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DKU prepares for launch of undergraduate degree program

After receiving final approval last December, preparations are underway for Duke Kunshan University’s undergraduate degree program.

The first set of students will enroll in the Fall 2018 semester, ultimately becoming the Class of 2022. This class will likely have between 175 and 200 students, said Denis Simon, executive vice chancellor of DKU. Eventually, each class will expand to approximately 500 students, giving the program 2,000 students in total.

“This is a four-year degree program that will award an undergraduate degree from Duke University and a second degree from Duke Kunshan University,” he said. “The first one is everything equivalent to a Duke degree, and the second one would be a degree that’s approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education."

Simon added that students will be considered Duke alumni when they graduate.

The school has announced its initial set of eight majors, all approved by China’s Ministry of Education:

  • Material Science/Physics: Material Science with a specialization in Physics
  • Applied Math and Computation/Math: Applied Math and Computation with a specialization in Math
  • Global Health/Biology: Global Health with a specialization in Biology
  • Global Health/Public Policy: Global Health with a specialization in Public Policy
  • Environmental Science/Chemistry: Environmental Science with a specialization in Chemistry
  • Environmental Science/Public Policy: Environmental Science with a specialization in Public Policy
  • Political Economy/Political Science: Political Economy with a specialization in Political Science
  • Global China Studies/History: Global China Studies with a specialization in History

Each major was designed to have a disciplinary focus as well as an interdisciplinary component, wrote Liguo Zhang, director of global academic program development in the Office of DKU Programs, in an email.

Simon said the University is in the process of recruiting and hiring 20 to 25 faculty members for the undergraduate program.

The start date for the degree program was initially going to be either Fall 2018 or Fall 2019, wrote Provost Sally Kornbluth in an email. The University eventually selected 2018 because the Ministry of Education approved the intended majors quickly.

The expeditious approval allowed the University to build on the momentum of DKU's success and be able to participate in student recruitment programs in time for the first class.

Duke’s faculty in Durham will remain involved in the governance of the Kunshan campus, Kornbluth noted. They will aid with the course approval process and will help determine tenure decisions before Kunshan has its own set of faculty with tenure.

In its meeting Thursday, the Academic Council heard a presentation from Jennifer Francis—vice provost for academic affairs and Douglas and Josie Breeden professor at the Fuqua School of Business—that outlined the progress for hiring faculty at Kunshan.

Francis explained in her presentation that there have been more than 1,200 applications. Three search committees are in the process of narrowing the field to 125 candidates and conducting interviews with them.

The Kunshan campus will also undergo expansions in alignment with the second phase of its master plan. The additions will include new residence halls, a student union, a library, a research center and athletic facilities. 

Design work is still underway for the new buildings, and they are slated to be completed three to four years from now. The city of Kunshan will finance the capital construction, but the operating costs will be shared with Duke.

“We will definitely be under construction for a bit,” Simon said.

There will also be a phase three of construction that will take place more than a decade from now, he explained.

“The thing that you have to remember about this Duke Kunshan University project—it’s not a three-year or a five-year initiative,” Simon said. “This is an initiative that is designed to last 50 to 100 years. Duke only entered this because it believed that it wanted to become part of the Chinese higher education infrastructure.”

Simon said the University may use nearby facilities in Kunshan while construction takes place.

He added that planning is underway for expanded master’s program offerings, including several in STEM fields, such as electronic and computer engineering or big data. This Fall, the first cohort in the international master’s program in environmental policy will arrive on campus.

Simon estimated that 60 to 70 graduate students are slated to graduate this year. In total, 500 to 800 graduate students will eventually be enrolled in programs at the Kunshan campus.

Adam Beyer | Digital Content Director

Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.


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