U-M’s partnership in China wins award for excellence, innovation

January 27, 2014
William Foreman

Students at the Joint Institute consult with Olivier Bauchau, associate dean and professor, about projects.Students at the Joint Institute consult with Olivier Bauchau, associate dean and professor, about projects.ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan’s biggest global partnership won the Andrew Heiskell Award—one of the highest honors in international higher education, officials said Monday.

The award went to the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute in the category for best practices in international partnerships. It was presented by the Institute of International Education, a New York-based private nonprofit organization.

Founded in 2006, the Joint Institute is located on the campus of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, one of China’s leading universities. More than 1,000 undergraduates study mechanical or electrical and computer engineering at the JI. All courses are taught in English by more than 20 full-time faculty.

One of the key goals of the Chinese was to use the JI to learn about new ways of teaching and organizing research and faculty. More than 30 U-M faculty have been engaged with the JI through teaching, course design or joint research projects.

For U-M, the JI has been an excellent place for College of Engineering students to study in China and become immersed in the country, a major force in the global economy, said James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education.

“Nearly 300 U-M students have participated in the JI program, and they consistently described the experience as transformative,” Holloway said.

The JI has also been a solid pipeline for highly qualified Chinese students who have transferred to U-M through dual-degree programs.

“Over 500 Chinese students have benefited from the dual-degree program since the JI was established, helping us develop the next generation of student leaders who will bring a global perspective to their professional work and understand the potential for Sino-US collaboration,” U-M President Mary Sue Coleman said.

Research is another important component of the partnership.

The Joint Institute provides a chance to do hands-on learning, often rare in the Chinese education system.The Joint Institute provides a chance to do hands-on learning, often rare in the Chinese education system.“The JI partnership serves as a springboard for joint research collaborations in fields of critical interest to the U.S. and China, including renewable energy, sustainable transportation and biotechnology,” Holloway said.

The IIE Andrew Heiskell Awards were named after Andrew Heiskell, a former chairman of Time Inc. and a long-time member of the Executive Committee of IIE’s Board of Trustees. Heiskell was a renowned international and cultural philanthropist and a dedicated supporter of international education.

More than 1,200 higher education institutions are members of IIE. Over the past 13 years, the organization has given Heiskell awards to more than 100 initiatives. Previous winners include Georgetown University Law Center and the California Institute of Technology.


Related Links:

  • For more about the Institute for International Education and the Heiskell Award: http://www.iie.org
  • For more about the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute: http://umji.sjtu.edu.cn


A conversation about the Joint Institute

James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education, and Jun Ni, dean of the Joint Institute, discuss the past, present and future of the University of Michigan’s partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University:

How did the Joint Institute get started?

Holloway: It began with research collaborations between faculty from both universities in the 1990s. Next we started doing some joint teaching, and U-M students started going to SJTU for short courses. Students from SJTU began spending some time doing doctoral research at Michigan. We kept building the relationship and eventually launched the Joint Institute in 2006. The initial period from the late 1990s through 2005 and 2006 was a time of exploration, taking simple steps, trying new things, scaling up what worked, and moving on from what didn’t, figuring out where there are good opportunities to connect the two universities. What we didn’t want to try to do is create something complex from the beginning because we need to know what are the sustainable opportunities. Too many complex partnerships are launched and then fail.

U-M’s global strategy has not involved building campuses in other countries. Is the JI an exception?

Holloway: The JI is not about recreating Ann Arbor in Shanghai. It’s about doing something unique for our students and faculty, and we’re doing it in a way that gives SJTU something that it couldn’t have without the partnership. We don’t need another Ann Arbor. We’ve already got one. What is unique or special about trying to simply recreate the U-M experience in China? But if we try to build something in China that is distinctive and benefits our students’ learning and our faculties’ scholarship, we have created something that has wonderful value. If you go to China or India and build a branch campus and educate students of that nation, that might have value if they needed a new university and that’s great. But that new school wouldn’t need to be the University of Michigan, and wouldn’t really be. So we don’t see branch campuses as all that interesting. Figuring out the mutual benefits is a key part to building these partnerships and sustaining them. That’s really at the core of U-M’s strategy: learning to build mutually beneficial, reciprocal partnerships that offer something unique to each partner. That’s our formula.

How does the JI benefit both sides?

Holloway: One of the most interesting things—which I think the Heiskell Award recognizes—is that our goals and SJTU’s goals are not the same. They’re compatible but they are different. That’s important in building these types of partnerships. We understand each other’s goals, and they need to be compatible, but they don’t need to be identical.

SJTU’s goal, first and foremost, was that it wanted to learn a new way of organizing curriculum, a new way of organizing research and faculty. Our goals were different. We wanted a place to send significant numbers of our students to do a study-abroad experience really immersed with Chinese students. We wanted a way to recruit really good students to U-M. And we wanted a way to connect into China.

What do you mean by connecting into China?

Holloway: It’s the 21st century. China is important. We know we need to engage. We know it’s important in manufacturing, and Shanghai is a hub for manufacturing, so we need a presence there for our science and engineering faculty. That’s achieved in the sense we have a presence there.

Is U-M reaching its study-abroad and recruitment goals with the JI?

Holloway: The JI has become our largest and most mature partnership in terms of numbers of students sent. Since it was launched, 284 U-M students have studied at the JI, and they consistently describe it as a transformative experience. We recruit terrific students from there, and we’re engaged with China in a way that we weren’t before the JI.

Ni: The quality of our JI graduates is amazing. Eighty percent of our students continue on to graduate studies. This is very high. Even for U-M that is very high. In mechanical engineering at U-M, only 40 percent will continue to graduate studies. And the JI students have mostly been admitted to top schools. For those taking jobs, their starting salaries are 40 percent higher than SJTU graduates in the same major and discipline. We have also been able to attract high-quality junior faculty and let them grow. In the Chinese system, it’s impossible to think that junior faculty would be allowed to work independently. You work under the shadow of senior faculty. You don’t show your own creativity. You are not independent. But the JI hires some fresh Ph.D. graduates and tells them, ‘You’re an assistant professor. You’re a faculty member. You should run your own lab.’ That is very different in Chinese culture.

Many Western universities have partnerships in China. What makes the JI unique and successful?

Ni: Both universities are truly committed and engaged with the partnership. Sometimes with other partnerships, one side will only lend their name to the partnership and will have limited involvement. That’s not the case with the JI. Both sides are truly committed.

Holloway: There is a real desire to change the way teaching is done in China through this partnership. One way we have done this is by creating an ‘innovation lab,’ a facility for students to go and build things. It’s not part of a class. It’s just there for them to exercise their creativity, to do projects that are driven by their own curiosity, to experiment, to play. That’s how you build creativity and the ability to innovate. It’s a model that was unusual in the Chinese system, but it’s something we do here at Michigan as a matter of course.

The UM engineering curriculum starts with an introductory course called ENGR 100. This course is about engineering design, technical communication and professional skills. Teaching a class like this to first year students, who have not yet taken much in their basic science or math, is uniquely American. It’s also a wonderfully successful model for engineering education. This model was brought to the JI, initially by experienced U-M faculty teaching it there, and later by JI faculty who learned from their U-M counterparts. Now it is being adopted across the entirety of SJTU.

What’s the JI’s future? How will it develop?

Holloway: The JI is advertising for a new dean, so that person will be expected to bring some new vision. Jun Ni is expected to step down this summer. When you look at what he has accomplished with the JI, it’s amazing. It would exhaust two people let alone one. He continues to drive it with amazing energy, but he’s got an amazing career in manufacturing research, and it’s a good time to move on. It creates an opportunity for a dynamic new dean to come in and have some say in shaping the JI’s next phase.

There’s discussion about potentially opening up the number of degrees the JI manages. It currently manages two undergraduate degrees: one in mechanical and one in electrical and computer engineering. There’s discussion about maybe bringing in a third, maybe in material science or chemical engineering. There’s a new building that has been designed and will hopefully open next year. I think we’ll see the JI’s faculty grow. There’s about 25 faculty and we expect to see that increase by another 15 or so over the next several years. We also plan to bring in more international students to the JI, students who would be degree seeking. They would go in as freshmen and do their four-year program. It would go further toward having the JI be an internationalized English-speaking platform within SJTU, so that’s very exciting.

Will the JI students continue to study at U-M?

Holloway: Yes. We’re starting to see some broadening of the degrees they pursue. They started coming here for the engineering degrees. But we now have a pilot group of five students who have come directly to our College of Literature, Science, and the Arts as of last fall. We expect to see some growth there. We can see some students coming in for mathematics and the sciences. Some other students are interested in the liberal arts, which is a growing trend in China. So I think that will be an interesting direction as well if some of the students at the JI use this as an opportunity to get an engineering degree from the JI and a liberal arts degree from U-M.