China setting up first university campuses abroad

Updated 20 June 2013
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China setting up first university campuses abroad

In the capital of tropical Laos, two dozen students who see their future in trade ties with neighboring China spent their school year attending Mandarin classes in a no-frills, rented room. It’s the start of China’s first, and almost certainly not its last, university campus abroad.
“There are a lot of companies in Laos that are from China,” said 19-year-old Palamy Siphandone. She said she chose the Soochow University branch campus after hearing it would offer scholarships to students with high scores.
“If I can speak Chinese, I get more opportunities to work with them,” she said in a telephone interview during a trip to the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou — the home city of Soochow University.
Education officials in China are promoting the notion of the country’s universities expanding overseas, tapping new education markets while extending the influence of the rising economic power.
China so far has been on the receiving end of the globalization of education, with Western institutions rushing to China to set up shop. Now it’s stepping out.
In addition to the emerging Laos campus, there are plans for what may become one of the world’s largest overseas branch campuses in Malaysia and an agreement by a Chinese university to explore a joint campus with a British university in London.
“The Chinese government and its universities have been very ambitious in the reform and internationalization of Chinese higher education,” said Mary Gallagher, director of the Center of Chinese Studies at University of Michigan.
“This is partly about increasing China’s soft power, increasing the number of people who study the Chinese language and are knowledgeable about China from the Chinese perspective.”
Chinese universities historically have offered language lessons in foreign countries but usually to serve the overseas Chinese population. In recent years, the Chinese government has set up Confucius Institutes around the globe to promote Chinese culture and language.
But full-fledged campuses that can confer degrees are a new experiment. China’s Education Ministry declined The Associated Press’ request for an interview on the issue, saying the effort was too nascent to discuss yet.
The Laos branch of Soochow University, based in Vientiane, is now looking to raise money for a full-fledged campus of 5,000 students, university official Chen Mei said.
“The national policy wants us to go out, as the internationalization of education comes with the globalization of economy,” she said.
The Lao campus started as part of an economic development zone between Laos and Chinese governments, then continued after the larger project fell through.
China’s Xiamen University, based in eastern Fujian province, announced plans early this year to open a branch in Malaysia by 2015 and have annual enrollment of 10,000 by 2020. In May, China’s Zhejiang University and Imperial College London signed an agreement to explore options for a joint campus, though the scope and funding are still to be spelled out.
Philip G. Altbach, an expert on international higher education at Boston College, warns that Chinese universities might be venturing out too soon.

“I think that China’s top universities have sufficient work to do at home that they do not need to expand into the risky and often expensive world of branch campuses outside of China,” Altbach wrote in an e-mail. “China’s global influence and prestige in higher education is best served by strengthening its universities at home and offering a ‘world class’ education to Chinese students and expanded numbers of overseas students.”
Starting in the 1990s, China — aiming to graduate more college students — began to build new campuses, encourage privatization of higher education and expand enrollment. The rush has been accompanied with criticism that quality has been overlooked by quantity and that Chinese colleges have failed to prepare their students for the job market, or to deliver a well-rounded education.
The changes have helped draw international students, whose numbers in mainland China are growing and topped 290,000 in 2011.
China also has encouraged its youth to seek education abroad and has invited foreign universities — especially top institutes — to set up joint programs and branch campuses to help meet the demand for quality education.
The city of Kunshan in Jiangsu province is building a $ 260 million campus for Duke University, and New York University will open an outpost in Shanghai with classes to begin in this fall.
“Many people in higher education in China who are committed to educational reform hope that these moves overseas and also the move of foreign universities to China will create more pressure for reform within Chinese universities,” Gallagher said.
China maintains a highly specialized approach to university studies that has its roots in the Soviet model, but many Chinese educators want to blend in more liberal education to encourage social morals, civic responsibility, innovation and critical thinking.
In Malaysia, where British universities have expanded in recent years, the plans by China’s Xiamen University have been lauded by the government, with Prime Minister Najib Razak calling it “historic.” The branch campus will likely attract many among Malaysia’s large ethnic Chinese minority for courses that will range from economics to chemical engineering and Chinese literature.
Ethnic Chinese comprise more than one-fifth of Malaysia’s 29 million people, and some of them have complained that their children face difficulties securing places in Malaysian state-backed universities because of affirmative action policies that favor the ethnic Malay majority.
Xiamen has roots in the country, in a sense: The university was founded in 1921 by Tan Kah Kee, a business tycoon who made his fortune in Southeast Asia, including what is now Malaysia.
“It’s a giveback from history,” Xiamen University President Zhu Chongshi said, as quoted by the national party newspaper People’s Daily.
The government is squarely behind the efforts by Chinese universities to expand abroad: The signing in China of the Zhejiang University agreement with London’s Imperial College was attended by a provincial governor. But universities say they must find the funding for the branches on their own from tuition revenue and private sources.
That is in contrast to the Confucius Institutes, which are directly subsidized by Beijing, said Chen of the Laos branch campus.
But despite funding challenges, she said she is optimistic about the future of the branch campus in Laos, where she noted there is a growing middle class eager for quality education and keen to do business with China.
“We do not have to worry about finding students,” she said. “There’s a huge demand for education here.”


37% of Arab women have experienced violence, UN workshop hears

Updated 20 September 2018
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37% of Arab women have experienced violence, UN workshop hears

  • A UN workshop in Beirut has been getting to grips with a critical issue for the Arab region
  • Of ESCWA’s 22 member states, countries that are considered to have adequate laws in place include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon

BEIRUT: Arab women and their protection took center stage at a regional workshop held by the UN in Beirut this week.

Held on Tuesday and Wednesday at the United Nations House in the Lebanese capital, the workshop to support women in the Arab region was organized by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the Arab League. 

The aim was to address violence against women and highlight the role of international and regional bodies specializing in women’s issues, as well as their impact on the development of policies, strategies, national laws and standard services to address the issue.

“Violence against women is one of our key pillars, and we chose the topic based on the request from our Arab member states,” said Mehrinaz El-Awady, director at the ESCWA Center for Women. “Most of our work is related to eliminating violence. We do studies and a lot of capacity-building on certain topics.”

The center conducted a number of studies on the topic this year, adding to its seven years of cumulative work on the issue. The studies are complemented by workshops to fill the knowledge gap. 

“There are a lot of initiatives done by national women’s machineries, which are the government offices, departments, commissions or ministries that provide leadership and support to government efforts to achieve greater equality between women and men, but they are not all aligned with international institutions, policy and gender equality in general,” El-Awady said. “There are specific requirements for legislation on violence against women, and we have six Arab countries that have done this legislation, yet we need more alignment on these legislations, to have a broader definition on violence against women.” 

She spoke of the potential in Arab countries to eliminate violence, which the UN wishes to build on. “We’re introducing international instruments on violence against women and key pillars that should be legislation on the topic,” El-Awady said. 

“It should cover prevention, protection, prosecution and rehabilitation, and we’re picking some of the examples of countries that have done legislation, allowing them to present the newly developed laws so other countries that haven’t had a law would be encouraged to follow the same path.”

Of ESCWA’s 22 member states, countries that are considered to have adequate laws in place include Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon. In 2013, Saudi Arabia passed legislation to protect women, children and domestic workers against domestic abuse. It was followed earlier this year by an anti-harassment law. 

Other countries are said to deal with violence against women under the penal code, which ESCWA is advocating against. “When you have violence against women in a penal code, it loses the privacy,” she added. “It’s not violence from an intimate partner.”

According to UN Women, one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once, mostly by an intimate partner. In some countries, that figure is as high as 70 per cent. Globally, almost four in every 10 female homicide victims are killed by intimate partners.

Violence against women has risen in the past few years in the region, which, according to the World Bank, has the lowest number of laws protecting women from domestic violence in the world. UN Women estimates 37 per cent of Arab women have experienced violence, with indicators that the percentage might be higher. 

“The region has had a prevalence of violence against women, and it’s one of the things we’re trying to support countries (in),” El-Awady said. 

“We hope Arab member states are more sensitive to the requirement of legislation on violence against women and start the consideration of having a protection order with the legislation to complement it. There’s a momentum and Arab countries are now more alert — it’s a phenomenon that requires attention from them.” 

Women and girls make up 70 per cent of all known human-trafficking victims. Adult women constitute 50 percent of the total number of trafficked people, while two in three child victims of human trafficking are young girls. 

Rapists are often shown leniency or even acquitted in the Arab region if they marry their victims. In Morocco, Article 475 of the penal code, which allowed rapists to avoid prosecution if they marry their victims, was repealed in 2014 following the suicide of a rape victim who was forced to marry her rapist. Today, 700 million women have been married under the age of 18, and 14 percent of Arab girls marry under the age of 18.

“Violence against women has multiple consequences, at the individual level, within the family, community and wider society,” said Manal Benkirane, regional program specialist at UN Women’s Regional Office for Arab States. “It can lead to fatal outcomes and have a significant burden on the economy. Despite the ongoing efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls in the region, its prevalence and social acceptance remain high.”

She stressed the importance of having enabling legislative frameworks to change the social norms and acceptance of violence, and to ensure women’s access to services that meet their needs. “Otherwise, women in the region end up being violated twice, first when they are subjected to assault, and second when they are denied their right to care and support,” she said. “This workshop offers the space for participating countries to share their experiences, achievements but also challenges they faced in addressing violence in the region.”

More than six in every 10 women survivors of violence refrain from asking for support or protection. The remaining ones who speak up turn to family and friends.

Globally, the total direct and indirect costs of violence against women for countries are estimated to be as high as 1 to 2 percent of their gross national product, which amounts to millions of dollars worldwide. 

“Violence against women (has) become a critical issue in the Arab region,” said Shaza Abdellateef, head of women in the women, family and childhood department at the Arab League’s social affairs sector. 

“This is especially pronounced under the recent circumstances that some Arab countries suffer from, with the spread of armed conflicts, refugees and the increase of violence against women, including domestic violence. It is one of the most important issues in the Arab region today.”