Last week, seven Chinese journalists traveled to Durham on Duke Kunshan University's dime.
The University brought the journalists in hopes that they would promote DKU. Administrators launched their marketing plan in full force last week, following the announcement that the Chinese Ministry of Education granted DKU final approval. With such an aggressive recruitment push, pressure is on for DKU to open in time for classes to begin in August.
Before the University officially received final approval from the Ministry of Education—the last step in establishing a foreign university in China—it was not permitted to formally recruit or advertise.
As if someone flipped a switch, DKU T-shirts and key chains appeared in The University Store in the Bryan Center last week, and new admissions and curriculum pages have popped up on the DKU website. Individual schools offering courses at DKU will start advertising their programs, and various DKU leaders will hold information sessions and other recruitment meetings at Chinese universities in coming months.
DKU might have trouble marketing itself as a competitive university early on, said one of the visitors, Xiong Binqi, an influential blogger and vice president of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Education Group. He added, through a translator, that DKU will not immediately have the reputation of larger, more prestigious Chinese universities, like Shanghai Jiao Tong or Beijing University.
Although tuition has yet to be finalized, the cost of attending DKU will be comparable to the cost of going to the Durham campus—much more expensive than a Chinese degree. Some critics have questioned whether Chinese students will be willing to pay the cost of going to Duke in China if going to Duke in the United States is a similarly priced option.
But Xiong added that Duke made a thoughtful choice by offering graduate programs early on because it will better prepare Duke to offer undergraduate education. It also helps to distinguish Duke from other joint venture universities like New York University Shanghai, which welcomed its first class of undergraduates this semester.
NYU’s Shanghai site is still not finished, so students are living off-campus until the buildings are ready. In Duke’s recruitment effort, administrators are assuming that the campus will be ready when students arrive next Fall, despite numerous problems with construction since breaking ground in 2010.
When asked earlier this month what would happen if DKU construction were not finished by Fall 2014, Provost Peter Lange said that it is not even a possibility to consider.
In preparation for its marketing push, Duke has hired a new communications manager, Jay Shen. Based in China, Shen has been working with Chinese government and journalists since he started in the summer.
When working with the Chinese media, Duke has had trouble explaining DKU’s mission because American and Chinese concepts of higher education are so fundamentally different, said Director of Global Communications Laura Brinn. Media officials did not know what administrators meant when they said “inquiry-based learning” or mentioned that learning could take place outside the classroom.
“They don’t have a framework to understand,” Brinn said, adding that this is the reason administrators decided to bring the Chinese journalists to Durham to more effectively inform them about the Duke model so they can promote DKU in their publications.
Being able to communicate the differences between the two country’s education styles is particularly important for DKU administrators because they are hoping to attract a class consisting half of Chinese students and the other half international, including American students.
While on their all-expenses-paid trip to Duke, the journalists met with representatives from the schools offering DKU programs, learned about student affairs, toured the campus, shopped at Southpoint Mall and went to the Duke-Pittsburgh football game Saturday, with administrators as their hosts.
“These [meetings] are helpful. There is a big difference between Chinese universities and American universities,” said Lin Yingying, a reporter for The Shanghai Morning Post, after a discussion about the Duke Community Standard. “Mostly, the difference is that American students talk more.”
Some of the journalists, like Binqi, filed stories or blogged about the experience while in Durham. Others waited until they returned to China. They asked detailed questions about Duke’s teaching and administrative methods, as well as the impact different programs could have in China.
The visitors included Qiu Yi, Xinhua News Agency; Yi Xin, China Education Daily; Wang Ying, Sina Education Channel; Li Ran, Sina Education Channel; Zou Chu, Kunshan TV Station; Xiong and Lin.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that Duke Kunshan University funded the journalists' visit.