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Journal of Studies in International

Education
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Internationalization of Higher Education in the Developing and Emerging


Countries: A Focus on Transnational Higher Education in Asia
Futao Huang
Journal of Studies in International Education 2007 11: 421
DOI: 10.1177/1028315307303919

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What is This?
Internationalization
of Higher Education in the
Developing and Emerging Countries:
A Focus on Transnational Higher
Education in Asia

Futao Huang

This article begins with an introduction to the context and general situation of transna-
tional higher education (TNHE) in Asia, especially in East and Southeast Asia. It then
examines development of TNHE in some selected Asian countries from different per-
spectives and provides a detailed description of TNHE in China. The article concludes
by discussing challenges and opportunities for the development of TNHE in Asia.

Keywords: transnational higher education; Asia; China

INTRODUCTION
Since the early 1990s, aside from the traditional forms typically characterized by
mobility of students, scholars, and researchers; academic cooperation; and joint
research between different countries, transnational higher education (TNHE) has
become an increasingly important and integral part of internationalization of higher
education in many countries. Compared with other parts of the world, and especially
since the 1990s, there has been a rapid development of TNHE in Asia. Issues con-
cerning importing and exporting higher education activities or services have become
one of the major aspects of debates on higher education reform in many countries
in this region at both policy and institutional levels. In a major sense, Asia is the
most important and active region for participation in TNHE.
There are many ways to define the term TNHE. For example, according to
UNESCO, the term “transnational education” is generally defined as that “in which

Author’s Note: Please address all correspondence to Futao Huang, Research Institute for Higher
Education, Hiroshima University, Higashi Hiroshima Kagamiyama 1-2-2, Japan 739-8512; phone:
0081-82 4 246242; fax: 0081-82 4 227104; e-mail futao@hiroshima-u.ac.jp.
Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 11 No. 3/4, Fall/Winter 2007 421-432
DOI:10.1177/1028315307303919
© 2007 Nuffic

421
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422 Journal of Studies in International Education Fall/Winter 2007

the learners are located in a country different from that where the awarding institution
is based” (UNESCO-CEPES, 2000). Accordingly, if TNHE is regarded as a part of
postsecondary and tertiary education and training, it may take one of many forms,
such as branch campuses, franchises, articulation, twinning, corporate programs,
online learning and distance education programs, and study abroad (Global Alliance
for Transnational Education, 1999). Moreover, Knight (2002) argues that “transna-
tional,” “borderless,” and “cross-border” education are terms that are being used to
describe both real and virtual movement of students, teachers, knowledge, and educa-
tional programs from one country to another. Although there may be some conceptual
differences between these terms, they are often used interchangeably (Knight, 2002).
In this article, the term TNHE is mainly concerned with any cross-border or
inter-regional higher education activities or services in a broad sense: its major form
refers to the movement of educational programs and institutions from one country
or region to another country or region either physically or virtually. Just as the def-
inition of TNHE varies widely, it can take different forms according to individual
countries and regions. Because many non-English-speaking countries in this region
have no term identical in meaning to TNHE, this article uses the term TNHE to
denote all the equivalent usages adopted by individual countries in Asia.
This article begins with an introduction to the context and general situation of
TNHE in Asia, especially in East and Southeast Asia. It then considers the develop-
ment of TNHE in some selected Asian countries from different perspectives, fol-
lowed by a detailed description of TNHE in China. It concludes by discussing
challenges and opportunities for the further development of TNHE in Asia.

CONTEXT OF TNHE IN ASIA


Internationalization of higher education is not a completely new phenomenon in
Asia. As early as the latter part of the 19th century, many countries in Asia had
already made various endeavors to establish modern higher education systems by dis-
patching students and members of faculty abroad for advanced studies or research.
The higher education systems adopted by these countries conformed to foreign aca-
demic patterns, notably those Western models provided by Germany, France, the
United Kingdom, and the United States. China and Japan provide typical examples.
In these two countries especially—although internationalization of their higher edu-
cation took its major form from the one-way process of importing Western ideas, aca-
demic norms, and standards—they were not colonized. But elsewhere, many Asian
countries and areas were colonized by Western countries: countries such as
Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. As Altbach showed, the colonial impact
expresses itself in important issues such as the language of instruction, the lack of
attention to science, and the importance of expatriates among academic staff (Altbach
& Selvaratnam, 1989).

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Huang / Internationalization of Higher Education 423

From 1945 to the 1980s, internationalization of higher education in this


region was influenced by the Cold War, and individual countries in this region
were divided into two big groups. One group accepted the models of the former
Soviet Union, and countries in the other group followed the American models.
In general, the internationalization of higher education in these two groups was
mainly characterized by mobility of people between individual countries and
basically stimulated national programs of cooperation, development, and tech-
nical assistance.
Since the 1990s, various new factors, especially the rapidity of economic global-
ization and advancement of IT as well as introduction of market-oriented mechanisms,
are exerting an increasingly significant influence on the internationalization of higher
education in many countries. Asia provides no exception. As in many other regions,
compared with what had happened prior to the 1990s, the recent internationalization
of higher education in this region is driven much more strongly by economic factors
in a more competitive global environment. One of the important reasons for this is that
since the 1990s in many developed countries, particularly in English-speaking coun-
tries in Europe and in the United States, internationalization of higher education is
more driven by a commercial and entrepreneurial spirit. This is evident, for example,
in policies adopting full-cost tuition fees for international students and profit-oriented
transnational programs undertaken in the United Kingdom and Australia. As a result,
internationalization of higher education is now characterized by a transition from
technical assistance to the third world by these countries prior to the 1980s to a
growing global competition and from personal mobility and transplantation of
national higher education models or systems within some designated countries or
areas to programs, degrees, diplomas, campuses, and quality assurance at a global
level. In this process, aspects of the internationalization of higher education have
gone beyond simple mobility of international students and members of faculty. They
have come to include activities such as internationalization of curricula, TNHE in its
wider sense, establishment of international organizations, and consortia of universities
at both regional and global levels. The driving forces, policies, and practices concern-
ing internationalization of higher education in individual nations are not only affected
by their national policy, character, and identity, but also are influenced by calls and
pressures from international, regional, or global organizations. As indicated above, in
recent years policies and strategies concerning TNHE have gained increased attention
and visibility, especially in many countries and areas in Asia.

CURRENT SITUATION OF TNHE IN ASIA

Definitions and Forms of TNHE


Because there is no equivalent term for TNHE in many non-English-speaking
countries in this region, many of these countries adopt other usages to denote a
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424 Journal of Studies in International Education Fall/Winter 2007

similar meaning. In fact, even in an English-speaking country such as Australia,


which exerts a substantial influence on TNHE in Asian countries, TNHE is defined
in a much broader sense. It denotes “any education or training at higher education
level provided beyond national or regional borders through mobility of people,
program or institution” (Sugimoto, 2006). Accordingly, this definition includes the
so-called international education (often referred to as “onshore education” in Australia)
provided to international students coming to Australia; and it also covers distance
learning or e-learning delivered to students living outside Australia. Furthermore,
a variety of terms similar to transnational, such as “offshore,” “cross-border” and
“borderless,” are sometimes used interchangeably.
Although TNHE inevitably involves cross-border movement of programs, infor-
mation, materials, and/or staff, different forms can be found in individual countries
and areas in Asia. For example, TNHE activities in Taiwanese higher education exist
in three forms: study abroad, twinning programs, and online learning. In Singapore,
there are “external” distance education programs and foreign university branch cam-
puses, whereas in Japan, student exchange or movement is the most developed. In
contrast, in Hong Kong and China, there has been an export flow of students to pro-
grams in other countries.

Major types of TNHE


Based on the characteristics of TNHE in this region, which seem applicable also
to other regions, at least three distinguishing types of transnational higher education
can be identified: an Import-Oriented Type; an Import & Export Type; and a
Transitional Type. To illustrate, developing countries like Vietnam and Indonesia are
the major examples of countries that are importing educational programs and insti-
tutions from other countries, and in particular from Western countries. They are
characterized by seeking and accepting Western academic norms, conventions, and
standards by introducing programs and institutions. Emerging countries and some
special regions, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, are on the one hand importing
foreign higher education activities from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the
United States, and on the other hand they are also exporting their higher education
activities to other Asian countries such as mainland China. These countries and
regions are importing English-language products to enhance the quality of learning
and research and exporting educational programs with distinctive characteristics.
China and Japan predominantly import more foreign higher education services than
they export, but in more recent years both countries have been making great efforts
to export their own higher education services to other countries. These two countries
can be categorized as the Transitional Type.

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Huang / Internationalization of Higher Education 425

Driving Forces for and Approaches to THNE


Existing case studies of TNHE in this region reveal that various factors have sig-
nificantly impacted the policies and strategies for TNHE in Asia (Huang, 2006). For
example, the main rationale for Hong Kong consumers in choosing transnational pro-
grams is to gain an international education, which is particularly valued for its repu-
tation for quality. In mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, one of the important
driving forces for introducing foreign higher education activities is increasing higher
education enrollments and increasing the pace of massification of their higher edu-
cation systems. However, it should be emphasized that enhancement of competitive-
ness and academic quality in the context of a globalizing economy are two common
factors affecting all these countries and areas in seeking the provision or importation
of TNHE activities. Thus, the major concerns regarding TNHE in this region, such as
those concerning how the quality of TNHE can be assured and how a national iden-
tity and character can be maintained, are shared by many countries.
Because of the differing national policies and strategies in individual countries
and areas, three distinguishing approaches toward TNHE can be perceived in this
region: a government-regulated approach, a market-oriented approach, and a tran-
sitional approach characterized by transfer from a state-controlled approach to a
free-market approach. China, Malaysia, and Korea provide striking examples of
the government-regulated approach. Policies concerning TNHE in Hong Kong rep-
resent a typical free-market approach. Currently, Japan and Taiwan are attempting
to introduce a free-market approach and to implement deregulation. In the near
future, as higher education is influenced by further marketization and increased
globalization, increasingly more countries and areas in Asia are likely to change
their strict national policies, based on territorial principles, to policies accepting
and recognizing incoming foreign educational programs or institutions.

Legal Status and Roles of TNHE in


National Higher Education Systems
There exists a great diversity in the legal status of TNHE activities among the dif-
ferent countries and areas in Asia. In most cases, incoming foreign institutions are
regarded as part of the private sector. Malaysia and Korea offer clear examples. By
law in Malaysia, foreign providers wanting to offer transnational courses can either
apply to be licensed as a private higher educational institution and open a branch
campus or deliver courses through a local partner licensed as a private higher edu-
cational institution (Morshidi, 2006). In contrast, in China there is no available doc-
ument that clearly defines the legal status of incoming foreign programs, especially
joint degree programs in cooperation with foreign partners on Chinese campuses.
Also, current government policy documentation does not show whether these pro-
grams belong to the public sector or the private sector. These joint degree programs

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426 Journal of Studies in International Education Fall/Winter 2007

are provided exclusively in the Chinese public sector, more specifically in prestigious
Chinese national universities, but in many respects they are operated in a totally dif-
ferent way from normal programs even in the same institution. As a new form of
higher education activity, deciding how to legally position the programs remains a big
issue for the central government (Huang, 2006, p. 30). Similarly, in Japan, until 2005,
education authorities had approved none of the branch campuses of foreign institu-
tions as formal higher education institutions, so it was not possible for them to acquire
the status of a “corporate school” like private higher education institutions in Japan.
The vast majority of these branch campuses were established as “corporations”
instead of “educational organizations.” It was not until early 2005 that incoming
foreign higher education programs and institutions, including branch campuses of
American institutions, finally received official recognition from Japan’s Ministry
of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) as foreign uni-
versities in Japan. This new status makes it possible for credits earned at the branch
campuses of American universities to be recognized by Japanese universities and
allows their graduates to apply for admission to the graduate schools of Japanese
public universities. However, it is still unclear whether foreign institutions, includ-
ing the branch campuses of American institutions, can be included within any of
three designated sectors—national, public, or private—or alternatively be approved
as constituting a new sector in Japan.
The role of TNHE in national higher education systems is closely connected to
the differing legal arrangements for TNHE in individual countries. For practical pur-
poses, two major types of incoming foreign higher education services in Asia can be
identified: an incorporated/domestic-oriented type and an extracurricular/overseas-led
type. In the former, incoming foreign educational activity has the ability to cater to
the domestic market and it is better able to contribute to national economic devel-
opment and internationalization of higher education in the host country. It consti-
tutes an integral part of the national higher education system and is officially
incorporated into national provision of university education, contributing more aca-
demic and professional programs. It is also strictly monitored and regulated by
national legislation and policy in the host country. A majority of countries, includ-
ing China, Malaysia, and Vietnam, clearly conform to this type. In the second cate-
gory, incoming TNHE services are not recognized as an integral part of the national
higher education system of the host country, they are merely regarded as extrauni-
versity activities, totally separated from the national higher education educational
activity. This category is responsive to market forces and primarily operates through
market mechanisms. Because this type of incoming TNHE activity is not considered
to be part of the national higher education system, it can only provide preparative
education or general study for local students that may facilitate their subsequent
pursuit of higher education either at home campuses or abroad. Until early 2005,
Japan was a typical representative of this type.

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Huang / Internationalization of Higher Education 427

Although efforts are made to import higher education services from foreign
countries, especially from English-speaking Western countries, in many Asian coun-
tries and areas these activities are still strictly monitored and regulated by the
central or local government. In individual countries and areas many limitations and
constraints are imposed on the forms and levels as well as administrative patterns of
incoming foreign educational programs and institutions. In some countries, foreign
institutions are not allowed to provide programs of military, religious, or political
sciences. Most host countries insist on maintaining leadership of the administrative
arrangements of incoming or joint programs and institutions by limiting the number
of non-nationals in governing bodies.

TNHE IN CHINA
In a major sense, a case study of China can provide an illuminating example of
TNHE changes in both emerging and developing countries. In comparison with
many other countries in Asia, China, with its rapid economic growth and various
political reforms over the past decades, has experienced the radical transformation
from a developing country to an emerging nation.
The term TNHE in China refers to the joint operation of higher education insti-
tutions with foreign partners and collaborative delivery of educational programs. It
covers two aspects: incoming foreign programs that are provided jointly by Chinese
universities and foreign partners in Chinese universities and outgoing programs
offered by Chinese universities in other countries. At present, the transnational pro-
grams that are provided by foreign institutions in China consist of two types: non-
degree-conferring programs and degree programs leading to degrees of foreign
universities or universities of Hong Kong (a special administrative district of China).
Normal growth and progress of TNHE in China developed from an incidental,
informal and laissez-faire phase that lasted until 1995 into the more structured, sys-
tematic, well-supported, and regulated current phase.
In the initial stage, the development of transnational programs, and in particular
educational programs leading to foreign or Hong Kong degrees, were strictly con-
trolled and regulated by government. After the statement on “Contemporary
Regulation on Operation of Higher Education Institutions in Cooperation with
Foreign Partners,” issued by the former State Commission of Education in 1995,
there was a surprisingly rapid expansion in the number of these joint programs,
especially those with authority to confer foreign degrees. For example, in 1995,
there were only two joint programs that could lead to foreign degrees; by 2004, the
number of joint programs provided in Chinese higher education institutions in col-
laboration with foreign partners had reached 745, and by June 2004 joint programs
qualified to award degrees in foreign or Hong Kong universities amounted to 169
(MOE, 2005). In general, these joint programs, and in particular programs leading

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428 Journal of Studies in International Education Fall/Winter 2007

to qualification for a degree from a foreign or Hong Kong university charge tuition
fees of up to or even greater than five times those of local institutions. However,
there exists an enormous market for these programs and, even more importantly,
they are strongly supported by the Chinese government.
One of the striking characteristics of transnational programs in Chinese university
campuses is that the vast majority are concerned with professional education. For
example, although there are numerous programs in engineering, computing, infor-
mation science, and English language, the majority belong to the fields of business
and management studies that prepare professionals for work in multinational corpo-
rations or in firms engaged in international commerce. Almost all of them are pro-
vided in China’s most prestigious universities. This may be one of the most important
reasons that these joint programs have been able to attract a steady increase in
students over the last decade. With a rapid expansion of joint programs, more and
more research universities from foreign countries, and particularly prestigious uni-
versities from the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, have partici-
pated actively in offering various degree programs in cooperation with Chinese
institutions. This has been a major factor in attracting more students into the joint
programs in China. By 2004, joint programs with Australian universities especially,
had surpassed those with U.S. institutions (Huang, 2003a).
Several factors have led to the substantial increase in the number of TNHE pro-
grams in Chinese universities (Huang, 2003b). Two reasons are of particular impor-
tance. First, it is widely expected that integrating foreign educational programs into
Chinese campuses will provide a practical and also a very efficient way to improve
academic quality and standards, as well as facilitating internationalization of Chinese
higher education. By undertaking joint programs with prestigious foreign partners,
individual higher education institutions in China can obtain a full and direct under-
standing of current educational missions, standards, ideas, curriculum management,
and delivery of educational programs in foreign universities. Second, by introducing
those programs that are urgently needed but cannot be provided by Chinese institu-
tions, China can train more graduates with international perspectives in a faster and
more efficient way.
Currently, establishment of branch campuses by foreign universities or corpora-
tions is not permitted. At present, the sole example in China is the University of
Nottingham Ningbo, China. This was established by the University of Nottingham
(United Kingdom) in partnership with Zhejiang Wanli University. This case shows
that the Chinese government is prepared to allow a partnership with a foreign insti-
tution to create a higher education establishment with the status of a corporation in
China. It is strongly emphasized however that the University of Nottingham Ningbo,
China, which is considered one of China’s most admired new model universities with
the status of corporation, is not a branch campus of the University of Nottingham in
the United Kingdom but a completely independent university owned by Zhejiang

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Huang / Internationalization of Higher Education 429

Wanli University. A majority of the programs are to be imported and taught by


faculty members from the University of Nottingham (United Kingdom), but there
will be China-based degree programs also taught entirely in English. Students will
receive the same diplomas as those conferred by the University of Nottingham
(United Kingdom) at graduation.
The most important reason joint programs on Chinese campuses do not receive
the status of a corporation is that most of them, and particularly the degree-
conferring programs, are usually provided in partnership with foreign institutions at
the faculty, school, or departmental level. For the degree programs, both the local
institutions and their foreign partners are required to be accredited with authority to
award degrees. Because only very few private institutions in China are accredited to
deliver degree programs, in effect only the national and public institutions are quali-
fied in this way. So, except for the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China with its
status of a corporation, incoming foreign higher education activity in China is not
regarded as constituting an independent part of the higher education system such as
the national, public, or private institutions. Rather, because TNHE in China takes as
its major form joint programs at faculty or departmental level, it is considered merely
a supplementary part of the curriculum of Chinese higher education institutions.
As in many other Asian countries, there are also some limitations on incoming
foreign programs in China. For example, it is emphasized that transnational educa-
tion cannot be provided absolutely and solely by foreign institutions themselves
without any form of cooperation with or involvement of Chinese institutions located
in China. In addition, strong leadership by the Chinese side is repeatedly stressed in
many government documents. Even more significantly, it is emphasized that no
profit can be pursued in such transnational programs, though in practice, much
higher tuition and fees are charged. However, the strong regulative powers and
direct leadership by both central government and local authorities in China do not
imply that at a policy level importation of joint programs, including foreign degree-
conferring programs, is discouraged or rigidly restricted in its expansion in China.
On the contrary, provision of foreign higher education services and joint degree pro-
grams is strongly encouraged and identified as an important complementary com-
ponent of Chinese higher education.
It is also important to note that in recent years, a great effort has been made by the
Chinese government to provide a Chinese higher education service for local students
in foreign countries. Although the number of degree-conferring programs offered
outside China is much smaller than the number of TNHE degree programs provided
on Chinese campuses, rapid progress has been made recently. For example, Fudan
University in Shanghai and Singapore National University have agreed to establish
branch campuses in their respective universities and to undertake cooperation with
each other in recruiting students and by mutual recognition of some curricula, cred-
its, diplomas, and degrees. Such external education activities are undertaken not only

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430 Journal of Studies in International Education Fall/Winter 2007

in countries such as Japan, Korea, and some Southeast Asian countries, which used
to be greatly influenced by Chinese culture, but can also be found in some Western
countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Spain. Furthermore, in com-
parison with the situation prior to the 1990s, transnational programs exported by
Chinese universities are no longer confined to studies in the Chinese language but
now also include professional programs such as international trade, management,
science, and engineering.
Differing fundamentally from practices in many other countries in Asia, the
importation of foreign higher education programs in China is characterized by Sino-
foreign partnerships in educational programs. These programs are permitted to
award foreign degrees on Chinese campuses and they are officially regarded as an
important part of national higher education. These joint programs, especially those
awarding foreign degrees, are normally provided in the public sector and are mainly
offered in the leading institutions: In practice, they cater more to a limited number
of elite students rather than provide a step to massification of higher education.
Although these programs are strictly regulated by government, their rapid and
steady expansion is directly related to the supportive policy of central government,
and this is incorporated as a component of internationalization of China’s higher
education. But issues such as how to position these transnational programs legally
and, even more importantly, to what extent government should regulate and control
their growth need to be given serious consideration (Huang, 2006).

CONCLUSION
As in many other regions, an increased impact from globalization and marketi-
zation has created new forms and wider dimensions in internationalization of higher
education in many Asian countries. The effects are readily illustrated through the
arrival of imported foreign higher education services and the export of educational
programs abroad. In facing the challenges of a global competitive environment,
along with transferring from a government-regulated approach to a market-oriented
approach, more and more countries and areas have realized the importance of intro-
ducing excellent foreign institutions and educational programs to facilitate massifi-
cation and enhance the quality of their higher education.
In more and more Asian countries, TNHE and in particular incoming foreign pro-
grams and institutions are being encouraged and supported, and TNHE is now rec-
ognized in many countries as forming an integral part of the provision of national
higher education. However, central governments in many Asian countries still main-
tain strong regulation and control of TNHE as a matter of policy and impose signif-
icant limitations on it.
It appears that individual countries in Asia still import more programs or institu-
tions from abroad than they export, especially from the United States and countries

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Huang / Internationalization of Higher Education 431

in Europe. In this sense, it is appropriate to classify TNHE in Asian countries as one


of the three types: Import Type, Import & Export Type, or Transitional Type. To be
more precise, it is Western models and institutions that provide the foreign imports,
a pattern that has continued from the colonial era into the contemporary period. A
growing number of countries are still influenced by the English-language products
that they use, though there are considerable variations. In most Asian countries, inter-
nationalization of higher education, including TNHE, still maintains its basic char-
acter of a process of catching up with advanced countries and approaching the levels
and provisions of the current centers of learning, mostly identified with the English-
speaking countries in Europe and especially the United States. This phenomenon
seems to have a significant link to the extent of national economic growth, the polit-
ical system, and the stage of higher education development. But, more importantly,
no Asian country has currently established centers of excellence in its own academic
system that are universally recognized or maintains a quality of higher learning that
can exert academic influence at an international or global level.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Futao Huang is professor in the research institute for higher education, Hiroshima
University, Japan. He earned his PhD in China. His major research interests include (a)
a comparative study of university curricular development; (b) policy changes, organi-
zations, structures and governance patterns relating to higher education in China and
Japan; (c) internationalization of higher education in East Asia. He published widely in
Chinese, Japanese, and English. His recent publications include “Internationalization of
Curricula in Higher Education Institutions in Comparative Perspectives: Case Studies
of China, Japan and the Netherlands” (Higher Education, 2006); “Qualitative
Enhancement and Quantitative Growth: Changes and Trends of China’s Higher
Education” (Higher Education Policy, 2005); “Internationalization of Higher Education
in an Age of Globalization—Historic and Comparative Perspectives” (Peking University
Education Review, 2003, in Chinese); “A Comparative Study in University Curricula
between China and Japan” (IDE, Gendai No Koutoukyouiku, 2002, in Japanese).

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