UC Berkeley Seeks China Gold 

The university is working on a new research facility in Shanghai that promises to attract more money from foreign students who pay higher tuition.

This summer, Cal's engineering department plans to complete a new research and teaching facility in Shanghai's Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, one of China's biggest research and development centers. The facility is to be predominately funded by the Chinese government, and while it initially will only offer a few courses, it could eventually grow into a degree-granting satellite campus of UC Berkeley.

A few other universities, including NYU, Harvard, and Georgetown also operate campuses overseas. However, if UC Berkeley follows through with this proposal, it will become one of only two US public universities operating a full-scale international campus. And while such a partnership would surely provide opportunities to UC Berkeley students and faculty, the biggest motivator seems to be money.

For years university officials have been bolstering the school's presence in China in an effort to attract international students, and by and large, they've been successful. Historically between 3 and 5 percent of UC undergraduates were from abroad. But last fall, roughly 13 percent of incoming freshmen were international — the majority of whom came from China. This has been a big boost for the UC's coffers, as international students pay nearly three times as much in tuition as Californians.

Cal is targeting Chinese students at a time when the school is becoming increasingly costly for California residents. Last year, for the first time in history, the University of California system received more revenue from student tuition than from the state government. That's because over the past twenty years, per-student funding from the state has plummeted by roughly 60 percent for the UC system, and student fees have more than quadrupled. "There's this misperception that because we're a public university, the public funds us completely, but that's not true," said Diane Klein, a representative for the UC Office of the President. "The old model of state funding has been dead for years."

In an attempt to maintain quality and accessibility in the face of stifling budget cuts, UC officials have increased entrepreneurial ventures and sought out private investors. However, without considerable state support, the quality and quantity of academic programs across the ten UC campuses have steadily eroded. Since 2003, more than 180 programs have been axed, the student-faculty ratio has increased by 20 percent, and countless professors and staff have been lost to attrition.

In his State of the State Address earlier this year, Governor Brown promised to restore funding to the UC. "I will not let the students become the default financiers of our colleges and universities ... tuition increases are not the answer," he said. Brown's proposed 2012-2013 budget plan could direct an additional $250 million to both the CSU and UC systems, pending the approval of the state legislature. The plan also would increase funding for the UC and CSU by roughly 5 percent a year until 2017. But even if Brown's budget is approved, the UC's financial shortfall will still exceed $1 billion. "The funding that's been proposed, while certainly a welcome relief, is by no means a panacea. It's a step in the right direction," said Klein.

So, how much money would it take to fix the UC with one fell swoop? According to a working paper drafted by UC San Francisco professor Stanton Glantz and UC Irvine professor Robert Hayes, rolling tuition back to 2001 levels would require an annual tax hike of $48 to the median-income earner. The top 5 percent of income earners, however, would have to pay more than $4,700 a year in additional taxes. This proposal would not only trim $8,000 off of UC tuition, bringing it down to $5,000 a year from its current rate of $13,000, but it would also substantially cut CSU and community college fees. "We could restore quality and restore access," said Glantz. "This problem actually does have a solution."

While raising taxes is historically unpopular in California, the Glantz-Hayes proposal could receive strong support. A 2010 survey found that 79 percent of California voters backed increasing state funding for colleges and universities, and the passage of Prop 30 showed that people are ready to invest more resources into public services.

However, while UC officials regularly decry the state for not providing adequate support, they're hesitant to put their weight behind the proposal. "The nominal leadership in the institution — namely the president, the chancellors, and the board of regents — aren't behind it," said Glantz. "And that makes it hard to mobilize public action to solve these problems."

Instead of pressuring the state for more funding, the financial leaders of the university have doubled down on securing alternative sources of revenues. "The old ways have to change, and we have to elicit help from all interested stakeholders," said Klein.

UC Berkeley's Zhangjiang facility could be one way to boost revenues. "We're not spending a lot of our own resources going overseas, but we'll still secure more opportunities for our faculty and students here," said UC Berkeley engineering professor Tsu-Jae King Liu. "A lot of our graduate students are from mainland China, and if we're spending our time and effort to educate Chinese students, we may as well try and get resources from China to help us do so."

Although the influx of foreign students raises questions as to whether California residents will be squeezed out, nontraditional, profit-seeking partnerships like the Zhangjiang project have become common at the university. The Haas School of Business and the law school are considering expanding into China as well. There's also the UC Online program, which streams courses to students around the world. While the program promised to generate substantial revenue from out-of-state and international students, as of February only one person had enrolled in the program, and she only took one course, according to an investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle. The university has also seen a dramatic increase in corporate partners, but most private research grants only benefit very small sectors of the university.

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