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DKU seeks to innovate with academics

Duke Kunshan University is undergoing construction and is on target for a Fall 2012 opening.
Duke Kunshan University is undergoing construction and is on target for a Fall 2012 opening.

Despite discouraging market research, administrators are confident that the academic offerings of Duke Kunshan University will attract Chinese students.

A consultant report commissioned by Duke has found that many students in China are uncertain about the potential benefits of receiving an American degree in their home country. The report—leaked in late April—was compiled by the China Market Research Group. These results—in conjunction with discussion among the faculty and administration regarding financial concerns—have led Duke to rethink its academic approach to the new campus.

For the past several months, two committees made up of faculty members from the Fuqua School of Business have been developing degree programs for DKU—a Master of Management Studies and Executive Master of Business Administration­—both to be modeled after the respective Fuqua programs. The MMS and EMBA committees presented the programs to all members of the Fuqua faculty at a closed meeting Wednesday.

It was anticipated that the faculty committees would vote on the academic programs June 20, according to a May 12 email from Fuqua Deputy Dean Bill Boulding. Boulding could not be reached for further comment.

Due to a lack of significant market research, however, faculty members chose to postpone the vote, possibly to August or September, said Fuqua professor Jeannette Song, a member of the EMBA committee.

“Everybody knows that China is important, but you still have to deliver—you still have to have all the research done,” Song said.

The leaked report found that Chinese students believe that DKU would offer a better education than many Chinese universities. Chinese students are concerned, however, that a Duke education in China would not be the same quality as it would be in Durham. Also according to the report, the students heavily value international experience and see it as the main reason for obtaining a graduate degree at a foreign university.

China native Norah Yang, Fuqua ’11, said she understands how DKU could be appealing to students who hope to pursue a domestic career because a degree obtained in China could help the students connect with Chinese employers. She noted, however, that given the opportunity, she probably would not have chosen DKU for herself.

“I still would have preferred to come [to Durham],” Yang said. “In addition to the academic experience, I also wanted the cultural experience of being in the U.S., which I couldn’t get if I went to school in Kunshan.”

The report has prompted Fuqua to consider programs that would allow DKU students to spend part of their time in China and part of their time studying in Durham. This is an effort to satisfy students’ anticipated desire for an international experience, Director of Global Strategy Nora Bynum wrote in an email Wednesday. She noted that DKU’s academic offerings will be “innovative additions to the Chinese educational market.”

Provost Peter Lange said this report is only one of many that Duke has commissioned on the subject, adding that he still believes there will be substantial interest coming from Chinese students. He noted that this particular report surveyed only “a very small sample” of 50 students.

“You would no more generalize the educational needs of a country of 1.3 billion people from conversations with 50 students than you would make assumptions about what Duke students want from talking to the same number of people,” Bynum said.

The consultant report also found that Chinese students would not be willing to pay as high a tuition for a DKU degree program as they would for one at the Durham campus. DKU tuition costs will be finalized when Duke receives its official approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education—a procedure required to open up a foreign university in China. Administrators expect to submit the proposal for approval within the next week, Bynum said. They anticipate a response from the Chinese MOE in six to nine months.

“We believe that the discounted rate of tuition we [will] offer is reasonable,” Lange said, noting that administrators are developing scholarship support that is expected to lower net tuition.

This summer, the Fuqua committees will continue to research financial issues, Song noted. The committees hope to raise overall Fuqua revenue through fundraising and possibly enrolling more students in Durham programs. They are also researching ways to offer DKU faculty members the same salary as Duke faculty members, though DKU students will pay a reduced tuition.

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