UW plans in Shanghai receive strong support

Recently announced plans for the University of Wisconsin–Madison to open an office in Shanghai have been well-received in China, including endorsements from Badger alumni in the region and Wisconsin companies doing business there, according to Gilles Bousquet, dean of the Division of International Studies and vice provost for globalization.

“With such strong support, we are moving forward in a serious, decisive manner with our plans for the UW Shanghai Center,” says Bousquet, who traveled to China in mid-November to promote and advance plans for this ground-breaking presence.

UW–Madison’s partners in this initiative, the Minhang District of Shanghai and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), reiterated their eagerness to move forward as swiftly as possible. A target of June 2012 has been set for the launch of the UW Shanghai Center, to be held in conjunction with a UW-led conference on innovation.

“Innovation is the current buzz word in China; we saw it everywhere,” Bousquet explains. “China is deeply interested in encouraging and investing in innovative ideas. At UW, we face a choice—to sit on the sidelines and risk becoming irrelevant, or to engage in those areas where we have strengths for the benefit of all involved.”

At the same time, he strikes a note of caution: “We are exercising due diligence at every step. We must navigate a complex process, in which we cannot take any steps for granted. If we pay close attention to details, I am optimistic that we will succeed.”

During the latest official trip, Bousquet and Laurie Dennis, associate director of the Wisconsin China Initiative (WCI), met with UW alumni and friends, and business, education and government leaders during stops in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing. They were joined in Hong Kong and Shanghai by François Ortalo-Magné, Albert O. Nicholas Dean of Wisconsin School of Business.

The UW Shanghai Center would serve as the university’s platform for offering training by UW faculty and staff in a range of areas, with Chinese partners covering all costs. The office also would serve as a key contact point for UW and other Wisconsin interests in China.

“Based on our meetings and conversations, we are confident that, through this center, we can work with the State of Wisconsin and Wisconsin businesses to effectively raise the state’s profile in China,” Bousquet explains. “We also expect the office to provide a base to expand study abroad and internship opportunities for our students, and to assist and support scholarly connections for our faculty.”

He met with several current UW–Madison students on study abroad programs in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. The students talked about the life-changing experiences they were having.

“Hearing from them was energizing and confirmation of the value of creating more opportunities for our students in China,” he says.

He also met with alumni in each of the cities, who all were excited about the having a UW presence in Shanghai. “We have been connecting with many Badger alumni in China who would welcome more opportunities to support and become more engaged with their alma mater,” he says.

A few specifics have begun to emerge:

The Minhang District is offering to furnish office space in its Zizhu Science Park—across the street from an SJTU campus—and to contribute funding toward the operation of the UW Shanghai Center.

Also, the UW representatives presented the framework for a Consortium for Research, Education, and Discovery, a new kind of academic partnership, to the president of SJTU, who welcomed the proposal.

“We envision collaborating with SJTU across several areas, including talent development, engineering and science, law and business, and medical research and development,” Bousquet says.

The details of how the office will operate still must be worked out.

“We envision minimal staffing, with an on-site director, and perhaps an assistant and/or student interns,” Bousquet says. “This will be a very lean operation designed to pay for itself.”

To learn from the experiences of peer institutions, the UW representatives visited the China offices of Ohio State and Oxford universities. Ohio State has a small office in a downtown Shanghai business center, focusing on alumni relations, faculty assistance, branding. Oxford’s office in Hong Kong focuses on fundraising and alumni relations.

“We have much work to do,” Bousquet says. “We are forming a launch team—with subcommittees as needed—to iron out the various aspects of our plans, from setting up the office to determining what UW programs should offer.”

He adds: “The more we talk about our Shanghai proposal and demonstrate that we are serious about making this a reality, the more we hear about good ideas and opportunities. The response reinforces our belief that this is right direction to go, and the right time to move.”

by Kerry G. Hill