What UD’s change in its China Institute says about shifts in higher education

The University of Dayton is ending academic operations at its China Institute after investing more than $14 million over six years in the venture.

UD will cease classes at the institute at the end of the 2019 spring semester, though other training and programs may continue at the Suzhou Industrial Park facility that opened in 2012. Provost Paul Benson announced the move Monday, saying the university planned to shift focus as it is “exploring a range of options” for the 68,000-square-foot complex.

“The Institute has experienced challenges in attracting faculty to teach and a critical mass of UD students to attend the China Institute, especially for its semester-long programs,” Benson said in an email sent to campus. “In addition, partnerships with other institutions to send their students to the China Institute simply have not borne fruit and are less likely moving forward.”

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Institute staff currently focused on day-to-day operations will begin working more on international recruitment efforts and partnerships with Chinese universities, according to UD. Changes at the institute come as the university has launched UDayton Global, a new effort to attract international students.

“We aren’t turning away from international students, we are making a strategic decision about how we should focus our resources,” the university said in a prepared statement.

When announcing the institute in 2012, university leaders said they expected it to become financially self-sustaining over time and then-provost Joseph Saliba said he thought it would become a “revenue generating operation.” But, that prediction didn’t pan out, according to the university.

UD’s investments in its China Institute have fluctuated greatly since 2011, with the highest expenses reported during 2015 and 2016, the two most recent years for which form 990s are available.

In 2015, UD spent around $10.5 million on “program services” for an “international campus” described as being located in “East Asia and the Pacific,” according to a form 990. UD spent more than $2.2 million on the campus in 2016, according to a form 990.

Fuyao Glass America Inc. donated $7 million to UD in 2015 in support of the China Institute. A spokesperson for Fuyao did not respond to an email for comment on this story.

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Suzhou Industrial Park — around 75 miles from Shanghai — allowed UD to locate its institute there rent-free for three years. But, the university planned to pay the travel expenses and salaries for around 40 to 50 staff and faculty and also paid a monthly management fee, this news organization reported in 2012.

The need to focus resources on other programs, such as the UD-Sinclair Academy and Flyer Promise Scholars, was the reason Benson said UD would “shift attention away” from the China Institute.

When the institute was announced in 2012, it’s location at Suzhou Industrial Park was home to operations of more than a third of the world’s Fortune 500 companies. The institute’s location was at the time considered ideal in allowing students and staff to collaborate with businesses on research and developing technologies.

Former UD president Dan Curran, who led the school when the institute was established, said the decision to end academic programs there is a reflection of shifting priorities in higher education.

Curran said it was always difficult to convince faculty to spend a semester at the institute in China.

Curran also said he believed increased difficulties in recruiting international students likely played a role in the decision to cease academic operations at the institute. Following a national trend, UD’s international applications for the fall 2017 semester were down by about 40 percent, as of March 2017.

“Certainly I’m sad to see any project that had a lot of promise end,” Curran said. “But, there are a lot of choices to be made and it’s a different environment than it was then.”


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