A recent cover of The Economist featured the image of an imposing bronze Chinese dragon, smoke wafting from its nostrils, dwarfing a diminutive Barak Obama sitting alone in a red office chair gazing woefully up at it. The message of the picture was clear: China is a force to contend with.
There is no question of China's emergence as a super power. With a rapidly developing appetite for energy, consumer goods, and intellectual respect, China also has a growing demand for higher education, and universities around the world are scrambling to meet this need. The University of Minnesota, for example, opened a Beijing office in October 2009 to support initiatives in China.
Consistent with China's commitment to modernize, the country has a growing need for trained professionals to serve in and teach about public institutions--China has established more than 200 public affairs programs in the last few years and expects to create several hundred more.
But, like any growth industry, the need for well-trained faculty outstrips the supply. This is a need the Humphrey School hopes to help address.
"For such a small school, we have a lot of connections with China," says Associate Dean Greg Lindsey. "Three members of our faculty were born and studied in China, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Wilson is there now on sabbatical, and Professor Sam Myers, Jr., spent the 2009-10 academic year in China. That's pretty impressive." In addition, Sherry Gray, who coordinates the global policy area, is a China scholar who spent several years there while completing her dissertation.
In fall 2008, the Institute hosted the International Conference on Public Administration, cosponsored by the American Society for Public Administration; the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China; the Chinese Public Administration Society; the School of Public Administration at Moscow State University; and the Chinese Public Administration Journal. The conference drew more than 40 Chinese public administration researchers and practitioners to share the progress of their relatively young profession. (While the roots of China's tradition of public administration go back to Confucius's ideology of governance and the development of a civil service system some 2,000 years ago, public administration as an independent field of study only recently has emerged within the Chinese academy).
One outgrowth of the meeting was a signed agreement to pursue closer ties with Chinese institutions--faculty exchanges, research opportunities, and the possibilities of cooperative academic programs.
Last summer, Dean J. Brian Atwood led a small delegation from the Institute to further explore these opportunities for collaboration and assess the Chinese higher education market. Atwood, Lindsey and, Assistant Professor Zhirong (Jerry) Zhao visited Fudan, Renmin, Peking, and Tsinghua Universities and a provincial university in Hangzhou.
"We found real interest in our degree programs, particularly our Master of Public Affairs and Master of Development Practice programs," says Lindsey. "We had the opportunity to build institutional and personal foundations for future discussions. It is not easy to enter new markets--especially in these challenging economic times--but the potential rewards are great, as well.
"We want to be smart about strengthening our ties and building our relationships in China," he continues. "As the fifth-century B.C. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, 'Because the sage always confronts difficulty, he never experiences it.' Confronting the future in a clear-eyed way is how we intend to proceed."