Capilouto leading University of Kentucky administrators on China trip

Tina Stevenson, principal of Winburn Middle School, second from left, talked with elementary school students in Daning Elementary School in Shanghai in 2011. Education is one of the topics to be discussed by UK administrators while in China.
Tina Stevenson, principal of Winburn Middle School, second from left, talked with elementary school students in Daning Elementary School in Shanghai in 2011. Education is one of the topics to be discussed by UK administrators while in China.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto will leave for China on Monday with six high-level administrators as part of an effort to develop new student pipelines and programs.

The two-week trip will cost about $43,000 at a time when UK is reeling from budget cuts and tuition increases. But officials say the trip is aimed at finding new resources — from research funding to more student tuition — that can help academics and finances in the future.

"There are many promising initiatives that could provide revenue generation," said Susan Carvalho, associate provost at the Office of International Programs, who helped organize and will go on the trip. "But equally important is that our students must be literate about China for the workplace into which they're going."

As many other American universities have already discovered, China's burgeoning middle class has produced more students who can afford to pay pricey tuitions at U.S. institutions.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last month that Chinese students account for nearly half of all international applicants to graduate programs. The number of Chinese undergraduate applications at American colleges rose 43 percent in 2010, according to the Institute of International Education.

UK may be a little late to the party, but it still hopes to capitalize on unique opportunities for students, faculty and research.

"This is another step in internationalizing our campus," Capilouto said Tuesday about the trip. "This will provide more opportunities for our students. We also have an opportunity when we look at our mutual interests in research that may give us replacement resources because the U.S. has so curtailed federal support for research."

Accompanying Capilouto and Carvalho will be Rodney Andrews, director of the Center for Applied Energy Research; Kunlei Liu, association director of CAER; Huajing Maske, director of UK's Confucius Institute, which is a joint program between the Chinese and U.S governments; Mary John O'Hair, dean of the College of Education; and Michael Tick, dean of the College of Fine Arts.

Capilouto's daughter, Emily, also will go on the trip, but Capilouto is paying all of her expenses, Carvalho said.

The travelers will go to Beijing, Shanghai, Changchun and Xi'an, visiting ministries, universities, energy companies and high schools in all those cities. The trip will focus on three main areas: equine, energy and education.

China is trying to create a stronger equine industry, even sending a delegation of the Chinese Equestrian Association to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event last month.

While in Beijing, Capilouto will meet with officials from the Chinese Equestrian Association and the Capital University of Physical Education and Sports. There he will talk about UK's sports leadership program, the Gluck Center for Equine Research, and the potential for establishing training programs in equine economy and equine management through the College of Agriculture. It's hoped that Capilouto will sign a memorandum of intent to cooperate in these areas.

Because of its hierarchical society, and because Chinese universities have so many U.S. suitors, the presence of the university president helps seal the deal by showing the Chinese that UK is serious about these initiatives, Carvalho said.

"Having the president there shows our collaborators they are on the university's radar and not just involved in one project," she said.

That same day, Capilouto and O'Hair, the education dean, will meet with the top education official in China, Vice Minister Hao Ping. There, they hope to set up more teacher training transfer programs, and to invite the minister to visit UK.

Not every member of the group will attend every meeting. Tick, for example, will meet the group later, and then travel to Inner Mongolia for a project on throat singing, a possible collaboration with UK's highly ranked voice department.

Much of the trip will focus on research into coal and clean coal technology. Andrews said that as federal funding into fossil fuel technology has fallen, China's investments have ramped up.

"China is really making the most investments right now, particularly with respect to coal use and also in the scale in which they're doing it," Andrews said. "They're willing to do and pay for large scale tests that aren't going on anywhere else."

Andrews and his colleague, Liu, will visit the Shenhua chemical company in Beijing to discuss its coal-to-liquid technology. They also will go to the joint U.S.-Chinese Clean Energy Research Center at Tsinghua University, with plans for Capilouto to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding a project on carbon capture. Not coincidentally, the Tsinghua University dean of thermal engineering was in Lexington this past weekend when his son graduated with a master's in engineering.

In Shanghai, the group will meet with East China University of Science and Technology.

"This is the best program in the world on coal and biomass gasification," Andrews said. "We're partnering with them where they will provide us with some of that technology."

Setting up academic exchange programs is another high priority for the trip.

A growing trend in these kinds of partnerships is called 2+2 agreements, in which Chinese students do two years of school at home, then finish up with two years at an American university. The partnerships have to be handled on a departmental basis to ensure that students' work can transfer.

Capilouto is expected to sign such an agreement at Jilin University in Changchun for physics, and discuss other science and technology fields. He also will sign a faculty exchange agreement involving UK's College of Arts and Science, a process that was started by Arts and Science Dean Mark Kornbluh when he visited Jilin in March.

"I've been really struck by the size and scope and power of China," Kornbluh said. "We're an international university and it's really important for faculty and student to be able to be exposed to China."

Carvalho said UK faces some hurdles in China. For example, the Chinese are impressed by schools with a top 10 college ranking. That's why the travelers say it's important to develop personal relationships and why they hope to persuade Chinese officials to visit UK.

"It's an uphill climb in China because of the rankings focus," she said. "We are confident in what we have, once we can get them to see it."

Capilouto has talked about the trip with the faculty senate, and others on campus. Faculty members seemed fine with the expense versus potential payoff, said chemistry professor Robert Grossman, the vice chairman of the University Senate.

"We need to do more interaction overseas and you can't do that just sitting in one place," he said. "You can't stop doing everything because there are difficult budget times — this is an investment in our relations with China and, hopefully, it will lead to some very fruitful results."

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