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In late April, China approved Soochow University’s (SCU) plan to enrol its first students at the university’s Laotian campus next year. The establishment of SCU’s campus in Laos marks a significant first step for both China and Laos. For China, it is the first attempt to export its higher education services beyond its national borders. For Laos, it is the first approval granted to a foreign higher education institution to operate independently in Laotian territory.
According to various sources in China, SCU’s plan to establish a campus in Laos began in 2007 and has evolved over several years with a series of cooperative activities. These have included the provision of financial aid to Laotian students, assistance to the National University of Laos for establishing new study programmes and the 2010 conferment of honorary doctorate degrees to the president and prime minister of Laos. In 2010, Laos granted the approval for SCU to establish a campus in the Laotian capital Vientiane. The Laotian branch of SCU will offer undergraduate and postgraduate programmes to 5 000 students in 12 disciplines covering Chinese language, engineering, economics and trade, which are developed with a view to supporting the development of Chinese enterprises in Laos.
The estimated amount that SCU will invest in its first overseas venture is USD 25 million (EUR 17.5 million). It is a joint venture between SCU and a Suzhou-based enterprise, with SCU offering the academic programmes and the enterprise providing the funding. Jiangsu province, where SCU is located, is reported to have a full-fledged five-year plan for internationalisation in the period 2011-2015. Apart from SCU, three other Chinese universities are reportedly exploring the possibility of setting up overseas campuses by replicating SCU’s university-enterprise cooperation model.