Duke Kunshan University campus in China nears opening

Aug. 08, 2014 @ 04:56 PM

Ryan Safian has been studying Mandarin since he was in high school. At that time, he started noticing a shift in focus toward China and the potential that it had for business. He wanted to study the language to get ahead.

“I figured that learning the language itself would give me a distinct advantage over other Americans trying to find jobs at this point in time,” said Safian, who is now 22 years old and thinking about a career in business that would require travel to the country.
Toward that end, Safian is one of 33 students in a new master’s of management studies program that is co-located at Duke’s campus in Durham and at the university’s new joint venture campus in China. The program has kicked off with classes in Durham and will move to the Duke Kunshan University campus in China in January.
But in less than two weeks, students in several other programs are expected to start orientation on the campus. About 65 students in an undergraduate semester program as well as master’s degree students will start orientation Aug. 20, said Nora Bynum, vice provost for Duke Kunshan University and China initiatives, in an interview this week.
“We’ve been hard at work setting up all the systems that are needed…,” Bynum said, to prepare for the opening.
A partnership among Duke, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan, Duke Kunshan University was at one time slated to open in fall 2011. But there were problems with the contruction of the campus, including construction delays.
For the first semester, classes will be held in the conference center, which is ready to hold some classes, Bynum said. Laura Brinn, executive director of global communities for Duke University, said in an email that a service center building is expected to be able to carry out all of its support functions by the start of classes.
Another three buildings are expected to be completed later in the first semester: the student dormitories, faculty housing and the academic building, Bynum said.
But because the student and faculty residence facilities have not yet opened, students and faculty will be housed in a nearby hotel for the first several weeks.
“What we wanted to have (is) a place where everybody could be secure, safe and comfortable, and we’ll move students and the faculty over as it became really feasible to do so,” Bynum said.
The remaining building out of six planned as part of the campus’ first phase will be the permanent home for two other master’s programs in global health and medical physics. That building is estimated to be about two-and-a-half years away from completion, Bynum said.
When the campus and the landscaping are fully completed, Bynum expects the campus to be striking. She said the buildings will reflect aspects of Duke in Durham in the use of stone, and aspects of the regional landscape in China through the construction of an aquatic quad.
The city of Kunshan is in the Yangtze River Delta Region of China, according to information on the university’s website http://dku.edu.cn/en/kunshan-glimpse. It’s about 17 minutes by high-speed train from Shanghai, Bynum said, not counting the time it takes to get to the train station. About a quarter of the city is covered by lakes and rivers.
Duke got a commitment from Kunshan for the construction of the campus in a science park owned by the city. Bynum said the city’s ability to make that commitment, as well as the university’s shared vision with their academic partner, Wuhan University, was part of the choice of the location for the campus.
The partnership with Wuhan includes faculty members from the school who will be teaching at Duke Kunshan, Bynum said. The campus will also share senior leadership staff with Wuhan, she said. Duke’s role is to design and provide the curriculum, to select faculty and to provide guidance on policies to make the campus a world-class university.
In regard to academic freedom, Bynum said officials made their position “very clear” in their documentation for their licensing to China’s Ministry of Education. The ministry formally approved the establishment of the university last year. Bynum said it’s something they’re going to keep a “very close eye on.”
And generally, she said, the launch of the campus builds on what is a pretty long history in international programs. It’s also part of a recent strategy to send “Duke out into the world.”
“China’s going to be a very important place for us to look and to have partnerships,” she said, to keep the university competitive and to help with recruiting the best faculty and students.
About 65 students are starting in Duke Kunshan University Undergraduate Global Learning Semester, Bynum said. Most of them are from China, a number are international students, and seven are from Duke.
“We were quite pleased, actually, with the level of response,” Bynum said.
Bynum said those students are taking classes so they can transfer those credits back to their home institutions. Duke officials plan to use information from the semester program to design an undergraduate degree program in the future.
And in addition to the master’s in management studies program, Duke Kunshan University also offers master’s degrees in medical physics and global health. For more specifics on enrollment in those programs, Brinn said officials plan to release program enrollment numbers when classes begin.
For Safian, the trip to China in January will be his second. He said he traveled to the country on a three-week trip when he was 10 years old. He said he did not have the opportunity to study abroad in China as an undergraduate in Michigan. He’s looking forward to being a “guinea pig” for Duke administrators.
“In terms of the campus – I’ve been seeing pictures, seen renderings, and it looks great,” he said. “I know it’s still under construction. I’m confident in not only the university, but also the team that they have out there already in China. And I’m confident that everything will be completed in time, and if not, that they’re going to find a way to make it work for us no matter what.”
Brian Hare, a Duke University associate professor of evolutionary anthropology, is co-teaching cognitive evolution courses at Duke Kunshan University this semester. In an email, Hare said he sees the university in China as an “incredible opportunity for the entire Duke community” and he hopes it leads to international collaboration.
“I am so excited to get to participate in the first semester at Duke Kunshan University and play a small role in helping get things off the ground,” he said. “I am looking forward to introducing students in China to the cognitive and evolutionary sciences as well as learning from them.”