A President's Reflections

Back from Asia

Posted on November 1, 2009

I’ve just returned from China and Malaysia. The first stop was to spend some time assessing where we are in bringing programs into that emerging market. I met with each of our university partners, visited the campuses, reviewed budgets and program models, and spent hours talking through what we have learned and what hurdles remain before us.

The Trustees have formed a small ad hoc task force to work through my written analysis and determine the best way forward. The essential questions we will want to address include:

  • Are we making sufficient progress and how do we know?
  • Can we afford to keep going in light of budget pressures?
  • If we believe we should keep going, do we have the right model and strategy?
  • If we decide to close down the effort, should we find a way to keep a line in the water?

I have provided the task force with my written analysis and various options on how to proceed.

I wrestled with going on this trip given the budget work underway (and canceled my planned spring trip), but I have to say that the hours of conversation and the face to face meetings could not have been replicated on the phone. Somethings just have to be done in person.

The other reason for not canceling was that a long ago agreed to be the Commencement Speaker for the graduation ceremonies at our Malaysian partner, HELP University. We had 80 SNHU graduates in the 250 student graduating class, including four Gold Key Award winners and the Validectorian, Andrew Chan. It was a delight to be part of the event. Parents were incredibly proud and our students were marvelous. Vicky Teo does a great job overseeing the program and maintains high standards of quality. The program enjoys a 90% retention rate (we should be so good on the main campus). The program also generates very good surpluses.

The students and their families were so appreciative to have their university president there and they share a sense that they are very much part of our SNHU community.

Some other random observations from the trip:

1. Shanghai and Beijing may be modern and cosmopolitan, but the drop off is pretty steep when one travels to the secondary cities. In one case, I asked for a non-smoking room, only to find someone spraying copious amounts of air freshener in the room. I asked what he was doing as he finished by putting the ashtrays into a drawer and he said, “you asked for non-smoking!” Add rock hard beds and stained carpets and it made one long for a Motel 6.

2. The Chinese are building mega-campuses seemingly over night. One 8,000 student campus with a large number of huge buildings (China never does anything small) was built in one nine month period in 2008 (hear that Vachon?). However impressive at first glance, there’s less there than meets the eye. Unskilled labor, albeit masses of them, and inferior materials and too little time for concrete to set and paint to dry means that three year old buildings look 23 years old and a lack of good maintenace exacerbates the problem.

3. They joke that “If you can make it, the Chinese can fake it.” I kept seeing what I thought were BMW SUVs and then realized that a Chinese car maker had done a near perfect imitation of the more expensive BMW. The night markets are flooded with near perfect knock offs of high end cell phones from Nokia and others and they are said to work perfectly well. Films that are being released in the US on a Tuesday or often in the DVD stores that day and sometimes even before. Amazing really. The IP challenges in China remain enormous.

4. One narrative taking hold now is that there is no G8– it’s the G2, China and the United States. These are two superpowers and the tension will not be manifested in nuclear arsenals, but in financial resources. Not sure we’re winning.

5. Visited Nanchang University — 90,000 students. It’s the second biggest campus in China and is a veritable city unto itself.

6. We heard about the Dean of Continuing Education at one university who had signed a major contract with a vendor and skimmed more than a $1m from the top. The vendor disappeared with millions more. Angry parents protested on campus, police were called in, the dean is being charged and will likely see serious prison time. Someone explained that this was “small pocket” larceny. Not that the amount was small, but that money went into the pocket of an individual instead of a group or a company, thus “small pocket.” The rule of thumb, they say, is one year of prison for every $10,000. Do the math. It’s also said that if one goes into a Chinese prison for more than six years, one never comes out alive.

 7. Worked on the budget and other matters while gone and it is true that information technology makes it infinitely easier to stay in touch. That said, video Skype was hit and miss and we did better when I could join EC by audio alone. The technology does not help with the 12 hour time difference and the rhythm of work was an odd one. Thankfully (sort of) jet lag meant I was often online and working at the same time as folks back in NH. I don’t know how people do this sort of travel often — it wipes me out.

8. A lot of people kindly inquired after the health of our girls after I reported their being stricken with the H1N1 virus. They have both recovered and it turns out that for most people, including them, H1N1 is milder than regular flu. It last just three or four days and the fever subsided quickly. It remains frightening for pregnant women and for those cases where it takes a bad turn, especially in younger children.

It sure is good to be back home.

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