How U.S. Colleges Are Keeping China's Lucrative Students
Bloomberg Businessweek|November 09, 2020
With travel thwarted, students enroll at partner campuses in Shanghai and other cities
Bruce Einhorn and Allen Wan

Neveah Sun was looking forward to studying at New York University this fall, majoring in psychology and journalism while experiencing life in the middle of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. Instead, the 19-year-old from the Chinese city of Suzhou spends her days at a WeWork office in Shanghai that NYU has converted into classrooms for a new program catering to students who can’t get U.S. visas because of Covid-19. “At first I thought it was a little weird, but I’m getting accustomed to it,” she says. “Also, we have a fantastic view.”

NYU can accommodate students in Shanghai thanks to a joint venture it formed there in 2012 with East China Normal University. A separate degree-granting institution with its own admissions procedures, administrators, and almost 2,000 students, NYU Shanghai shares some faculty members with the New York school and sends many of its undergraduates to study there as exchange students. Now, NYU Shanghai is temporarily home to more than 2,800 additional students, most of them Chinese enrolled at the New York campus but unable to travel.

Other parts of Asia have seen foreign universities set up campuses with local schools, commercial companies, or investors in search of profit. But that business model doesn’t work well in China, where the government is more protectionist, says Michael Bartlett, a partner at Singapore-based Alumno, an international education consultant. Instead, he says, many Western schools benefit from having Chinese affiliates, which can help them gain better scores in global rankings and greater opportunities for professors and students. “For some, it’s about the reputation, having a name, and being able to punch above their weight in a key market,” Bartlett says.

By hosting students like Sun who can’t go abroad, those partnerships are helping foreign schools hold on to a good chunk of revenue: Chinese students typically pay full tuition, because they don’t usually qualify for financial aid. And students being hosted by affiliated schools in China don’t have to attend Zoom classes in the middle of the night because their professors are in a time zone half a world away. In China, where the virus is largely contained, schools are having in-person classes. “My friends at other universities are a bit envious,” says NYU Shanghai Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman. “Their students who are blocked from entering are taking all of their classes remotely, while our students are able to avoid that and feel a sense of community.”

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