The Duke Kunshan University academic building is still under construction, but admins expect it will be ready for students to arrive Fall 2014.
Photo courtesy of the Office of DKU and China Initiatives
The Duke Kunshan University academic building is still under construction, but admins expect it will be ready for students to arrive Fall 2014.

Since submitting a 400-page application more than two years ago, administrators have anxiously waited—without a definitive timetable—for the Chinese Ministry of Education sign off on Duke’s new campus in Kunshan.

As of Monday, it is official—the Chinese government has given its final stamp of approval to Duke Kunshan University, which administrators expect will open Fall 2014. Now, Duke must rush to recruit students for the inaugural class.

The announcement comes without much fanfare, though most Allen Building offices received tall bouquets of blue and green balloons adorned with the DKU logo Monday afternoon.

Last December, Duke held a high-profile celebration in Kunshan after receiving preliminary approval, said Nora Bynum, vice provost for DKU and China initiatives. This was a largely symbolic step because the University was still not permitted to formally recruit students. There will be no such event for final establishment approval, Bynum added.

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said. “We need to focus on moving forward because we don’t have much time.”

Provost Peter Lange said that in recent weeks, he has been confident that establishment approval was right around the corner.

Administrators got final word from the Chinese Ministry of Education last week, in a "flurry of emails and phone calls," Bynum added.

Duke is immediately launching its recruitment efforts, though admissions deadlines are tight, and tuition and which faculty will teach next Fall are still in flux.

Duke and its Chinese partners were unable to have “serious discussions” about tuition until DKU was granted establishment approval, Bynum said, noting that she hopes to have the cost finalized as soon as possible.

She added that international undergraduates, such as current Duke students, interested in study abroad in Kunshan should expect costs comparable to Duke tuition.

More than 50 faculty members are lined up to teach at DKU in the first couple of years. The only program with faculty listed on the DKU website currently is the masters of science in global health through the Duke Global Health Institute.

Other programs expected to launch next Fall are a masters in management studies through the Fuqua School of Business and undergraduate study abroad. A program in medical physics is awaiting faculty approval.

As part of its outreach and marketing plan, Duke launched new admissions and curriculum pages on its website Monday afternoon, and various DKU leaders will visit Chinese universities for meetings and information sessions in coming months.

This week, seven Chinese journalists will visit the Durham campus to meet with DKU administrators and leaders at the various Duke schools and departments planning on offering programs at DKU, said Director of Global Communications Laura Brinn.

Since Duke finalized its China plans in January 2010, DKU has faced significant delays due to changes in leadership, partnerships falling through and slowed construction.

Many expected DKU to be the first legally independent American university approved by the Chinese government. Instead, that title was given to New York University Shanghai, which received final approval October 2012 and welcomed its first class of undergraduates a couple weeks ago.

Lange said the process was, at times, slower than he anticipated, but the added time gave Duke flexibility to prepare at its own pace.

"In the end, the slightly longer time is not of any real consequence and possibly beneficial," he said.

Like Duke, NYU Shanghai had a year between receiving final approval and the start of the school year. NYU Shanghai students are currently living off-campus until next year when construction is completed.

DKU’s 200-acre campus is slated to be ready for students next summer, months before students arrive.

Lange, who also chairs the DKU Board of Trustees, will step down as provost at the end of the academic year. He said he will likely not know what his future involvement with DKU will be until the new provost is chosen.

This Thursday, faculty are expected to privately discuss the provost search at the first Academic Council meeting of the year. There are no public discussions or presentations about DKU planned for the meeting.