Boston Globe - UMass reaches deal to provide on-line classes to Chinese

Boston Globe- UMass reaches deal to provide on-line classes to Chinese

By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff

The University of Massachusetts is poised to become the  first foreign university to offer approved on-line courses and degrees in China after reaching a landmark agreement today with education officials in Beijing.

UMass officials announced that the system had reached an accord with China's Continuing Education Association and CerEdu Corp. to offer distance classes and degree programs throughout China. Plans call for the university to offer 40 on-line courses, four certificate programs, and one master's degree program within a year. The agreement marks a major opportunity for the university to expand its renowned distance-learning program to the world's most populous nation. University officials said the new program could eventually generate as much as $5 million a year.

The plan must be approved by the authoritarian, one-party Chinese government's Ministry of Education, which currently does not recognize credits from foreign universities. But both partners that signed the agreement are closely affiliated with the government, and UMass officials are confident of final approval by this fall.

"We are very proud to have been chosen by our partners in China to enter into this agreement," University of Massachusetts President Jack M. Wilson said in a statement. "We have developed one of the best on-line education programs in the world, and that is increasingly being recognized around the globe."

UMassOnline, the university's on-line arm, is one of the largest accredited distance learning programs, offering 1,500 courses to about 33,000 students. Wilson was its founding CEO from 2001-2003 before being named president of the five-campus system.

Wilson said the university has forged extensive academic and research ties with China in recent years. The agreement builds on an academic and research partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tsinghua has a close relationship with the Education Ministry.

Yan Jichang, vice chairman and general secretary of the CCEA, a national academic society, said "the importance of this strategic partnership cannot be overstated" and is crucial to "the future of China's place in the league of nations."

Zhu Yidong, vice chairman of Cernet Education Corp., a distance learning company, said that within five years, the on-line courses will "have paved the way for other foreign universities to enter the China market."
Date: 03/31/08