Learning and commenting about Duke-Kunshan University

Posted on: February 24, 2015, by :

I have been a loyal student of Harvard University’s highly successful massive open online course (MOOC) on the history of China, ChinaX for the last 14 months. I have successfully completed 9 out of the 10 mini-courses and am now more than half way through the last mini-course.

In week 46 of ChinaX, we were introduced to the remarkable success of Kunshan, a formal agricultural region between Shanghai and Nanjing. We learned that present day Kunshan has a per capita income of over US$19,000 and if we exclude the internal migrants’ income, the per capita income of the population with household resident right (hu kou) is US$52,000. The local government, in the era of the late 1970s (after Mao’s passing) took an unilateral decision to develop the economy of this agricultural region and this gamble (which did not receive any endorsement from the central government) paid off.

This particular module focussed on education, in particular how Kunshan’s local government made the decision to work with one of the elite universities from the USA, Duke University which roped in Wuhan University to form the Duke-Kunshan University. It showed the farsighted leadership of Kunshan in investing in human capital development and innovation as the twin pillars for their residents to stay competitive amidst greater & greater competition from other Chinese cities & regions. But the key phrase IMHO is ” Location, location & location “. No other cities have the great location of Kunshan for being nested between China’s two great cities of Shanghai & Nanjing and having two high speed rail systems having stops at Kunshan!

We were asked the following question as a part of the discussion/ assessment for our course:

What are some challenges Duke University and Kunshan face moving forward? What advice would you give Chancellor Liu and Vice-chancellor Bullock?

I am honoured that my answer was one of the few (among thousands of MOOC learners) picked up for discussion in the weekly “Office Hour” where either Professor Bill Kirby or Professor Peter Bol will review last week’s module, further the discussion and answer questions post by the learners. This is the second time that my contributions get picked up and I am really thrilled to share this with you. I am impressed with Duku Kunshan University’s Vice Provost, Dr. Nora Bynum for her “deciphering” of my online moniker of “everboleh”!

The following is my answer to the question above which ‘earned” me a mention by Professor Kirby. My moniker as an MOOC learner is “everboleh”. The segment of Office Hour Week 46 which touched on my contribution is between 11:30 to 13:00 minutes of this video.



I think Kunshan will have to figure out why it did not involve the Taiwanese whose support was the cornerstone for its eventual success. Both Duke, Kunshan and Wuhan will need to ensure that there are significant landmark successes that DKU can score. Nothing of the prior successes that each of these three partners can guarantee the success of DKU. Being the two largest economies in the world China and the US need not only to engage with each other but the rest of the world, especially India. The challenge for DKU is to fulfill its mission to create human capital not only for Kunshan but which can bring in the kind of human interactions with the rest of the world.

For Duke, the challenge as related by Kunshan Party Secretary, Guan Aigo that the city needs more than just DKU to be successful. How Duke can secure the biggest part of this interaction before other big universities from the US and UK make a move on Kunshan is a relationship game that it must succeed in to ensure Duke’s investment in time and effort (and reputational risks) will pay off.

The departmental-less approach of DKU is new even to Duke, how the cross disciplinary approach in the face of fierce guarding of their respective turf by academics (which is a tradition that cut across all culture and national boundaries) is something Professors Liu and Bullock have to iron out fully. However as a practitioner in education management, I think the idea of a Masters in Management Science that cater to the needs of liberal arts and humanity graduates to take on business administration is a concept that may take hold in not only China but other regions. It is a concept that I will surely adopt for the new university that I am currently helping to establish in Malaysia. I shall watch the progress of DKU with great interest and hoping to learn and emulate its success.

(Source of feature photograph:  http://dku.edu.cn/sites/all/themes/kunshan/images/overview.jpg )

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