The University Record, September 17, 2001

Engineering will offer higher ed degrees in China

By Neal Lao
College of Engineering

Graduate engineering students in China can now earn their master’s degree from the University of Michigan. For the first time in the history of any U.S. college, the College of Engineering now will offer higher education degrees in China.

Through distance learning courses, students at one of China’s top engineering schools, the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), can earn U-M’s Master of Engineering in Manufacturing (MEM) degree. This agreement, following its approval by the Michigan Council of Presidents, is the first such agreement to be approved by the Chinese Education Ministry.

“The University of Michigan is very proud to have been selected as the first U.S. university to issue degrees in China,” says Stephen W. Director, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. “We are confident that the College’s involvement will help to redefine the way China educates its next generation of engineers.” The dean was part of a delegation from the College of Engineering that signed the agreement during a recent visit to China.

While several foreign institutes of higher learning offer joint degree programs or exchange programs in China, a foreign institution has never before been approved to offer its own degree to students in China. “The Chinese Education Ministry is very strict and has long been reluctant to approve such an arrangement,” explains Jun Ni, professor of mechanical engineering, who has long served as a liaison between the College and SJTU. “In this case, where an American institution is helping to improve the Chinese system in a critical area of instruction, they recognized the tremendous potential value of the program.”

China currently graduates more engineers than any other country in the world, and more than twice as many as the United States. Keeping up with global innovations in engineering instruction is necessary for Chinese engineers to remain competitive on the world stage, and to continue contributing to the development of engineering advances. U-M hopes that this agreement is just the first phase of introducing its MEM program in China. The College is in talks with two other top Chinese engineering schools, Xi’an Jiao Tong University in Xi’an and Tsinghua University in Beijing, to start similar MEM degree programs.

To earn the MEM degree, students take advanced classes in engineering, manufacturing and business part time for approximately 2.5 years. SJTU will act as the “host university” for the program, providing use of its facilities and distance learning technology, but will not be a joint issuer of the MEM degree. The program is designed for students who have at least two years of full-time work experience in industry and an undergraduate engineering degree. The bulk of the 30–credit program is taught via distance learning from the U-M College of Engineering, and up to three courses (nine credits) can be taken from a list of courses offered by SJTU and approved by U-M. The first group of Chinese MEM candidates is scheduled to start classes in January 2002.

The MEM degree program is the capstone of several years of intense activity in China by the College of Engineering. In August 2000, the College entered into an agreement to help restructure SJTU’s School of Mechanical Engineering. Distinct from the MEM degree, this program offers joint undergraduate, master and doctoral degrees from U-M and SJTU. The first year of the undergraduate program was completed in spring 2001 with rave reviews from the Chinese participants. The second phase of the program, matriculation of the master degree candidates, will commence in fall 2001.