A delegation of 19 high-ranking officials from universities in China came to UCLA this week to learn how to build and run a top university from a wide range of administrators, faculty and students. Bruins shared their expertise on everything from managing residence halls to fundraising and recruiting diverse faculty.
This week, UCLA has been conducting an intensive, customized “class” crammed with information and perspectives from faculty, students and administrators on a subject they know a lot about: how to build a world-class university.
To groom top administrators for China's fast-evolving higher-education system, the Chinese government sent 19 high-ranking officials from universities in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai and other locations for back-to-back, weeklong training sessions at UCLA and UC Berkeley.
All this week, a wide range of UCLA senior leaders and other Bruins, such as student-athlete Anna Li, have been making themselves available for detailed informational sessions on practically every aspect of building and running a world-class campus, from sustainable management of facilities and residence halls to recruiting a diverse faculty and getting innovations from the research lab to market.
"I was just blown away by how willing and gracious everyone was at UCLA to open their doors and put together an amazing program, and by how excited people are about talking about China," said Susan Jain, executive director of the UCLA Confucius Institute and organizer of the unique training program. Sessions were conducted in English, with the help of an interpreter, Diane Yu Gu, a UCLA doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.
The packed agenda for Nov. 29–Dec. 3 represents the first comprehensive training program for international administrators at UCLA, an idea that surfaced last May when Chancellor Gene Block participated in the Chinese-Foreign University Presidents Forum in Nanjing, China.
At a welcome session for the delegation on Monday, Block pointed out that UCLA's ties with China have grown especially strong in recent years, with many more Chinese students enrolling here and remarkable numbers of Bruin alumni settling in China, along with new models for collaboration and student exchange such as the Joint Research Institute based at UCLA and Peking University.
Student life will be the theme for a Friday session, but already the visitors were making observations about Bruins, based partly on presentations by Vice Provosts Randal Johnson and Judith Smith on international and undergraduate education.
UCLA AIDS Institute Director Irvin S.Y. Chen gives the delegation a tour of labs and facilities. The visitors met athletes, researchers and senior leaders in tech transfer, media relations and many other areas.
"The team was very impressed by the diversity at UCLA and the training for students to become more international and more open-minded," said Ma Qinrong, University Council Chair of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.
"I've realized that UCLA achieves a better balance than some universities between teaching and research," added Chongqing University Vice President Zhang Zongyi.
On Thursday, the visitors will ask Li, team leader of the 2010 NCAA champion UCLA women’s gymnastics team, about the life of a student-athlete. Although scholars and athletes have traditionally followed separate tracks in China, educators there are interested in new approaches. Li's case is special because both of her gymnast parents won Olympic medals for China in Pauley Pavilion at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.
Aware that a delegation runs on its stomach, Jain kept the visitors moving around to taste various dining hall offerings from Ackerman Union to Covel Commons and arranged off-campus outings to the San Gabriel Valley, Old Chinatown and elsewhere.
As China beefs up its higher education system, it is also undertaking a major revision of the entire K-16 curriculum and experimenting with problem-based learning approaches that were pioneered in the West. UCLA's Confucius Institute and the graduate education school are fielding requests to get more involved in training language teachers and even high school principals for China, Jain said.
"Zhejiang University has adopted our UCLA medical school curriculum. They've been sending doctors back and forth (to Los Angeles) to look at this innovative way of teaching," said Jain.
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, the visitors learned about multidisciplinary research in the biomedical sciences from Associate Vice Provost of International Studies Ren Sun, who integrates biology and nanotechnology in his own laboratory. UCLA AIDS Institute Director Irvin S. Y. Chen provided a briefing on AIDS-related research and a tour of its labs in the Biomedical Sciences Research Building, where a floor plan connecting labs in varied disciplines also facilitates collaboration.
Jain noted that the California NanoSystems Institute, visited by the group on Tuesday, and "a lot of our buildings are now set up so that there can be this interdisciplinary interaction. [The visitors] found this very interesting and innovative."
Chancellor Gene Block with visitors from China
Just back from an eight-day trip to Beijing and metropolitan Shanghai, Michael Swords of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research talked to the group on Tuesday about UCLA's work with CleanTech Los Angeles, a citywide consortium on green technologies. Swords said that CleanTech could become the vehicle for an alliance between Los Angeles and Beijing, which hosts a similar academic-industry consortium on common problems such as climate change, water scarcity and air pollution.
"I'm hoping that this is just the start of a much longer conversation between UCLA and these universities on how we can collaborate on solving some of these global problems," Swords said.
Following presentations on university governance and research by UCLA Academic Senate Chair Ann R. Karagozian and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh, the Chinese visitors on Monday discussed faculty recruitment and retention with UCLA deans of humanities and engineering. Christine Littleton, the new vice provost for faculty diversity and development, said she responded to the delegation's concerns about how to balance excellence and diversity in faculty hiring.
"The latest research indicates that, in fact, excellence and diversity go hand in hand. There is no trade-off. In fact, there is only mutual benefit," Littleton said. Noting that only two of the 19 visiting officials are women, Littleton suggested that Chinese universities look closely at this issue.
Asked what U.S. administrators might learn from the foreign visitors, Chongqing University's Zhang replied that China probably does a better job of limiting educational bureaucracy.
"My college is building a new campus, and the entire process, from construction to curriculum development to faculty hiring, took only 10 months," he said.
The delegation's trip and training program, supported by the Chinese Ministry of Education, also included one afternoon each at USC and the Getty Institute, where the group learned about techniques for preserving cultural artifacts.
Initial feedback on the UCLA training program from the ministry and the participants has been enthusiastic.
"With leadership from all perspectives of UCLA actively participating in the training program, it's going to have a very significant impact in China," said Sun, who’s also a UCLA professor of molecular and medical pharmacology.