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Wed September 25, 2013

For Some NYU Students, A Sweet Deal To Study ... In Shanghai

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 8:58 am

First-year college student Stephanie Ulan, from Queens, N.Y., had her sights set on New York University, in the heart of Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

She got her wish — sort of.

At first, the school offered her a generous scholarship but told her and her father they'd still have to take out big loans.

"My father is 62 years old," says Ulan, who plans to major in international relations. "There was a big scene and he flipped out and he was, like, 'I can't do that.' "

Then, NYU made her a better offer — but only if she attended NYU's new Shanghai campus, where she'd applied as an afterthought by clicking a box on an application. The deal: tuition, room, board and even reimbursement for her plane ticket to Shanghai.

"I was a little bit flabbergasted," says Ron Ulan, Stephanie's dad, who works as a computer programmer with the New York City Police Department.

Ron, who says he lives check to check, calculated the savings over four years.

"A scholarship that's worth about $228,000," he says. "How can you turn that down?"

And ultimately, that's how Stephanie Ulan found herself among the students at NYU Shanghai this month, when classes opened at the first Chinese-American, joint-venture university.

The NYU Shanghai campus aspires to educate a new generation of students who can speak English and Mandarin and navigate U.S. and Chinese culture.

For Students, A Variety Of Perks

For many first-year students like Ulan who are willing to take the plunge, there is an added benefit: huge tuition breaks.

Although money was a big factor in her decision, Ulan says she's glad she came to China, because she's stretching herself in ways she never would have back home. While her friends at American universities talk about partying every night, Ulan says she's often focused on more basic needs.

"I need to find someone who speaks Chinese, because I want to eat lunch today," says Ulan, 18, who adds that she's determined to learn the language.

Ulan wasn't the only U.S. student at the campus to get financial aid. Half a dozen others with whom NPR spoke said they got either huge discounts or free tuition.

Why is NYU Shanghai being so generous?

Ron Ulan thinks it's because the school wants to attract quality students to a new program. Jeff Lehman, the vice chancellor of NYU Shanghai and the former president of Cornell, puts it a bit differently. He says the school was able to offer huge scholarships with the help of private donors, including Chinese interested in reforming the country's education system.

"We've benefited from tremendous philanthropic support," says Lehman, speaking from his office on the leafy campus of East China Normal University, NYU's joint-venture partner in Shanghai. "As we prove ourselves, I very much hope that kind of support will translate into the creation of a great endowment."

The inaugural class of 300 is nearly split between Chinese and international students, including 90 from the U.S. Every foreign student rooms with one from China.

The attraction for Chinese students is getting a Western education without leaving home or draining their parents' bank accounts. The Shanghai government pays roughly two-thirds of their $45,000 annual tuition bill.

Yang Xiran, who grew up in southwestern China's Sichuan province, says she came to NYU Shanghai to get away from the country's rote style of learning and to engage with professors.

"[At NYU] the teachers want you to be involved in the class more," she says. "They want you to ask, 'Why?' In my high school, the teacher just kept talking."

Phyllis Cai, from neighboring Jiangsu province, finds the classrooms at NYU Shanghai much freer than traditional Chinese ones.

In the first week, students discussed politically sensitive topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. When Cai tried to address the subject in a presentation in her Chinese high school, her teacher stopped her and told her to never bring it up again. Cai did get to make a presentation to her high school class, but she had to change the topic to something less controversial: food.

One thing Cai finds challenging is the language. All classes at NYU Shanghai are taught in English.

"Sometimes, I just can't understand all the things my classmates and professors said and I do practice listening every day," says Cai, who estimated her comprehension at about 70 percent.

Some faculty back in New York worry that NYU — which also has a campus in Abu Dhabi — has expanded too quickly, straining resources. Rebecca Karl, a faculty senator and China scholar, says that as professors head overseas to staff other campuses, NYU New York suffers.

"In the senate committees I'm in, the complaints have been persistent about Abu Dhabi," she says, "particularly from such places as the Economics Department, which has had trouble finding people to teach the large intro courses here in New York because their professors are going abroad."

Lehman says Shanghai has minimal impact on New York. Of the 50 faculty this year, he says, only 15 are from the Manhattan campus and only three of them are in Shanghai for the entire year.

Shanghai, NYU Stand To Gain

Richard Vedder, who runs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington think tank, says schools like NYU face some big challenges these days. He says with students balking at high tuition and endowment growth slow, schools like NYU are looking to other countries.

"I think there's a financial motive," he says. "They want to have a top, national reputation — and they do have a good reputation — but they don't have the resources or the historical prestige that the Harvards have."

So, Vedder says, schools like NYU have to look overseas "to expand [their] franchise and also to make some money."

What does Shanghai stand to gain from the partnership?

For one thing: prestige.

NYU is widely respected. Shanghai's Pudong district government is giving the school rent-free use of a 15-story building — estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars — in China's Wall Street, Lujiazui.

Yu Lizhong, chancellor of NYU Shanghai, says the school will help the image of Lujiazui, which, despite its towering architecture, has yet to become the hub city planners envisioned.

Yu, who also served as president of East China Normal University, says the partnership with NYU can help improve and reform China's oft-criticized educational system.

In fact, he says, it's already happening. When prospective students used to interview at East China Normal, they would sit and wait with nothing to eat or drink. After watching NYU's more gracious approach, Yu says East China Normal — known as ECNU — changed.

"Now, ECNU also prepares some tea, coffee, and some dessert for the student, to make them comfortable, to [feel] respected," Yu says.

That may sound small, but it's meaningful change. In China's hierarchical education system, a prospective student is seen as a supplicant, not a consumer.

Of course, NYU Shanghai has far bigger goals. They include building an undergraduate student body of 2,000 and developing a sustainable way to fund the fledgling school.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Classes opened this month at the first Chinese-American joint venture university. It's called NYU Shanghai. And its goal is to educate a new generation of students who can speak English and Mandarin and who can navigate both U.S. and Chinese culture. Sounds like it'll cost a bundle, but not necessarily. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai that the school is offering huge tuition breaks for many first year students who are willing to take the plunge.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, no.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I got this. I got this.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's a Friday evening after the first week of classes. Some American students are filling in a map on a whiteboard for fun.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm totally kidding.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Ooh, Switzerland's in here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: That's Mongolia.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Mongolia.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Are these - are these the stans?

STEPHANIE ULAN: I'm Stephanie Ulan. I'm from New York City.

LANGFITT: Where in New York?

ULAN: Queens, Flushing, Queens.

LANGFITT: Ulan came here to study international relations. She says the first few weeks in Shanghai are already challenging her.

ULAN: It pushes me a lot more here. I'd message my friends, and they're all there at United States colleges, and they're all very, like, wow, this is so awesome. I party every night. And I'm thinking, like, wow, I need to find someone who speaks Chinese, because I want to eat lunch today. You know, I'm going to learn the language, and I'm going to learn how to adapt to new situations. I wouldn't get that in New York City.

LANGFITT: But originally, that's just where Ulan wanted to go. She applied to New York University in Manhattan. The school offered her a generous scholarship but told her and her dad they'd still have to take out big loans.

ULAN: My father is 62 years old. There was a big scene. He like flipped out because he was like, I can't do that. Like, I can't take that money, and I don't want to put it on her.

LANGFITT: Then NYU offered a better deal, if she came to the new Shanghai campus where she'd applied as an afterthought.

ULAN: Here, I've got a full ride and even a refund to help pay for my plane ticket and food and other necessities.

RON ULAN: I was a little bit flabbergasted.

LANGFITT: This is Ron Ulan, Stephanie's dad. He works as a computer programmer with the New York City Police Department. Ron says he lives check to check.

ULAN: NYU, so prestige university, at least think of it as a prestige university. a scholarship that's worth about $228,000. How can you turn that down?

LANGFITT: Stephanie Ulan wasn't the only American student to get financial aid. a half dozen others told me they either got huge discounts or free tuition. Ron Ulan suspects NYU is so generous because it wanted to attract quality students to a new program.

JEFF LEHMAN: My name is Jeff Lehman, and I am the vice chancellor of NYU Shanghai.

LANGFITT: Lehman says the school is able to offer big scholarships because of private donors, including Chinese interested in reforming the country's education system.

LEHMAN: In the early years, we've benefitted from tremendous philanthropic support. As we prove ourselves, as we develop a strong track record of achievement, I very much hope that that kind of support will translate into the creation of a great endowment.

LANGFITT: The inaugural class of 300 is nearly split between Chinese and international students, including 90 from the U.S. Every foreign student roams with one from China. The attraction for Chinese students is getting a Western education without leaving home or draining their parents' bank accounts. The Shanghai government pays roughly two-thirds of their $45,000 annual tuition bill.

YANG XIRAN: I'm Yang Xiran. I'm from Sichuan.

LANGFITT: Yang grew up in a town in southwestern China. She came to NYU Shanghai to get away from the country's rouge style of teaching and to engage with professors.

XIRAN: The teachers want you to be involved in the class more. Like, they want you to ask why. Like, in my high school, the teacher just kept talking.

LANGFITT: They talked the entire class?

XIRAN: Yeah.

CAI XINGYANG: My name is Cai Xingyang, and I'm from Jaingsu Province.

LANGFITT: Cai claims the classrooms here much freer than traditional Chinese ones. In the first week, students discuss politically-sensitive topics such as the 1989 democracy movement which ended in slaughter.

When Cai tried to address the subject back at her Chinese high school, it didn't go well.

XINGYANG: I said my - today, my topic is Tiananmen uprising. And my teacher said, don't say that again.

LANGFITT: Were you able to give your presentation, or did she stop you?

XINGYANG: That day, I just didn't do my presentation. But the next time, I chose another topic about food.

(LAUGHTER)

LANGFITT: One thing Cai finds challenging at NYU Shanghai is the language. All classes are taught in English.

XINGYANG: Sometimes I just can't understand all the things my classmates and my professors said, and I do practice listening every day.

LANGFITT: How much do you think you don't understand? What percentage would you say so far?

XINGYANG: Maybe 30 percent.

LANGFITT: Some faculty in New York worry that the university, which also has a campus in Abu Dhabi, has expanded too quickly, straining resources. Rebecca Karl is a faculty senator and China scholar. She says that as professors head overseas to staff other campuses, NYU New York suffers.

REBECCA KARL: In the senate committees that I'm in, the complaint has been persistent about Abu Dhabi, particularly from such places as the economics department, who have had trouble finding professors to teach the large intro courses here in New York because their professors are going abroad.

LANGFITT: Jeff Lehman says Shanghai has minimal impact on New York. Of the 50 faculty here this year, he says only 15 are from the Manhattan campus. And he adds...

LEHMAN: Only three of them are here for the whole year.

RICHARD VEDDER, CENTER FOR COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY AND PRODUCTIVITY: I think schools like NYU are in a little bit of a difficult situation.

LANGFITT: Richard Vedder runs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington think thank. He says with students balking at high tuitions and endowment growth slow, some schools like NYU are looking to other countries.

PRODUCTIVITY: I think there's a financial motive. They want to have a top, national reputation, and they do have a good reputation, but they don't have the resources or the historical prestige that the Harvards have. So a school like NYU has to look for new places to expand its franchise and also to make some money.

LANGFITT: What does Shanghai stand to gain from the partnership? For one thing: prestige. NYU is widely respected. The local government is giving the school rent-free use of a 15-story building, estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, in China's Wall Street, Lujiazui.

YU LIZHONG: That would really help the future development and image of Lujiazui.

LANGFITT: Yu Lizhong is the chancellor of NYU Shanghai. He says in addition to boosting the city's profile, NYU can also help reform China's oft-criticized educational system. In fact, Yu says, it's already happening. NYU Shanghai is a partnership with the city's East China Normal University. When prospective students interview there, they used to sit and wait with nothing to eat or drink. After watching NYU's more gracious approach, Yu says East China Normal, known as ECNU, changed.

LIZHONG: Now, ECNU also prepares some, you know, tea, coffee, some dessert for the students to make them comfortable, to be respected.

LANGFITT: That sounds small, but it's a significant change. In China's hierarchical education system, a prospective student is seen as a supplicant, not a consumer. Of course, NYU Shanghai has far bigger goals. They include building an undergraduate student body of 2,000 and developing a sustainable way to fund the school. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.