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Foreign Campuses in China: What are the tradeoffs?

As China’s prominence in the world grows, increasing numbers of international students are considering a first degree in China as a realistic option. Study abroad programs and joint degrees through Western universities are already very common. Doing a full Master’s degree in China has also been an increasingly normal phenomenon for international China scholars for many years, an idea made popular by the now-famous Hopkins Nanjing program. However, there has recently been an increase in the number of international students who are considering opting out of doing their main undergraduate study in their home country, but rather completing the full program in China, through renowned, international universities- and supply is beginning to follow demand.



There are still only a handful of Western universities who offer a full undergraduate degree at their own, independent campus in China. But, as the profitability of this possibility becomes apparent, new universities are jumping on the bandwagon each year. American universities currently have the largest number of such campuses, with UK and Australian universities making up the majority of the remainder.


 The Chinese response to these programs has been mixed. The government has been slow to approve the opening of schools with apparently some hesitation about how it will affect China’s own top tier schools. However, local response seems to be quite positive. The newest school highlighted in this article, NYU Shanghai, was offered the rent-free use of a 15-story building in a central location in the city to encourage its growth (in addition to the Shanghai government footing two thirds of the tuition bill for all Chinese students in the program). The large number of Chinese to international students in many of these programs also indicates the level of domestic interest in this new type of educational endeavor.


 These programs claim to integrate Western and Eastern teaching styles into a unique learning environment. NYU Shanghai evaluates prospective Chinese students through a weekend-long process where professors can assess students’ global outlook and creativity, instead of just their gaokao score. Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University includes encouraging students to question teachers as one of their stated priorities. Its main mission as a university is creating students who will have “a happy life and a successful career”.


 However, there have been issues with foreign universities dealing with the Chinese university system and government in the past, and some of these problems are still evident in foreign campuses. Nottingham Ningbo, a Sino-British joint university, states that its available courses are decided based on “expertise available at Nottingham UK and the needs of China”. Some joint ventures in the past have met with complaints from foreign professors about censorship and plagiarism as well as educational rigor. Yale University ended its partnership with Peking University after a few years of a joint program because participation was too low. International language students complained that they could not successfully continue in Chinese language classes at Yale after returning from Peking University, even with the huge additional benefit of being immersed in the country for a semester, because the language classes in PKU were not sufficiently up to par with those at Yale. In a joint Master’s degree program myself, I was told by my foreign school’s administrators to expect to spend about three times as much time studying next year at the foreign university compared to this year at Peking University- China’s best university- due to the disparity in academic rigor. With these issues in mind, it remains to be seen if foreign universities will be capable of maintaining their high teaching standards on their Chinese campuses.


 The current quality of these programs is difficult to assess as many have only had a few years of graduating classes so far (or are even newer), and are not considered on most ranking charts as they are branches of a main university. The universities claim that teaching staff is held to the same high standards as the staff at the home campuses. As these are quite prestigious universities, however, it seems unlikely that the best professors would choose to research and teach at a lesser-known campus with fewer resources or opportunities. Additionally, as the percentage of non-native speaking students in the classroom will be much higher, and this may lower the overall level of academic caliber. Yet for students interested in an international experience, and particularly to improve their knowledge of China and their Mandarin, the Chinese campuses may more than compensate for some lack of educational rigor. Additionally, ultimately all students will have the same prestigious school name on their diploma, and often for a significantly cheaper cost.


 Below we outline the structure, advantages, and disadvantages of three internationally-renowned universities who now have full bachelor’s degree-granting campuses in China- New York University, University of Nottingham, and Liverpool University. At all three, classes are taught in English, and students receive a degree from both the Chinese and foreign university. Another up and coming project is Duke’s campus in Kunshan, scheduled to open next year. If these programs prove successful, increasing numbers of top international universities are likely to look toward China as a future investment.


New York University Shanghai



New York University has a degree-granting campus in Shanghai, which is now coming to the end of its first year of operation with 294 students who will graduate in 2017. It currently offers undergraduates a choice of seven broad majors covering humanities and sciences. NYU Shanghai is the first American university to receive independent registration status from China's Ministry of Education.


The NYU New York campus is consistently rated a top-50 school in the world. NYU also has a very successful campus in Abu Dhabi.



In this first cohort of students, 51% were from the PRC and 49% from abroad (with 100 out of 145 of those from the US).


The admission rate of NYU New York is normally about 30-35% of applicants. Its campus in Abu Dhabi is one of the most competitive in the world, admitting fewer than 5% of applicants (making it more competitive than Harvard or Yale). For its first year, NYU Shanghai received about 6,000 applications (split approximately evenly between Chinese and foreign students), making its admission rate about 20%.


NYU Shanghai has a fairly unique admissions process in an attempt to combine Chinese and Western university admission processes. All students must submit their high school transcript, the NYU common application, a teacher evaluation, and essay. American students submit an SAT or ACT score while Chinese nationals submit their gaokao score. Chinese students are not required to take an English language proficiency test, but instead must attend a Candidates Weekend where they are evaluated through various exercises and discussions on their English, critical thinking skills, global outlook, and general fit for the program. International students must participate in an interview for admission.



NYU Shanghai

NYU New York

Chinese student tuition


45,000 plus small fee*

Non-Chinese student tuition



Living expenses (non-Chinese)



Undergraduate students

295 (first year)












Non-Chinese students pay the same tuition at the Shanghai campus as the New York campus. However, Chinese students pay considerably less at 100,000 RMB/year (about $16,000 USD). This is reportedly because the Shanghai government covers the remaining 2/3 of the tuition costs for Chinese students. This is in comparison to NYU New York where all students, domestic, in-state, and international pay the same tuition rate. On the other hand, the Chinese tuition is still considerably higher than that at the partnered East China Normal University, which is about 5,000 RMB ($800 USD) per year for undergraduates.


Educational experience:

All classes at NYU Shanghai are taught in English, with the opportunity for students to take Chinese classes (international students) and English classes (Chinese students). One obvious difference is the huge disparity in size of the campuses as the Shanghai campus has a few hundred students while New York has nearly 20,000. The New York campus therefore has many more opportunities and choices of subjects to study, but the Shanghai campus may allow for a more personal experience.


The living arrangements for NYU Shanghai are quite unique in that Chinese and international students live together, which is generally not allowed in Chinese universities. This can provide significantly more interaction between students and could be invaluable to international students in their immersion into Chinese language and culture. Currently, students are living on the campus of East China Normal University, with which NYU Shanghai has a partnership, until the expected completion of the Pudong campus in summer 2014.


University of Nottingham Ningbo China.



The University of Nottingham opened a degree-granting campus in Ningbo, China in 2006. In addition to this and its UK campus, it has a third campus in Malaysia.  The UK’s top employers in a survey from this year ranked its UK campus the most targeted university.


Nottingham Ningbo has an undergraduate student body of nearly 5,000 students with international students making up about 500 of the undergraduate population.  



All students are considered for admissions based on their home country qualifications by GPA equivalents. All international students also submit a recommendation letter and personal statement. Chinese students are assessed on their gaokao exam. Students must have a First Division score to be eligible to study and a minimum score of 115 for English to enroll for a degree program, though most domestic Chinese students are expected to take the preliminary prep year.



Nottingham Ningbo

Nottingham UK

Chinese student tuition



Non-Chinese student tuition


15,100 (British/EU students)

Annual room cost-International



Annual room cost- Chinese



Undergraduate students



Undergraduate majors
















One advantage for international students in this program is that they pay the same tuition price as domestic students. However, their housing is significantly more expensive. This is the opposite of the UK campus where all students would have the same housing options, but non-EU students pay significantly higher tuition.


 Educational experience:

Nottingham Ningbo has chosen to offer either a three of four-year program for its Undergraduate degree in China, with the extra first year being offered for those who need to improve their English. This is a positive requirement for international students in China, whose in-class experience is likely to be improved by this required extra year of English training for domestic Chinese students.


The Ningbo campus has quite a large undergraduate body, which allows for a significant number of choices of majors. However, of the nearly 5,000 undergraduate students, fewer than 600 are international students. Additionally, Chinese and international students are required to live separately. Therefore, non-Chinese students maybe feel somewhat isolated and less well-integrated into the campus.


Xi’an Jiantong Liverpool University.



XJTLU was founded in 2006 in Suzhou, making it the world’s first Sino-British university. It now offers an undergraduate program with about 7,000 students and 26 options of majors. Liverpool is ranked as a top 40 British university, and Xi’an Jiaotong as a top 10 Chinese university.



XJTLU admissions for international students is unique in that there is no test required but rather students’ high school grades make up the majority of the decision, with letters of recommendation and a basic application also submitted. Foreign students who are not from native-English speaking countries must also take a standard English language test (TOEFL or IELTS). All Mainland Chinese students are evaluated on their gaokao scores, with First Tier as a requirement, but Cantonese students also must take a XJTLU aptitude test.




Liverpool UK

Tuition (non-Chinese)


15,000 (EU students)

Tuition (Chinese students)



Housing (non-Chinese)



Housing (Chinese)






Majors offered
















Chinese and international students’ tuition is roughly the same, but with some cheaper options for Chinese students depending on major choice. Housing for foreigners in this program is vastly more expensive than Chinese students as international students may only stay in university apartments while Chinese students are in dorms.


Educational experience:

Non-native English speakers at XJTLU are generally expected to take one to two years of preparatory English classes before beginning content classes. The program boasts an 80% foreign nationality of its professors. However, of over 7,000 undergraduate students, only about 100 are international students and they are housed separately. While this small percentage of foreigners may improve their language skills, it is difficult to imagine that this creates any real feeling of a British university.




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