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Duke Kunshan University, China Campus, Marks Government Approval, Announces Next Steps

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Duke President Richard H. Brodhead unveils DKU plaque with president of Wuhan University and Jiangsu Province officials. (Image via Duke University.)
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead unveils DKU plaque with president of Wuhan University and Jiangsu Province officials. (Image via Duke University.)

Duke University is moving to close the deal on a campus in China after celebrating preliminary approval from the Chinese government last month. Provost Peter Lange said Duke will submit its final plan for a campus on the outskirts of Shanghai to China's education ministry by its deadline in April 2013.

Named Duke Kunshan University, the proposed campus is a collaboration between Duke University in Durham, N.C., Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan. The New York Times reports a Dec. 19 ceremony marked preliminary approval of Duke's Kunshan campus, which was initially awarded in August. Classes are expected to start there in the 2013-2014 academic year.

"Duke Kunshan University is a bold project to drive innovation in Chinese international education," said Liu Jingnan, DKU's designated chancellor, at the ceremony, according to a release. "It represents a real chance to explore new models of higher education in China and sets an example for other Sino-international cooperative schools."

Duke's strategy in Asia is representative of American colleges' and universities' growing global ambitions -- an innovation of purpose that has developed alongside controversy sparked by some institutions' stateside faculty. Duke's proposed 200-acre Kunshan campus was planned even as U.S. faculty spoke out against it, claiming the university's future had been too authoritatively determined by administrators without input from the Duke community.

Paul H. Haagen, a Duke law professor and chairman of a newly formed China Faculty Council, told the Chronicle of Higher Education in October, "We will have to wrestle with: Can we do this and preserve what is essentially Duke? Duke is a place with a sense of its own identity, community, purpose and place." The Kunshan project "is either incredibly bold or it's ill-conceived," he said.

Regardless, elite U.S. institutions' brands and endowments are increasingly supported by international students, and school administrators see opportunity in China, India and Brazil -- just as students in those countries see future opportunity tied to American colleges. The Institute of International Education's most recent figures say the number of students from mainland China studying in the U.S. increased 23 percent, to more than 723,000, in the 2010-11 academic year. Alexis Lai of CNN wrote in November that the embodiment of the American Dream is increasingly a Chinese student.

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