Peking Uni to open campus in Oxford

Peking University bought the 19th-century manor in late February, beating off three rivals.
Peking University bought the 19th-century manor in late February, beating off three rivals.PHOTO: PEKING UNIVERSITY HSBC BUSINESS SCHOOL

Varsity 's business school branch will occupy $15.4m site currently used by Open University

SHENZHEN • China's prestigious Peking University has acquired a campus in the city of Oxford in the country's effort to boost the global standing of its top universities.

The university in late February bought the Boars Hill site for £8.8 million (S$15.4 million), reports said.

Peking University is opening a branch of its Shenzhen-based HSBC Business School (PHBS) next year at Foxcombe Hall, currently occupied by the Open University.

A statement from PHBS said China was "opening its higher education market to the world" in a bid to improve the country's "inferior position globally over the past century".

It added that after the Brexit vote, "the European Union and the Great Britain have become more competitive in their desire to enhance their relationship with China".

Foxcombe Hall and its grounds have been home to the long-distance learning institution for 40 years, earlier reports said. The Open University is due to vacate the premises next month.

The sale is part of the Open University's long-term strategy to close seven regional centres, including Oxford, and focus on three larger student recruitment and support facilities in Manchester, Milton Keynes and Nottingham, reported Oxford Mail.

Professor Wen Hai, dean of Peking University, said the university had beaten off competition from three rivals, including an unnamed Oxford college, by offering a "very tempting price" that left the sellers with "little room to say 'no'".

Speaking to financial magazine Caixin, he said the university had been able to do so thanks to its close ties to China's Communist Party.

Those connections allowed it to "to expedite the transfer of money needed for the acquisition" despite tight capital controls imposed by Beijing, in an attempt to stop firms and citizens shifting large sums of money overseas.

The courses at the new Oxford campus, which is not connected to the University of Oxford, will focus on "professional knowledge of China's economy, financial market and corporate management".

Students will be given the opportunity to study for a year in Oxford and another year in China.

Prof Wen did not say how many students the school initially plans to enrol and how much it will charge for the two-year master's programme.

Professor Gerhard Stahl, a visiting professor at PHBS in Shenzhen, said it is impossible to analyse major global economic issues without watching China closely.

Peking University president Lin Jianhua said in a statement: "It is our hope that the new initiative in Oxford will further strengthen the school's international reputation, as well as its teaching and research capabilities."

China now has two universities on the world's top 40 list, according to the latest Times Higher Education rankings. Peking University is ranked 29th, while Tsinghua University is in the 35th position.

The purchase of the Oxford campus came just months after President Xi Jinping called for Chinese universities to be transformed into strongholds of Communist Party rule.

China's colleges and universities must "serve the Communist Party in its management of the country", Mr Xi told a meeting on ideology within higher education last December.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Peking Uni to open campus in Oxford'. Print Edition | Subscribe