I am just returning from my third visit to China, currently our most important overseas recruitment territory with more than 200 Chinese students studying in Dundee.
I had hoped to get away for a few days from the hype of the pre-Christmas period which seems to start earlier and earlier in Scotland. And so I was surprised and dismayed to find Christmas trees everywhere and the same familiar songs being played in every hotel lobby. It rather proves the point that Christmas is nowadays less of a religious ceremony and more a retailing and partying opportunity. I am therefore looking forward to getting back in time for the University Carol Service on Sunday which always marks the start of the Christmas period for me.
But getting back to the subject of China. My visits have been at roughly yearly intervals and have given me a profound sense of the pace of change and especially their investment in higher education. Given the scale of the country and the vast differences in culture from north to south and province to province, this investment has been remarkably consistently and impressively applied. I visited Xiamen in the south, overlooking Taiwan, then Beijing and Tian Jin which are 1200 miles to the north experiencing a balmy seaside with temperatures of 20 centigrade followed by sub-zero temperatures down to minus 8. Our partner universities in Xiamen and Tian Jin are both investing in enormously impressive new campuses. This new infrastructure is not intended to increase student numbers, which already account for about 30% of school leavers, but to expand research capacity and attract top class, mainly Chinese, faculty from abroad. And they in turn are being judged on their ability to produce high quality fundamental and applied research published in journals with the highest impact in their field.
These developments are bringing in a new era, not just in Chinese universities themselves, but also in their expectations of partner institutions abroad. No longer are they simply looking to send many students overseas through articulation agreements with their partners. Partner institutions will need to develop deeper, if not wider, relationships with their Chinese counterparts including joint research programmes and centres of excellence if they wish to sustain them into the future. It is also certain that more and more of our teaching with overseas partners will need to be delivered in country. We should not be daunted by this changing landscape, however, because it provides substantial opportunity as well as obvious threats. Not least of these will be the opportunity to develop fully funded research proposals of scale with our Chinese collaborators.
In the meantime I am looking forward to getting home after an all-night flight, recovering from the jet lag brought on by the 8 hours time difference, and finally, reluctantly, getting into the Christmas spirit.