Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Raymond Alden
Ray Alden

Denise Schoenbachler
Denise Schoenbachler

Promod Vohra
Promod Vohra


Provost, two deans visit China
in search of new graduate students

July 16, 2007

by Joe King

Students from some of the top universities in China may soon travel to NIU to earn advanced degrees.

On a recent visit to the Far East, Provost Raymond Alden and deans Denise Schoenbachler and Promod Vohra met with peers in China to begin investigating the creation of graduate-level programs at NIU for Chinese business and engineering students.

The NIU delegation visited Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Nanjing University of Finance and Economics (in Nanjing) and Hohai University (in Chanzhou).

“These are some of the top universities in China, and all are very interested in providing their students with international exposure,” Alden said.

“NIU, with its proximity to Chicago, is a logical destination for those students because it puts them on the doorstep of one of the few truly international hotspots in the U.S.,” he added, referring to Chicago’s status as a global crossroads home to many multinational corporations.

“It’s a very attractive prospect for Chinese universities to partner with a school in this area, especially a university like NIU, which has a highly respected business school and an engineering school with a rapidly growing reputation.”

Universities across China are busy recruiting educational partners in America, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere. (English-speaking countries are a good fit as many college-level courses in China are taught in English.) The partnerships are just one aspect of a higher education system that is growing at an explosive pace.

“We visited Shanghai Jiao Tong University where they have built over 9 million square feet of new buildings since 2000. That’s the equivalent of building MIT in seven years,” Alden said, noting that such tremendous growth is hardly unique in China.

Many undergraduate students at those schools want to earn advanced degrees, but wish to do so more quickly than the typical three-year master’s programs offered at most Chinese universities.

Toward that end, Schoenbachler is investigating the creation of a “4+1” program that would allow students from China to enroll in a version of NIU’s existing professional MBA program and complete their advanced degree in one year. The college is working to have the program in place as early as January 2008, she said.

“It would be a very positive thing for us to have Chinese students enrolled in our programs. Not only would they gain valuable experience and knowledge, but it would be an opportunity for our students to be exposed to, and learn from, a different culture and different ways of doing business,” Schoenbachler said.

Similarly, the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology is exploring the creation of a program that would allow Chinese students to earn both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in five years with three-and-a-half years of study in China and one-and-a-half years of study at NIU. The possibility of creating a one-year engineering management degree program also is being explored.

Regardless of what shape the programs take, Vohra is excited to see them develop because globalization is one of his priorities for the college.

“We already have a program with students from South Korea and, in addition to speaking with Chinese universities, we are also in discussions with potential partners in India and Taiwan,” Vohra said.

Alden is working with both colleges to expedite the creation of the new programs, which he believes could open the door to others. Such programs not only enhance the academic environment but are also financially lucrative, he added.

“While we went to China specifically to discuss business and engineering programs, it quickly became clear that there are opportunities for partnerships in other areas,” Alden said. “If we can successfully create these programs, there is no reason that we can’t forge similar partnerships with universities in other countries.”

International partnerships also would increase opportunities for NIU students to study abroad and for NIU researchers to collaborate with colleagues around the globe.

The NIU delegation also included Simon Song, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Chang Liu, a member of the faculty in the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems. Both are natives of China.