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ASU-Sichuan University partnership designing future of higher education


August 06, 2008
ASU’s partnership with China’s Sichuan University continues to expand. The most recent manifestation was a visit, Aug. 4 through 6, by Jian Shi, Sichuan University’s vice president for global engagement, and Shijing Yan, the director of Sichuan’s Office of International Affairs. Unfortunately, bad weather grounded Shi in Chicago. Yan made it to Arizona for a series of meetings at ASU, which Shi joined by teleconference.

The relationship between the two universities grew out of a series of visits in 2005 and 2006. ASU President Michael Crow twice led delegations of U.S university presidents and administrators to China to meet with counterparts who shared an interest in exploring ways that universities could increase their capacity to have a positive impact on society. In return, Heping Xie, president of Sichuan University, led a delegation of Chinese administrators to ASU in 2006. During that trip the ASU-SCU partnership agreement was signed.

One notable result was the formation of the University Design Institute (UDI), administered jointly by ASU and Sichuan University as a think-tank and “do-tank.” It’s mission is to develop and implement innovative strategies to make higher education – and public universities in particular – more effective in addressing society’s most complex and perplexing problems by designing organizational and educational models that can be applied worldwide.

“When we talk about ‘design,’ we’re really talking about innovative ways to think about things,” said Kathryn Mohrman, director of UDI. “The fundamental question is ‘How can we be more effective?’ We answer that by bringing people together in multidisciplinary combinations that foster more creative and innovative results.”

One of the purposes of Shi and Yan’s visit to ASU was to discuss plans for an international forum on university design, building on the previous meetings in China. The event, tentatively scheduled for December in Washington, D.C., will engage a broad set of academic leaders and policymakers from China, the United States, and other countries.

“Our goal is to generate the same kind of excitement this initiative has brought to ASU and Sichuan University among a larger group of people, people who haven’t been involved in previous conversations,” Mohrman said. “We want to inspire and engage others to join this discussion.”

During their visit, Shi and Yan also had conversations with representatives of ASU’s Policy and Strategic Partnerships Office, the Center for Global Education Services, the American English Cultural Program and the College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation.