Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.5

November 6, 2003


Concordia builds ties with Chinese university

by Frank Kuin

Photo of Dr. Ke Qin Zhang

Dr. Ke Qin Zhang of Yunnan University and Concordia's Balbir Sahni
Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

Concordia has been host to Dr. Ke Qin Zhang, vice-president of Yunnan University in Southwestern China, for the past two weeks as part of a unique exchange program in which university administrators from China and Canada are teamed up.

Zhang has met with senior administrators at Concordia to learn about the university’s academic organization. He has also sat down with the deans of all faculties to identify potential areas of research collaboration between the two institutions.

His counterpart at Concordia, Provost Jack Lightstone, is about to travel to China for a reciprocal visit to Yunnan and an opportunity to “learn more about the context in which Yunnan University operates.”

Along with colleagues from seven other Canadian universities, Lightstone was matched up with a vice-president from one of eight up-and-coming universities in China. The program was initiated by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) and the Chinese Ministry of Higher Education.

“In a sense, twinning with Dr. Zhang of Yunnan University is a blind date,” Lightstone said, noting that the organizers of the mentoring program matched up the participants from both countries.

Concordia was paired with Yunnan University because both institutions are compatible. Like Concordia, Yunnan is a comprehensive university with strengths in areas such as engineering and science. With about 30,000 students, it is similar in size.

Though Canada has had exchanges with a number of high-profile institutions in China for more than 25 years, the mentoring program offers an opportunity to establish contacts with universities that are somewhat more “off the beaten track for western universities,” Lightstone said.

“The program that brought Dr. Zhang here and that will bring me to China is meant for a broader spectrum of universities, particularly those in regions more distant from Beijing, to be able to have contact with their counterparts out here and vice versa,” he said.

Zhang welcomed the chance to familiarize himself with Concordia. “It is a very useful opportunity for me to understand in detail how the university is organized,” he said. “I will bring these experiences back, and it will help us improve the way we organize our university.”

In addition, contacts between the two institutions will encourage Yunnan to “open the doors and send some students to other countries to learn,” he said. “This international exchange program is very important for us.”

In terms of academic collaboration, Zhang singled out microbiology as a potential area of joint research. As it happens, both universities have strengths in plant genomics. Zhang, a microbiologist by training, toured the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex last week.

For Concordia, the importance of China as an exchange partner is illustrated by the fact that of all international students here, more than one-fifth are Chinese. Currently, 683 Chinese students are enrolled at Concordia, of a total of 3,200 international students.

“Over the years, Concordia has become very well exposed to the Chinese community,” said Balbir Sahni, director of the university’s Centre for International Academic Cooperation. “Relations between Concordia and Chinese universities have really matured.”

For instance, a delegation of film animators is visiting with the Faculty of Fine Arts, and recently an official from the Chinese embassy came to the university, Sahni said. Such close contacts with China are important because of China’s emerging profile as a leading international power, added Lightstone.

“Given that China is going to be increasingly a giant in many spheres in the world, having more intensive relations with China is of strategic importance to Canada and to Quebec.”

Lightstone said he’s anxious to go to Yunnan next week, on his first visit to China. Drawing on his background in cultural anthropology, he observed that exchanges with China have an added attraction compared to those with universities in Europe and the Americas: “one learns most from exchanges with those who are more distant culturally from oneself.”

About Yunnan University

Yunnan University, Concordia’s newest Chinese partner, was one of the first comprehensive universities in southwest China. Established in 1923, it has developed areas of strength that are strikingly similar to those of Concordia.

Though classified in 10 ‘schools’ rather than four faculties, Yunnan’s list of programs includes fields such as accounting, economics, history, journalism, political science, chemistry, biology, computer science and design art.

Unlike Concordia, Yunnan University also has embryonic schools of law and medicine.

Yunnan University has about 30,000 students and 1,100 research and teaching staff, including about 200 full-time professors and 395 associate professors.

In 1997, Yunnan was identified as one of the top 100 universities in China, slated for fast-track development and international exchange by the Chinese government. It is the leading university in Yunnan province.

Yunnan joins about a dozen other institutions in China that have agreements of academic cooperation with Concordia, most of them in Beijing, Hong Kong and China’s southeast.