The Academic Council discussed the proposed Duke Kunshan University master's degree in medical physics during their meeting Thursday.
The degree—which will have an estimated annual tuition of $44,000—will translate the current Durham program to Kunshan, said professor in radiation oncology Fang-Fang Yin, who presented the proposition for the degree. Some faculty members, however, questioned the program's practicality and financial accessibility.
“There is a need for medical physics professionals in China and other Asian countries,” Yin said. “Growing facilities need scientifically prepared practitioners.”
Yin explained that the master’s degree is a 40-credit program, which would take about two years to complete. Participants in the program would take courses and conduct research at the Kunshan campus and DKU affiliated hospitals, as well as spending a six-month period on Duke's campus.
Following the proposal of the degree, which is outlined on DKU’s website, faculty raised questions about the program's affordability for students. The average starting salary for someone working in a Chinese hospital with a medical physics master's degree is between $20,000 and $30,000—less than a year's tuition at the current proposed price, Yin said.
“We have not done much survey about whether students will be able to pay. Most of the time in China, parents will pay tuition,” he said. “Parents will do everything—they’ll give up everything to allow money for kids’ education.”
A scholarship of approximately 50 percent will be available for Chinese students, and non-Chinese students will be able to receive a lower amount, Yin noted.
Yin said that it would be less expensive for Chinese students to participate in the master’s program at DKU than it would be for them in Durham, however it would cost the same amount for most non-Chinese students.
When asked about comparable programs in China, Yin said that about three medical physics programs currently exist in China—which is way below what is needed at the moment, he noted. Yin conceded that these programs cost less than the proposed DKU one.
“The cost in China in universities is much less than we can provide, but they are different because they are projects sponsored by the government,” Yin said.
David MacAlpine, associate professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, inquired about the students’ proposed stint in Durham.
“Does your department have the infrastructure to absorb 20 additional students when they come to Durham?” MacAlpine asked.
Yin responded that the students’ time in Durham would add to their educational experience and that the medical physics department has the capacity to absorb them. He also noted that faculty would consider it a positive addition to have DKU students to work on research projects.
MacAlpine remarked that bringing students to Duke’s campus would be a considerable transition since they would need to find housing and settle into life in Durham.
“All of our other master’s students come and get acclimated—we will do our best to ensure a smooth transition,” Yin said. “Student housing has already agreed to help, and we will have a student network through the Internet.”
Yin ultimately noted that the demand for the program at DKU would be high and that Chinese students will find a way to participate if they are interested, regardless of finances.
“You would be surprised—many people will find the resources to pay,” Yin said.
In other business:
Two other degrees were presented to the Council Thursday—a master’s in bioethics and science policy and a master’s in historical and cultural visualization.
Nita Farahany—professor of genome sciences and policy at the School of Law— presented the degree in bioethics and science policy, describing it as addressing “ethical, legal and social policy concerns that arise from the science and medical technology industries.”
She said the degree is highly interdisciplinary and would draw from many departments with faculty with diverse appointments.
Fritz Mayer—professor of public policy, political science and environment—asked why the Sanford School of Public Policy hadn’t been included much in planning the degree.
“This degree doesn’t actually poach on anyone’s existing space, but both [The Kenan Institute of Ethics] and [The Sanford School of Public Policy] have actively engaged in the discussion about this degree,” Farahany responded.
Hans Miegroet—department chair of art, art history and visual studies—presented the degree in historical and cultural visualization.
He was asked about place of the proposed degree in today’s market, and responded by saying that specialists coming out of this degree could find employment in museums—where the variety of digital skills students will have acquired are in high demand. He also noted that the field is gaining academic traction and is applicable to new media start-ups.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Chair of Academic Council Joshua Socolar, associate professor of physics, noted that all of the degree proposals would be voted on at the committee’s November meeting.