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Duke faces setbacks in opening campus in China

Duke University’s project to build a campus in Kunshan, China, is facing more setbacks.

The campus was supposed to open in early 2014, but has been postponed until further construction is completed. Faculty have previously raised questions about the feasibility of the proposal.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke, said in an email that the setbacks are part of a few unavoidable difficulties in building a campus overseas.

UNC-CH and UNC-system leaders say they have no intention of exploring an offshore campus like Duke Kunshan University, preferring instead to focus on partnerships with established universities abroad.

Branch campuses are not cheap or easy tasks to accomplish, and many even shut down due to the pitfalls universities face while creating them, according to an opinion piece co-written by Ron Strauss, UNC-CH’s executive vice provost and chief international officer, published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Offshore campuses might offer a university more control and better course quality, but the opportunity cost is high when considering an international venture like Duke Kunshan University, he said.

“What must be forsaken on the home campus to establish a credible and viable branch campus abroad?” he said.

Partnerships are no less bold than building offshore campuses, he said.

Leslie Boney, vice president for international, community and economic engagement for the UNC system, said the system has not considered building campuses overseas.

He said the system’s focus has been bolstering universities’ study abroad and joint research programs.

Boney said the UNC system follows a different business model than Duke, a private institution.

“We want to enable students to have international experience and exposure, while being respectful of the fact that we get a lot of our support from public forces.”

But Boney said he still hopes Duke achieves success with Duke Kunshan University.

He said the campus would raise awareness about North Carolina in China, which would be good for the state’s higher education institutions and businesses.

Schoenfeld said Duke’s offshore campus represents a challenging task, but one that will enable growth for the university in international fundraising and cross-cultural communications.

He said the setbacks have given organizers time to improve the program.

“The additional time has also given us the opportunity to develop an even more robust set of academic and research programs that will make DKU attractive to students from China, Asia, the U.S. and elsewhere,” he said.

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