Can Joint Programs Still be a Driving Engine for Student Recruiting in China?

Published October 2020

After CHE’s two webinar sessions on the topic of Joint Programs in Sept, we realized a mist still shrouds the space of Transnational Education (TNE). Hence, we decided to run a special edition to consolidate what major concerns have been observed and share our knowledge and understanding with our readers. A special thanks to Mike Yu, guest speaker of the webinar, former Director of International of BOSSA, for his continuous insights and contribution to this topic.

Difference between Credit Transfer and Joint Program

The following table provides a simple illustration of differences between the two.

 Joint Program Credit Transfer (Articulation)
RecruitmentStudents are recruited through the nation-wide university entry system Gaokao. In the event that a foreign degree is issued, students will enrol with the foreign institution or both institutions. Students are recruited from the partner university’s existing cohort. Students are only enrolled with the Chinese institution until they physically transfer to the overseas campus
Outcomes at the point of Graduation All students follow the same designated course structure, and receive the same degree(s), either from the foreign or Chinese institution, or both.The students are split to two groups: a subset of enrolled students will study abroad and/or obtain foreign degrees; the rest will remain in China, only a set quota of students receiving Chinese degrees.
Foreign Teaching & Curriculum ContributionsBoth teaching and curriculum contributions are required from the foreign institution, guided by the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s Four “One-Third Rules”, specifying the teaching and curriculum requirements. A simple course mapping, with no specific contribution is required.
Regulatory and Quality MonitoringBoth institutions have obligations to supervise the quality of the program. MOE also conducts routine program renewal as a regulatory body. The program's operation or termination status is displayed to the general public through MOE’s website.Neither foreign institution nor MOE are involved in quality control.

Let’s face the fundamentals: Although Credit Transfer Programs appear to have shorter establishment timeframes, simpler administrative hurdles, and little to no teaching and curriculum commitment, it’s important to remember that Credit Transfer is not a priority for Chinese institutions and offers no exclusivity. To produce a decent outcome out of Credit Transfer will require consistent engagement with Chinese institutions to maintain this frail structure.

Yes, Joint Programs take longer time to set up and require curriculum contribution and teaching commitment; but they also bring a healthier start: as part of the Chinese Gaokao (national university entry exam) system, they provide a much better ground for obtaining a higher quality of students as well as a better chance to achieve a desired quantity. The Chinese institution can only work with the foreign institution whom they have signed the agreement with; such an anchored relationship is reflected in the program title under MOE’s approval. The Joint Program will become part of the KPIs of the senior managers of the Chinese institutions, which leads to greater interests and obligation from the Chinese partner to maximize every chance of the program’s success.

Have We Passed the Golden Era of Joint Programs?

Some believe institutions today have missed the best time for establishing joint programs, that the programs established 10 or even 20 years ago have absorbed the entire demand. Some of the noticeably successful joint programs and joint institutes were indeed established in the early days, and the news of the write-off of 200+ joint programs seems to have caught more attention than these programs quietly establishing on their own. It’s easy to praise the early successors and forgot about the risks they took, and forget the many who failed. The early operating environment was very much a “wild west”, neither parties had much knowledge or experience; there was no system, no clear legal ground. Each year MOE approves 2 batches of joint programs / joint institutes (each time approving around 30 joint programs), which is only approx. 1/3rd of the total number of applications. There is certainly some saturation in the market. While we may not be in a “Golden Era”, there are still untapped gold deposits, in niche disciplines, in particular regions, with newly merged institutions. Even some of the early entrants are still continuing to expand their footprints. The University of Technology Sydney (UTS), after the establishment of its success of SHU-UTS SILC Business School in Shanghai in 1994, established its second joint institute this year offering three undergraduate courses (computer science, statistics, and telecommunications). The University of Ulster’s joint program with the North-Eastern University of Finance and Economics has also expanded its recruiting scale from 25 to 120 students in 2020.

What Are the Most Suitable Disciplines for TNE Programs?

Based on China’s national development plan and talent gaps, MOE prioritizes disciplines in STEM, Agriculture and Medicine, as well as interdisciplinary subjects. However, if you are using this to determine your discipline, it only covers half of the story. The other aspect that must be considered is the market demand. In recent years, there have been clear interests toward data, AI, and some design disciplines. It is important to get close to the market and run your feasibility study before drawing any conclusions. It’s also helpful to learn about your Chinese institution partner’s strength in their region to best leverage their existing reputation and recruiting capability – a niche advantage may change the whole collaborative horizon. Lastly, looking at MOE’s approval list, there are always programs which don’t fit into the “encouraged disciplines” or belong in the fields which have already been deemed to have supply exceed demand (such as finance and IT), but still manage to receive approval. It’s getting harder, but if you can present a convincing argument, work closely with your Chinese partner (or 3rd party), then there is still a chance.

In the next issue, we will explore how to determine if Credit Transfer or Joint Program is for your institution, what are the best structures (2+2, 3+1 or 4+0) and the role of the 3rd party. If you have colleagues are also interested in receiving our free monthly newsletter, please subscribe.


Copyright © 2021 ·  All Rights Reserved ·  China Higher Ed