The University of Illinois will open an office in Shanghai in December, part of an overall strategy to promote more connections with China.
Alumni delegation visiting country next week
URBANA — The University of Illinois will open an office in Shanghai in December, part of an overall strategy to promote more connections with China.
The news comes as a delegation of UI alumni heads to China next week to build better relations with UI graduates there. The UI Alumni Association organized the trip to Beijing and Shanghai for 51 alumni ambassadors and friends, who will meet with alumni and visit companies and universities that have partnerships with the UI.
The News-Gazette reported a year ago that the UI was considering a permanent presence in China, building on its historic ties to that country.
The UI has one of the largest Chinese student populations in the United States, dating back to the early part of the 20th century, as well as 65 academic partnerships with Chinese institutions and more than 20,000 UI alumni now living in China. The campus wants to strengthen those bonds through expanded research partnerships, student exchanges and internships — and ultimately capitalize financially as part of an international fundraising effort.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise visited China last fall and met with the presidents of major universities, key government education officials and UI alumni holding high-level positions at U.S. corporations there, including Microsoft.
Pradeep Khanna, associate chancellor for corporate international relations, told The News-Gazette on Thursday that the UI's new Shanghai office will be part of the state of Illinois office there, which in turn is part of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce installation.
The university plans to hire one to three employees for the office, preferably UI alumni, he said.
The primary purpose is to connect with prospective students and UI alumni in China, assist with recruitment efforts, and strengthen corporate relations and interactions with academic institutions there, he said.
Engineering Professor K. Jimmy Hsia, UI associate vice chancellor for research for new initiatives, said the office will help establish a UI "foothold" in China.
"Having a person there would certainly be very helpful in reaching out to our alumni and establishing contacts with the Chinese educational institutions, as well as industry and maybe even Chinese government connections," Hsia said.
Eventually, the office could also work with UI students studying abroad there, he said.
An opening ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 9, hosted by Wise, and the hope is to have at least one employee hired by then, Khanna said. The chancellor had been invited to deliver a talk in Hong Kong at that time.
The budget for the new office hasn't been determined, but Khanna said it will be funded by the campus. The cost of the office space itself will be "modest," he said, less than $10,000 a year.
UI officials say the outreach makes sense given China's prominence on the world economic and political stage and could help prepare UI students for an increasingly global marketplace, open up new markets for Illinois farmers and businesses, and foster mutually beneficial research.
The number of Chinese undergraduates at the UI has grown dramatically in the last few years. A total of 4,512 students from China are studying at the Urbana campus this year — a 17 percent jump over last year — including 2,588 undergraduates, according to UI figures. They are the largest group from any one country by far, representing more than half of the 4,990 total international undergraduates.
This year's freshman class includes 679 students from China, up from 506 in fall 2012. Of the total 7,331 freshmen, 5,358 are Illinois residents, 815 are from other states and 1,158 are from other countries.
In 2011, the UI Alumni Association's board issued a resolution emphasizing the growing importance of international outreach to alumni, particularly China. The effort is intended to complement the larger university effort to expand educational and research partnerships, alumni officials said.
Alumni Association President and CEO Loren Taylor called next week's alumni summit in China a "historic occasion," the largest trip of UI alumni leaders to another country.
"Our alumni are throughout the world, but they're also part of the UI family," Taylor said in a release. "We hope this visit helps underscore our commitment to international outreach and builds awareness of the international stature of the university."
One of the association's board members, Bo Zhang, lives in China and has been instrumental in helping plan the trip, Taylor said.
The delegation includes alumni from all three UI campuses, as well a student, former faculty member, and staff.