Yale president seeks to expand China ties

Yale University President Peter Salovey said he feels proud of the school’s long and close ties with China and wants to further strengthen the relationship.

His comments came amid the US government’s tightening of visa restrictions for Chinese students and the call by some US politicians for more curbs on Chinese students.

Since June, the US State Department has shortened the length of stay from five years to one year for visas granted to Chinese graduate students studying in so-called sensitive areas such as flight, robotics and some types of manufacturing.

More than 363,000 Chinese students were studying in US colleges and universities during the 2017/18 academic year, representing 33.2 percent of all international students, according to the Institute of International Education.

“We very much want and feel it’s important and fundamental for universities to have a free flow of scholars, students between our countries,” Salovey told China Daily in a recent interview.

Yale now hosts more than 800 Chinese undergraduate and graduate students and another 800 Chinese scholars. Salovey described the Chinese students as “incredibly talented”.

While noting that a decrease in the number of Chinese students wouldn’t make the university unable to function, Salovey said “we think we will be missing some of the smartest students in the world. And we think our educational environment won’t be as rich.”

“It will reduce opportunities for everyone if we restrict,” he said.

Yale, founded in 1701, boasts the longest relationship with China of any US university.

Yung Wing, known to Chinese as Rong Hong, became the first one from China to earn a degree from a US college or university when he graduated from Yale College in 1854. According to the Yale University website, Wing later donated a huge portion of his personal library to Yale to form the basis of the Yale East Asia Library’s Chinese collection, regarded one of the major collections in the US.

Zhan Tianyou, known as the “Father of China’s Railway”, graduated from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School, now integrated with Yale College, in 1881 with a degree in civil engineering. He went back to China and later built some of China’s first railway lines.

“We are very proud of that history with China,” Salovey said.

Salovey, who took office on July 1, 2013, and is a social psychologist by profession, believes it’s important for Americans to know that the country’s best friends abroad are often people who benefited from having some part of their education in the United States.

He cited the trouble spot of the Middle East, where the best friends for the US are people who have been educated in the US.

“So we have to remember when a student educated in the US goes home, it’s still in our national interest because they are often our friends abroad. They become ambassadors,” said Salovey, who turns 61 on Feb 21.

He thinks that it’s important to encourage collaboration and not make it difficult for schools to work together in education or research.

On a global level, Salovey believes that none of the major problems of the world are going to be solved without cooperation between the world’s two largest economies, such as in climate change and inclusive growth. “You are not going to solve those problems seriously without the US and China working together,” he said.

In his view, US and Chinese students having part of their education in each other’s countries are some of the best people to carry out that policy work.

Many Americans who graduated from Yale have played a major role in US-China relations. George H. W. Bush, a graduate in 1948, became the head of the US Liaison Office in China in 1974. He was followed by Winston Lord, Clark Randt Jr and Gary Locke, all Yale graduates, to become US ambassadors to China.

“So while we make sure that we compete fairly with each other and the like, I would think it’s not good for either of our countries to suddenly see restrictions on the abilities of students from either country to study in the other country,” he said.

Salovey has advice for many Chinese applying for Yale. He noted that while grades and test scores are important for undergraduate applications, Yale is looking for evidence of leadership and how students could make the most of a Yale education.

That means contributing to the Yale community while studying as a student, according to Salovey. “We like students who enjoy collaborative learning with others, who are going to be active participants in their own education, not just passive recipients of that,” he said.

“And I am pleased to say that many students from China fit that model, those characteristics.”

For graduate students, Salovey said that evidence of research and some scholarship is important beside grades and GRE scores. And for professional schools like law, business and medicine, they are looking for commitment to those fields and some experience.

As Yale’s president, Salovey now travels to China about three times a year, mostly for Yale’s joint programs in China and its alumni events there.

More than 150 Yale faculty members are pursuing a broad area of research, educational and training activities in and related to China. Yale faculty members are currently engaged in projects in 22 cities involving scores of Chinese universities, hospitals, research institutions and other organizations, according to the Yale website.

Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Tsinghua School of Environment have a dual degree program, while the Yale School of Public Health has dual degrees with Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Zhejiang University.

Yale unveiled a 16,500-square-foot Yale Center Beijing in 2014 in the Chinese capital to enable it to expand existing activities and form new partnerships with organizations in China, support research and study from Yale’s schools and divisions, and serve as a gathering place for its alumni in Asia.

“I like to go to events where we celebrate higher education,” he said of his China trips, citing his attendance of the 120th anniversary of Peking University in Beijing in May, when he delivered a speech on behalf of all international educational institutions there.

Yale has established several joint programs with Chinese universities and Salovey described the programs as established on the collaboration between professors and researchers at Yale and Chinese universities.

So far Yale has focused on joint programs with leading universities in China, such as Peking University, Tsinghua, Fudan and Shanghai Jiaotong University. Salovey indicated that “anything is possible if our professors are in a cooperative relationship with professors from China. We can do formal institutional programs around that faculty-to-faculty cooperation.”