Chancellor Blank on the UW’s relationship with China

From “Blank’s Slate” Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s blog: 

As we count down the final days of summer and get ready for another academic year, let me tell you about my most interesting trip of the summer.

In late May, I had the honor of leading a delegation to China. While not my first trip to that country, it was my first trip as UW chancellor.

Why visit at a time when the geopolitical relationship between the countries is strained? Quite simply, UW and China need each other more than ever and can learn much from one another.

On the May trip, multiple groups from campus, including the International Division, the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, International Student Services and several of our schools and colleges, participated in various aspects of the trip to help make it a success.

It was a busy itinerary, including meeting with our alumni, welcoming incoming Chinese students and their families to UW, attending conferences organized by UW faculty at Chinese universities, meeting with higher education leaders, and conducting industry-partnership conversations.

By way of background, you might know that UW’s history with China goes back more than 100 years. A century ago, we were the top public university (and 4th largest overall) recipient of Chinese students enrolling in American universities through the “Boxer Indemnity” scholarship fund, the main route at that time for Chinese students to attend college in the U.S.

Forty years ago, then-Chancellor Irving Shain was the among first American university presidents to visit China after it re-opened to the outside.

Today, we have 3,200 students from mainland China studying at UW. They comprise the largest group of international students at UW. Between 2000 and 2018, their share increased from 25% of all international students to 55%.

We welcome these students and scholars to Madison and do everything we can to support them and help them to be successful. Their presence on campus enriches the residential experience of all of our students.

Big, public research institutions like UW that educate thousands of students and conduct groundbreaking research have to have a global reach if we’re going to carry out our mission. Unlike in past decades, this relationship has become increasingly bilateral. Our scientists are collaborating with Chinese scientists. While there are still far more Chinese students coming to UW, increasing numbers of our U.S. students are interested in going to China. Our faculty are organizing international conferences in China with colleagues from that country – and vice versa. During my recent visit, a conference on higher education organized by a UW faculty member in collaboration with Peking University allowed me to address colleagues in China. All of these connections create new opportunities for all involved.

The strategic partnership agreement that we signed with Nanjing University is particularly significant. We have a long-shared history of cooperation with Nanjing – this is the campus that made the most significant impression on Chancellor Shain in 1979.

In signing our most recent agreement, UW-Madison and Nanjing are seeking linkages across disciplines that can have a lasting and positive global impact. This lays the foundation for an expanded relationship featuring many more years of research collaboration and student exchange.

We also are collaborators in nine active research partnerships with Chinese universities, including a project that brings our wildlife biologists together with ones at Peking University to understand the impact of development on the Asiatic Black Bear population.

Our faculty talk about the two-way nature of their work with Chinese counterparts. As Chinese universities expand in size and quality, and as top scholars work in China, we now meet as full partners and potential collaborators with much to gain on both sides.

Collaborations can create the potential for economic development, with six current industry projects located in China, including a $2.5 million project with Nestle to develop and run a dairy farming institute.

There is growing concern about security issues with China, particularly around intellectual property. We need to be smart and respectful in all of our international collaborations. Full transparency and disclosure will benefit all partners and everyone involved in collaborative research projects.

But I am proud of the number of scholars at UW – both US citizens and citizens of other countries – who have ties to China, and I support the work that they do.

The U.S. and China need each other. We need each other as trading partners; we need each other as major world leaders. And our universities need each other. We can learn more working together than working in silos.

As long as we both share a commitment to open inquiry, outstanding education, and sharing knowledge and discoveries in a way that improves people’s lives, we can work together.