Chancellor Block plants seeds, nurtures strong ties in Asia
"There's an ancient Chinese proverb that says, 'If you are planning for 10 years, plant trees; if you are planning for 100 years, educate people.' "
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block made those comments Dec. 11 at the sixth Confucius Institute Conference in Beijing, where he represented North American universities at the prestigious event highlighting the institute's efforts to promote Chinese language and culture around the world.
At the ceremony, which was attended by more than 1,600 people, the chancellor also presented Chinese officials with a "friendship tree" — a California redwood sapling — symbolizing his hopes for strong and steady growth in cooperation and friendship over the next 10 years and beyond, he explained.
If the proverb had a third line, Block told the audience, it might be, "If you're planning for posterity, build friendships."
Block was in Beijing midway through a two-week trip to Asia with stops in China, Hong Kong and Japan, where he is planting seeds and sharing the UCLA story with government officials, representatives from influential universities, donors and alumni. The visit is part of UCLA's efforts to expand its relationship with Asia and to further develop mutually beneficial partnerships and promote scientific and academic exchanges and collaborations.
Among those attending the Confucius Institute Conference were senior Chinese government leaders Li Changqun and Liu Yandong, along with presidents of American colleges, directors of Confucius Institutes from more than 350 universities in 105 countries, international diplomats and more than 160 Chinese university presidents.
Accepting the "friendship tree" from Block was Xu Lin, director of Hanban Beijing, a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education that provides support and resources for Confucius Institutes throughout the world to encourage the teaching and learning of Chinese language and heritage.
"The gift of a redwood sapling was very meaningful," said Susan Pertel Jain, director of the UCLA Confucius Institute, who attended the conference. "Not only did it represent the future possibilities, but also our roots to the past. Some of our California trees existed during the time of Confucius; that was a pretty powerful image for that audience."
At the event, Hanban honored the UCLA Confucius Institute as one of a small number of Confucius Institutes of the Year. Jain said the honor was particularly significant in light of the chancellor's invitation to speak at the event and because of the attention UCLA has already received.
Under Block's leadership, UCLA has developed a number of collaborations in China, in areas ranging from basic science, engineering and medicine to social sciences, film and television. UCLA's partners include the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing University, Zhejiang University, Fudan University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
The UCLA–Peking University Joint Institute for Science and Engineering, an initiative launched in 2008 that involves more than 100 faculty, staff and students from the two institutions, is one such collaboration. UCLA also has a joint institute with Zhejiang University to promote collaborations in research and education, as well as innovative programs with Zhejiang in medical education and training that benefit medical students and clinical faculty. In addition, UCLA has provided medical diagnostic services to Chinese citizens through telecommunications set up between UCLA and Zhejiang.
Randal Johnson, UCLA's interim vice provost for international studies, said that strong partnerships abroad encourage international students to choose UCLA, attract the best and brightest faculty and staff, allow the university to expand its research capacity, and help draw increased funding from private and public sources.
"UCLA's partnerships around the world enhance the university's core principles of academic excellence by developing collaborative research relationships and expanding possibilities for student mobility," Johnson said. "Trips such as this one strengthen those relationships, while maintaining close ties to our alumni around the world. UCLA is a global university, and such carefully planned travel enhances its global network and reach."
"It's the chancellor's regular trips abroad that have distinguished UCLA amongst all of its peers," said John Peralta, executive director of development for the UCLA International Institute. "There's no other school in California that has done as much as far as the chancellor being out there and fostering these connections with the world. He's just a lot more present on the global stage. His trips aren't big and splashy but are regular and constant. People know him, they're comfortable with him and they respect him."
These activities may be one reason students from the Asia are increasingly choosing UCLA. The 2011 Open Doors report, published by the Institute of International Education, the leading not-for-profit educational and cultural exchange organization in the U.S., ranked UCLA third among the nation's public universities, and sixth overall, when it comes to enrolling international students. During the 2010–11 academic year, 6,249 foreign students chose UCLA as their destination, an 11 percent jump over 2009–10, when 5,685 were enrolled, and more than double the national average increase of 5 percent for the same period.
The past decade has seen a 32 percent increase in international students studying in the U.S., with China and South Korea currently among the top three countries of origin. China, the top country of origin, represents nearly 22 percent of all international students coming to the United States, with Korea representing 10 percent. International students are responsible for injecting more than $21 billion each year into the U.S. economy. The Open Doors report also found that the biggest recent jump was in students from China, which reported a 23 percent increase between 2009–10 and 2010–11.
UCLA is California's largest university, with an enrollment of nearly 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university's 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and five faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.