Around this time in 2012, administrators thought they were a year away from welcoming students to Duke Kunshan University.
But the new China campus is still under construction and awaiting final approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education. Despite several notable delays, administrators insist that DKU will be up and running Fall 2014. Significant construction progress and suggestions that ministry approval is just weeks away have strengthened their confidence.
“We’re getting extremely positive signals,” Provost Peter Lange said.
Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said he is more optimistic than ever before that the campus will be completed by the goal date.
The construction team has a detailed schedule—pushed by project manager Dudley Willis, who recently became the first Duke employee to oversee DKU construction on the ground.
In February, a Chronicle article revealed that construction had stalled for almost all of 2012 due to communication issues, as well as questions of standard. Since then, these concerns have largely dissipated, Trask said, and the Chinese construction team has stuck with their financial and quality commitments.
He noted, however, that the quality would always fall in between Chinese construction standards and Duke standards, which are more stringent.
Five of the six buildings—the ones needed to start bringing in students—will be finished late summer 2014. The conference center and academic building are slated to be completed July 4.
“Isn’t that patriotic?” Trask said, noting that he was not sure if the planners purposefully chose Independence Day.
Work has yet to begin on the sixth structure, known as the “innovation building.” A lack of certainty in what kind of educational and research resources the building should hold have stalled construction in the past, but Trask said he expects it to open summer 2015.
Even with some scaffolding still up, the cluster of buildings is starting to look like a campus, said Lange, who visited DKU in July. While there, administrators saw examples of lecture halls, bedrooms and other features that gave it a campus feel.
“They are outstanding buildings,” he said. “It’s very easy to get hung up on the construction details and sort of lose sight of what great educational buildings these are and what beautiful buildings these are.”
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Lange and other DKU representatives made presentations to an expert panel of about 14 respected Chinese academics, who visited the campus this summer. The “highly structured visit” was part of the process for Ministry of Education approval, which is required to open a foreign university in China, said Nora Bynum, vice provost for DKU and China initiatives.
After the presentations and questions, the panel deliberated privately and suggested “relatively minor” revisions to the application, she added.
Administrators edited the approximately 400-page document and submitted a final version Aug. 1 to the ministry. Duke submitted the initial proposal in June 2011 and received preliminary approval in August 2012.
Lange said he predicts the ministry will approve the application in a matter of weeks.
“[The panel] said they would unanimously and enthusiastically refer us to the ministry, which they have done," he said.
As soon as they receive approval, the University will set in motion a plan for marketing to potential students and faculty in the United States, China and other parts of East Asia. Without ministry approval, Duke is not allowed to formally recruit.
DKU administrators and faculty are also finalizing curriculum and student life.
The first set of academic programs that are expected to debut next Fall include a Master of Management Studies through the Fuqua School of Business, a Master of Science in Global Health and undergraduate study abroad options.
In coming months, a graduate program in medical physics for DKU, which will closely mirror the Durham version, will go through the faculty governance approval process, Bynum noted.
Faculty and administrators are also starting discussions about future graduate programs for Phase I of DKU, as well as an undergraduate degree that would start in Phase II.
The Kunshan Student Advisory Council—a group of Duke students—visited DKU and other Chinese universities this summer, where they explored student life and possible academic partnerships with other schools. Bynum said the council will prepare a final report of recommendations in the next couple of weeks.