Opportunity or Opportunism on Winchester’s New Chinese Campus?

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University higher-ups have made much of Southampton’s newly built “outreach” campus in Iskandar, Malaysia, since its announcement in January.  With the recent news of a collaborative art and design venture between Winchester and the Chinese university Dalian Polytechnic, it seems that Southampton is wasting no time in hopping on board the emerging market gravy train.

While the Malaysian site has sparked its own controversies, the fact is that an influx of engineers will plug a recognised gap in the Malaysian economy.  However, the course at Dalian, which pushes graphic and fashion design as flagship specialisations, is a clear example of selfishness and short-sightedness on the part of the university.

Any graduate from any creative discipline will tell you how difficult it is to break into the job market in the creative industries in this country, where they are increasingly seen as superfluous in the face of spending cuts.  The programme is billed with “the same level of high quality teaching, excellent facilities and the opportunity to work with industry experts” as at Winchester.  Even so, how can it be fair on Chinese students to seduce them with words such as these, when in fact if they were ever to attempt to emigrate to the UK, their skills would be next to worthless?

The fact is that Winchester is at best a mid-range school for art and design subjects.  In China, having a UK or US institution’s name on your degree certificate tends to command instant recognition.  Any Chinese student wishing to immigrate to the UK and search for a job on completion of this degree will find this is no advantage here, and will run up against a wall they didn’t even imagine existed.

Doubtless that, in these dark economic times, with threats of crippling cuts to universities’ arts departments, the University is looking to boost its revenue by looking to the emerging Asian economies—whose students pay £11,000 a pop in uncapped, up-front international fees.  The tragedy is that outreach programmes such as this one will be attractive to the less wealthy Chinese students who cannot afford to wholly study abroad—students who may one day find their investment evaporating before their eyes.

With other Chinese links appearing around the university, such as the Confucius Institute, it is clear that any benefits are first and foremost intended for Southampton, as they look to help Southampton students and investors capitalise on the meteoric economic rise of China.

And in a month where Southampton lost its status as a top-100 world university, it will be interesting to see whether questionable overseas links such as this are truly beneficial to Southampton in the long term.

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