Worcester Business Journal - UMassOnline Targets China For Growth Opportunity

Worcester Business Journal - UMassOnline Targets China For Growth Opportunity

Web-savvy schools can tap demand for global perspective

By Matthew L. Brown

When it reported 27 percent revenue growth for its 2009 fiscal year earlier this month, Shrewsbury-based UMassOnline also mentioned that it had completed a specialized web site tailored for the Chinese market.

Now, the online learning division of the University of Massachusetts finds itself part of an effort to further the state’s interest in doing business in China and around the world.

Eyes Overseas

UMassOnline is operated through the university’s continuing education program and by law is self-supporting. It offers 83 programs and 1,500 courses and has seen sharp gains in the number of national and international prospective student inquiries.

Free from the constraints that the use of tax dollars puts on the university as a whole, UMassOnline can roam the world in search of opportunities.

And as it is for businesses of all kinds, China has potential to be an enormous market for online learning programs.

According to Barbara A. Macaulay, UMassOnline’s associate vice president and chief academic officer, the trend that brought the program to China began as younger students enrolled in online courses. The program wasn’t just for typical “continuing education” types: adults looking for career advancement, for example.

“The students were getting younger and younger, and as we got bigger and bigger, international students were finding their way to us, also American students living abroad.” Macaulay said.

And when it comes to studies abroad, a school can’t ignore China. The country “has become a major effort of the university as a whole,” Macaulay said.

UMassOnline’s China program allows Chinese students to take American college courses and acclimate themselves to an American program.

CERNET, the Chinese Education Research Network, is now “very interested” in working with UMass to bring UMassOnline content to Chinese students in China.

In March, CERNET, an arm of China’s Ministry of Education, spent $9.06 million on a property at 280 Locke Dr. in Marlborough with the hope of establishing a prep school for Chinese students.

Macaulay said CERNET wants to expose Chinese students to the American education system. That way, “globalization efforts will make more sense to them, to help them learn about the American way of doing business.”

And all of that can be accomplished quickly. An online program doesn’t need a physical presence in China, yet UMassOnline offers courses in business, international business, education, online journals, hospitality and tourism and sports management in China.

Despite the Chinese education ministry’s interest in and support for the UMassOnline program, it has not yet fully approved online degrees. So, for now, Chinese students can take UMassOnline courses, but cannot receive a degree from the program.

But there’s hope. Macaulay said, “The ministry is looking to UMass to set the benchmark for what an online degree should include.” That goal is program two or three years away, she said. “The issue is whether we will be recognized as a bona fide degree in China.”

Macaulay is hoping CERNET’s presence in Marlborough will help the cause. “They had the opportunity to go to New York, Texas or California, but they chose Marlborough partly based on their relationship with UMassOnline.”

Date: 4/27/09