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July-August 2005, Vol. 4 Issue 7
 
INTERVIEW WITH SHAWN CHEN, FOUNDER AND CEO OF SIAS INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY

As noted on the SIAS web site, Shawn Chen, Chinese-American founder and CEO of SIAS International University, is "an American success story in the area of international industrial manufacturing, including diversified investments in a conglomeration of hotels and restaurants in the Los Angeles region. . . Chenís objective is to use an academic environment to promote friendships, improve living standards, and raise the education levels for the people of China." Educational Pathways had an opportunity to talk with Chen. Not surprisingly, he was getting ready to go back to China when we interviewed him about the present and future of Chinese-foreign education cooperation.

EdPath: Do you see many other foreign business people or other U.S. institutions building colleges and universities in China?

Chen: There are a lot of new private schools being established, and not that many are foreign. U.S. higher education likes to export programs, and U.S. business people like to come to China, but none really address the higher education issues. The large companies, like Microsoft and IBM, have their own research and training schools, but they donít really support public higher education. But there are governments and big businesses worldwide that want to use an educated labor force from China, and they do want to provide resources and help establish universities in China. U.S. universities, however, donít seem to address this issue of helping to develop the Chinese labor force of the future, and I feel that is a shortsighted vision for the U.S.

EdPath: Do you think the reason for this shortsightedness is due to the lack of understanding of how China operates on both the governmental and business levels?

Chen: Some canít find the right partners. Before I started SIAS I was a businessman who started other ventures in China. I have commuted back and forth since the latter part of the 80s. I have seen China grow with my own eyes every year, and I have helped American businesses. I know how to deal with the politics. It has made a big difference. I have offered my help and said if you establish 100 universities like SIAS in China, it will not be enough.

EdPath: How would you characterize the Chinese governmentís rules and regulations concerning foreign partnerships?

Chen: China does publish a lot of policy to promote education, and law is law. But how you do business is totally business. The sense of law and legal issues among local officials is different. You have to deal with local ways of doing business, especially when you are doing construction.

EdPath: Why did you build an institution in a lesser-known suburban area of China instead of inside a major city like Beijing and Shanghai?

Chen: It is very expensive to build a new university in a big city. So, you go into a suburb, then a small town, then a local village. For us, we built it, and we are very big for a small town, and everybody loves what we did. You can tap into a massive Chinese population. The U.S. can tap into these smaller markets that have an excellent level of economic growth and standards.

EdPath: Whatís your recipe for success?

Chen: I always say that to operate an education entity in China you need an educator and an entrepreneurial person. You need someone who has the expertise on how to run higher education. I studied education all my life, and I also did a lot of business. You need those two spirits.

EdPath: How do you see the future of Chinese-foreign education relationships coming together?

Chen: The future is that the world is flat. There are global companies and global individuals. Anywhere you go, you will face risk, and you cannot be stopped by that. The U.S. can do tremendously because the U.S. has the strongest and most sophisticated education system in the world. If the U.S. does not utilize its strengths to tap into the international market, it will make a big mistake for its future. Compared to Australia, England and Germany, the U.S., proportionally, is doing much less.

EdPath: Are you seeing the flow of Chinese students going abroad to the U.S. changing?

Chen: Yes. Getting a visa to the U.S. has become difficult since 911. Plus, England, Australia and New Zealand, for instance, are very aggressive about recruiting Chinese students. The majority of students are going in a different direction than the U.S. for their visas. Even though in England the tuition is much higher, people still go there because of the opportunity.

EdPath: Currently the media says that the Chinese public higher education infrastructure is bursting at the seams, unable to keep up with its growth, experiencing a growing lack of resources and a lessening of quality education. What does that mean for the near future of higher education in China?

Chen: I agree with the mediaís view. China has gone through heavy educational expansion since 1998, which certainly caused quality problems. Because of public criticism, Chinaís educational ministry stopped expansion of more students this year, with the goal of adjusting higher education quality. This means less high school graduates will be admitted to Chinese colleges and universities. But it also means there is more of an opportunity for foreign institutions to attract and recruit Chinese students. It will take about five years for China to adjust its higher education quality to get back to the levels they were starting to achieve since 1998 until today. In the whole Henan province, which has a population of 100 million people, SIAS is the only big education provider partnering with an institution from the U.S. There are one or two others universities from the U.S., but the majority are from Australia, England, New Zealand and Singapore. The landscape is changing. That is why I want to help Chinese higher education, by bringing American educational know-how to China.

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