U Mass To Offer Online Classes in China

The University of Massachusetts will offer the first government-sanctioned online classes by an American University in China within a year. The agreement, signed on Monday, would provide 40 online programs, four certificate programs and one master degree program for students at Tsinghua University in Bejiing, the International Herald Tribune reports.

Jack Wilson, president of the University of Massachusetts, said the agreement was the result of extensive discussions and educational exchanges over the past two years between the university and Chinese officials.

“They haven’t been receptive in the past to other institutions coming in, so this is very exciting,” Wilson said.

University of Massachusetts officials say that the class content will not censored by the Chinese government.

However, the agreement still needs to be approved by China’s Ministry of Education, which has not recognized credits from any American university in the past. But, the Chinese partners that signed the agreement are closely affiliated with the government, according to University of Massachusetts officials.

Many American universities have announced branch openings in China in the past though, only for nothing to happen, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Yet, in China — where the market for higher education is sizzling hot and the quantity of potential students staggeringly large — a number of highly ambitious plans by American colleges to open full-fledged campuses have fizzled or otherwise been indefinitely forestalled. To take another example, in May 2005, Inside Higher Ed reported that the University of Montana planned to open a campus for 2,000 Chinese undergraduates in fall 2006. The hoped-for campus — which would be funded by private investors — has so far been mired in the Chinese Ministry approval process.

“In China, you never want to formally apply for anything that you know is not going to be approved,” said Terry Weidner, director of Montana’s Mansfield Center, which focuses on Asia and U.S.-Asian relations. “We have never made a formal application, so what we were doing is waiting for the word, ‘You may now apply,’ meaning ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink, it’ll now be approved.’ ” To date, there’s been no (unofficial) word either way.

When asked about the challenges of establishing campuses in China, American academics point to the Chinese Ministry’s slow-paced scrutiny of foreign colleges looking to operate in the country. The Chinese embassy didn’t respond to an inquiry, but the Ministry’s scrutiny is arguably well-placed given the seemingly unending number of American institutions looking to China to build exchange partnerships, dual degree programs, and even campuses (typically if they can get the infrastructure built for them by local governments or outside investors).

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