U to offer school in China

Chinese government now allows foreign universities to open degree programs.

Cati Vanden Breul

Next summer, the University Law School will become the first American institution to offer a master’s law degree program at a Chinese university.

Through a partnership between the University and China University of Political Science and Law, 50 Chinese lawyers will learn about the American justice system in an 18-month program. They’ll take courses in English taught by University Law School faculty.

Two years ago, the Chinese government passed a law to allow foreign universities to open degree-granting programs in the country. A short time later, the Law School started looking into launching a program in China, said Associate Dean Meredith McQuaid.

McQuaid, the interim associate vice president and dean for international programs, said the number of Chinese scholars applying to the Law School was increasing at the time, but many couldn’t afford to come when accepted.

“They couldn’t come because they didn’t want to leave their jobs,” McQuaid said.

By offering a program in Beijing, the University will give more Chinese students the ability to take classes through the Law School, she said. Tuition for the master’s program will be comparable to the amount students in Minnesota pay.

“Before, it maybe would have been unlikely to get 50 Chinese lawyers who could afford it,” McQuaid said. “But Beijing is really developing very quickly and lawyers are getting paid better, so we feel comfortable charging them what we would if they were here.”

The program will integrate Chinese and American students into one classroom.

Last summer, for the first time, the University sent a group of law students to study at China University.

The Chinese lawyers and University law students will take some of the same classes next summer.

“We are really excited because this will really promote cross-cultural discussion about the two legal systems,” McQuaid said.

Second-year University law student Evan Gilbert, one of the 22 students who participated in the program last summer, said he went to China knowing only three words of Chinese: “wo ai ni,” which translates to “I love you.”

Gilbert said after becoming overwhelmed and blurting out the words to a group of girls at a grocery store, he started picking up the language faster than he had expected.

“I had no idea what to expect; I didn’t even know how to say ‘hello,’ ” he said.

Learning about China’s culture and legal system from Chinese students was the best part, Gilbert said.

“When we were in class, we got to see different perspectives of the law – how they view it, how we view it. And outside of class, we got to ask all the common-sense questions about their day-to-day lifestyle,” he said.

Even before the University started offering the two programs in Beijing, its ties to China were strong.

The University’s China Center, which helps colleges and departments establish contacts within the country, is unique among American colleges, said Joan Brzezinski, the center’s assistant director.

“China is important to our future and to the present, and the University has recognized that,” Brzezinski said.

The University is one of the top destinations for Chinese scholars to study in North America, she said. Out of the total number of international students at the University, Chinese students make up the largest percentage.

The center helped the Law School identify a Chinese institution to partner with. Brzenzinski and McQuaid traveled to China during the exploratory period and met with various institutions. While there, they evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of each school, Brzezinski said.

“Our job is to help them make connections and solidify relationships,” she said. “After that, (the colleges or department) are pretty much on their own.”

The Law School chose the China University of Political Science and Law because of its quality programs and its connection to the University through a third-party donator, she said.

Preparation costs for the programs ranged from $50,000-$65,000 over a two-and-a-half year period, McQuaid said. The Law School and University administration split the expense.

Eventually, McQuaid said, the masters program will fully fund itself with the tuition paid by the Chinese students.