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Teachers College, Columbia University
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A School (and Maybe a Movement) Grows in Shanghai

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ON CAMPUS

Students of The Fudan International School in Shanghai.

ON CAMPUS

Students of The Fudan International School in Shanghai.

As China has risen to global economic prominence, many of its young people have earned their undergraduate and advanced degrees at universities in the United States, Europe and Japan. Now the Chinese government is taking the first steps toward making its own schools a magnet for the rest of the world.
Exhibit A is the Fudan International School (FIS), China’s first university-affiliated high school offering instruction entirely in English and using an American curriculum that includes advanced placement courses. The school, which opened its doors in 2006 under the auspices of the central government, was founded by Nina and Zhe Sun, graduates of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). Francisco Rivera-Batiz, Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College and holder of a joint appointment at SIPA, consulted on its development. Former TC staff and alumni are among the school’s employees.
 
China was a net exporter of students and still is,” says Rivera-Batiz, who points out that in the 2007–2008 academic year, there were more than 80,000 Chinese students enrolled in the United States. “China and India send the largest numbers of students overseas to get an education. But as with much of China, things are changing. China is becoming more active in recruiting international students. As a matter of fact, China now ranks fifth as a country of destination for Americans studying abroad. At the secondary school level, one way to enroll foreign students is to develop excellent international high schools, and this is what the Fudan International School is doing, attracting students from around the world.”
 
Located in Shanghai, a city of 18 million that draws people and companies from all over the world, the school is well situated to attract foreign students. The students, at least for now, are almost all the children of expatriates, mostly from Japan, South Korea, the United States and Canada. Eventually, however, the goal is to attract students who want the cultural experience of studying in China while attending an academically rigorous boarding school—and who might want to pursue a college education in the country. “We are definitely looking for students who are globally aware and forward-looking,” says the school’s director of admissions, Peter Shon, a TC alumnus who was the College’s associate director of admission for five years.
 
There are, of course, already schools for foreigners in China—such as the Shanghai American School, operating under the umbrella of the U.S. consulate—but FIS is the first under the Chinese government’s purview. The school is unique because its affiliation with Fudan University makes it essentially a public institution—albeit one that charges tuition and is open only to those students who are not Chinese nationals. It also offers room and board.
 
Fudan International School is full of paradoxes,” says Shon. “While the school is under the governance of Fudan University and the Shanghai Education Bureau, it is also accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Because we are under the public school umbrella, tuition and expenses are dictated by the party, but we are independent in terms of the content of the curriculum and management. It is a unique institution.”
 
FIS required more than three years in the making. When Zhe and Nina Sun returned to China after their years at SIPA, Zhe Sun became the deputy director of the American Studies Center at Fudan University. It was then that the couple decided to develop an American-style high school and approached Rivera-Batiz about helping them.
 
Rivera-Batiz provided advice on curriculum and instruction and introduced Nina Sun to some New York City public school principals, including Jose Maldonado-Rivera, a TC alumnus who heads the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering.
 
Rivera-Batiz also helped disseminate information about the school among teachers and administrators, which eventually resulted in the hiring of TC alumni such as Shon and Roohi Iqbal, who is now an FIS English teacher.
 
FIS opened with four students, but by its second year the number had increased to 60. In fall, 2008, enrollment doubled and a middle school was added.
 
As it turns out, FIS won’t be one-of-a-kind for much longer. Tsinghua University in Beijing will open a similar public, university-affiliated school in the fall. Rivera-Batiz believes that the country is primed to establish a network of FIS-like international schools within the next decade.
 
“It’s part of China opening up to the rest of the world,” Rivera-Batiz said. “The Chinese joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and as part of that process they have been involved in opening up the higher education sector to the rest of the world. So you will see more and more universities affiliating with these high schools and more and more foreign students going to study at these schools.”
 
That China is making an investment in international schools is remarkable, Rivera-Batiz says, because historically the country has spent modestly even on its own educational system. Rivera-Batiz, who is co-authoring a book on international trade in higher education in China with TC alumna Liwen Zhang, says it was only in the 1990s that spending on education—particularly at the upper secondary and tertiary education levels—began to increase, driven mostly by a desire to foster economic development.
 
The country’s increased efforts to educate foreign students appear to signal an even greater willingness to open itself up to the rest of the world. In the short term, that investment provides the potential for China to compete with other nations to attract foreign students’ tuition. In the long term, the hope is that foreign students educated in China, especially the children of American-born Chinese, might decide to stay and play a role in driving economic growth.
 
“I expect that many other universities in China will seek to develop this type of school once they see the success of Fudan,” says Rivera-Batiz. “The Fudan School and the school at Tsinghua will be successful because they offer cutting-edge college-prep programs with a strong international, cross-cultural component. The quality is very high in terms of what you find not only in other developing countries but also in the United States or Europe. It’s an indication of what China is prepared to do to draw talent from around the world.”
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