The Newsletter 77 Summer 2017

Sino-foreign joint venture universities: an introduction

Mike Gow

Collaboration in higher education between Chinese and foreign universities has been going on for over 30 years. The earliest collaboration, the Hopkins Nanjing Center, was established in 1986 and is still in operation today, offering postgraduate programs to both Chinese and non-Chinese graduate students. However, it wasn’t until 1995 that the PRC State Education Commission developed provisional regulations to encourage Sino-Foreign collaboration in higher education. Between 1995 and 2003, 24 joint education institutes (JEI) were established, offering multiple degrees developed in collaboration with foreign universities, only two of which have since ceased operations. These JEIs are effectively colleges of existing Chinese universities. In addition to these JEIs, single degree joint education programs (JEPs) were also permitted by the 1995 provisional regulations, with 438 being established between 1995 and 2003. In 2003, the Ministry of Education updated these regulations with a number of significant changes. Between 2003 and 2015, a further 33 JEIs and 638 JEPs were established. However, the 2003 Regulations allowed for the establishment of a new breed of Sino-Foreign HE collaboration: the joint venture university (JV).

The JV differs from previous collaborations as it involves not partner universities, but parent universities who establish a brand new university with legal person status under Chinese law. It’s worth stating here that, in the PRC, there is no such thing as a branch campus: collaborations involving foreign partners are either established within existing Chinese universities, or in the case of JVs, establish a new Chinese university. Unlike the majority of conventional joint ventures, JV universities are a form of cooperative JV where the foreign parent university’s contribution is measured in their intellectual property input, with financial investment being provided from the Chinese parent and, more often, the local government in the municipality or province where it is established. Currently there are 7 JV universities in operation:


Joint Venture


Chinese Parent

Foreign Parent


Licence (Expiry)

University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC)


Ningbo, Zhejiang


Zhejiang Wanli University


University of Nottingham (UK)



United International College (UIC)


Zhuhai, Guangdong


Beijing Normal University


Hong Kong Baptist University (HK)



Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU)


Suzhou, Jiangsu


Xi’an Jiaotong University


University of Liverpool (UK)



NYU Shanghai




East China Normal Uni.


New York University (USA)



Duke Kunshan University (DKU)


Kunshan, Jiangsu


Wuhan University


Duke University (USA)





Shenzhen, Guangdong


Shenzhen University


Chinese University of Hong Kong (HK)



Wenzhou Kean University (WKU)


Wenzhou, Zhejiang


Wenzhou University


Kean University (USA)



* Several universities were given conditional terms to recruit students prior to finalizing the JV licence. In each case, the first intake occurred in the year prior to the licence being granted.

While the regulations under which these universities have been established are the same, there are great differences between these universities due in large part to the educational philosophy and vision of the leadership involved in their establishment. Another major factor affecting establishment and ongoing operations relates to the Chinese parent university and the location in which the JV is established. For example, NYU Shanghai’s Chinese parent is East China Normal University (ECNU), which is itself located in Shanghai. ECNU is a key national university under the jurisdiction on the Ministry of Education. All JVs, however, report to the provincial education bureau or municipal education commission in which they are established, even if their parent university is a national university reporting to the Ministry of Education. This is perhaps less of an issue for NYU Shanghai who are in the same municipality as ECNU, their Chinese parent university, and who necessarily have strong existing relationships with the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and other government bodies in Shanghai. However, compare this with XJTLU or DKU, who are both located in Jiangsu Province but whose parent universities are from Xi’an (Shaanxi) and Wuhan (Hubei) respectively, and there is an added complication in establishing relationships with the provincial education authorities; pricing bureaus who set the tuition fees, and other government bodies involved in the establishment and smooth operation of a Chinese university.

Sino-Foreign JVs are fascinating examples of transnational higher education, and also of the experimental boldness of China’s higher education reforms. They have been permitted in order for China’s reformers to examine new and different approaches that may be adopted to address challenges in China’s vast and complex domestic higher education sector, especially with regard to China’s desire to internationalize their own universities and attract both foreign academics and students.

Mike Gow is Teaching Fellow in Humanities and Social Sciences at Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (