because we are located in China, and it's a feature for us to attract international students who are interested in the region," he said, adding that the degree level of re-designed courses is equivalent to the courses in the UK "in terms of content and quality."
Nottingham might also establish a new campus in Shanghai, having received an invitation from the Shanghai city government last November.
"We are currently giving the invitation very serious consideration, and Nottingham UK is in discussions with the Shanghai government," said Marton.
These 'half-blooded schools', as the Chinese like to call them, are likely to attract many talented Chinese students. But they will not seriously weaken the nation's huge overseas education market, said Alexandra Wen, head of the Shanghai office of Longre Global, a Shanghai-based overseas education consultant.
"The impact will be limited because people looking for study abroad are not only for getting degrees, but also for things like experiencing different cultures, having different lifestyles or even looking for immigration opportunities, all of which cannot be provided by the foreign schools in China," she said.
More than 250,000 Chinese left China for study abroad in 2010, up 9% from 229,000 in 2009, according to government statistics. Chinese students replaced Indians as the largest group of international students studying in the US, according to the New York-based Institute of International Education.
Xiong Bingqi, Vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, agreed, adding that Chinese students can enjoy advanced, modern higher-education systems at overseas universities.
"Frankly speaking the current joint venture schools are basically the same as Chinese universities, except they provide high-end teaching resources, which are also not that difficult to gain for top Chinese universities," he said.
He noted that joint venture schools, including Nottingham Ningbo and the upcoming NYU Shanghai, cannot select their students as freely and independently as they do at home: their options are limited to applicants participating in China's national university entrance exam.
And there is a comparatively stronger freedom of discourse on foreign campuses. "One of the key advantages of foreign universities is the modern higher-education system, under which Chinese students can enjoy fairness and open-mindedness that Chinese universities lack," Xiong said.
"But right now, the joint venture schools are not able to provide it. With the much more expensive tuition, I don't see how these schools can compete against the Chinese schools," he added.
Those offshore campuses should enjoy the freedom of selecting students otherwise it is hard to show the advantage of such joint programmes.
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