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UK and China strengthen educational ties with new bilateral agreements

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The UK and China have opened up a new phase of collaboration in education with the signing of 23 bilateral agreements plus a broad strategic framework agreement
  • The agreements provide for a range of strengthened links in higher education, VET, and schools

Education plays a significant role in bilateral relations, to say nothing of trade, between the UK and China. Nearly 90,000 Chinese students studied in the UK in 2013/14, representing an increase of 5% over the year prior and 50% growth over the previous five years. Another 50,233 students were enrolled in British transnational education (TNE) programmes delivered in China in that same year. Here too student numbers have increased by 50% over the past five years, and 18% from 2012/13 to 2013/14 alone.

This vigorous trade in education – and the broad networks of exchange and linkages that it suggests – provided the backdrop last month for a new wave of cooperative agreements between China and the UK. A total of 23 education agreements were signed at the 8th UK-China Education Summit on 17 September 2015 in London. Together, these new linkages will see UK institutions and organisations working with Chinese partners to boost joint research and exchange and to establish new programmes and institutions.

At the same time, UK Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson and China’s Minister of Education Yuan Guiren signed an umbrella agreement – the “UK-China Strategic Framework in Education” – to solidify the commitment of both countries to further expanding collaboration across the educational spectrum, including higher education, vocational education and training, and schools.

In a year in which the UK government has been so roundly criticised for the lack of harmonisation between its immigration policies and its goals in international education, the signings at the UK-China Education Summit represent an especially strong and well-coordinated effort to strengthen ties with the world’s most important export market for education.

Queen Mary University of London President Simon Gaskell and President Wang Jinsong of Northwestern Polytechnical University, just one of the links solidified during a round of signings at the 8th UK-China Education Summit.

The Education Summit was part of a broader set of high-level bilateral talks known as the People to People Dialogue (P2P). P2P is a recurring set of ministerial-level talks between the two countries. The 2015 meetings were the third in a series dealing with eight significant policy areas “central to the growth and prosperity of both nations”: health, education, culture and creative industries, science, sport, tourism, youth exchange, and regional engagement.

“Our relationship with China is entering a new phase of scientific and educational collaboration on an unprecedented scale,” said Minister Johnson of the new strategic framework. “Our agreement will bring researchers together to address global challenges, change the lives of young people through better access to sports, and build partnerships across school, vocational and higher education to provide students in both countries with the right skills to become the leaders of the future.”

The 23 agreements

Among the agreements concluded at the Education Summit were the following:

  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the University of Sheffield and Zhejiang University to strengthen student mobility between the two institutions and develop joint programmes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. “This is an auspicious time for us to deepen our collaboration, as collaboration and innovation between China and the UK are being championed by both our governments,” said Zhejiang’s President Zhaohui Wu.
  • An addendum to a current agreement between SOAS University of London and Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU). Under this expanded partnership, the two institutions are planning a joint academic conference as well as the launch of dual degree programmes and SOAS support for a new summer school at BFSU.
  • A major strategic agreement between Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU). The new MoU will see the two institutions file an application with the Chinese Ministry of Education later this year for two new undergraduate programmes and a Master of Science programme, all of which to be delivered in China and jointly taught by QMUL and NPU faculty.
  • An agreement between Cardiff University and Beijing Normal University to establish a new institution: the Cardiff-Beijing Chinese Studies Joint College. The college’s programmes will lead to dual degrees awarded by both Cardiff and Beijing Normal, with the first and last years of the four-year programme taught in Cardiff and the middle two years in Beijing. Students will also be required to undertake an internship during their studies in China.

“The establishment of the new college is an exciting step in the University’s drive to cultivate an increasingly international student experience, and will in years to come contribute greatly to bolstering cultural and business links between Wales and China,” said Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Riordan.

In addition to such institution-to-institution links, the UK-China Education Summit also saw the creation of new agreements between education organisations. For example, the exam board AQA and the Chinese Society of Education signed an MoU that will see British best practices in science and math assessment transferred to China to support the latter’s ongoing high school curriculum reform programme.

Similarly, the UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) will continue its quality control efforts with respect to British TNE programmes in China under its ongoing partnerships with the China Education Association for International Exchange (CEAIE) and China Academic Degrees and Graduate Education Development Centre (CDGDC).

“Education collaboration between the UK and China is vital if we are to learn from each other’s successes and to help us use international evidence of best practice to drive up academic standards in our schools,” added Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb. “These new partnerships will allow us to share as well as helping to develop important language skills to secure stronger links in the future.”

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