Chinese vice premier joins U.S. and Chinese university presidents for discussion on higher education

Madame Liu Yandong, the vice premier of the People’s Republic of China, spoke to 22 U.S. and Chinese university presidents about global education and cultural exchange at a University of Chicago event on Nov. 18.

Liu’s address was part of a daylong meeting of the presidents of major U.S. and Chinese universities. The U.S.-China Presidents Roundtable was hosted by University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer; Wang Enge, president of Peking University; and David W. Leebron, president of Rice University. The event featured four discussions focused on strengthening scholarly collaboration and research ties between institutions in the two countries.

In her speech to university presidents and invited members of the UChicago community, Liu, the highest-ranking official in China whose portfolio includes higher education, emphasized recent education reform in her country. The reforms aimed to provide a better and fairer education for everyone in China, Liu said.

“Human resources and education are the basis for the realization of the Chinese dream,” she said in translated remarks. “Presidents of Chinese universities all share the view that economic growth meets today’s needs; science and technology is for tomorrow; and education is for the day after tomorrow.”

Liu, who has oversight of all programs relating to education, culture, sports and health, also underscored the importance of people-to-people engagement through exchange programs across cultures and borders.

In his introductory comments, Zimmer also emphasized the value of international scholarly collaboration.

“These conversations that we are having today are a natural outgrowth of more than a century of academic collaboration among scholars of our institutions, and they have taken on new intensity and importance as the engagement around the globe increases. At the University of Chicago, our faculty and students have taken a much greater interest in recent years in China in particular and Asia more generally,” Zimmer said. “[I]t grows out of the realization that there are enormous numbers of colleagues in China that have made and are making outstanding contributions to their respective disciplines.”

In addition, Zimmer added, scholars believe that “many of the most important problems we face are problems that are globally driven” and cannot be solved be a single country alone.

After Liu’s address, Michael K. Young, president of the University of Washington; Jie Zhang, president of Shanghai Jiaotong University; and John Sexton, president of New York University, made brief remarks, in addition to Leebron and Wang.

In his comments, Sexton praised Liu’s long-standing commitment to building a relationship of mutual trust between the U.S. and China, as well as her understanding that “education is central to not only building that relationship, but to building a better world.”

Following the discussion, Zimmer and Liu witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the China Scholarship Council. The council will provide scholarships for students from China to study at the University of Chicago.

Liu then toured the University with a delegation of Chinese officials, including Yuan Guiren, Minister of Education; Li Bin, Minister of National Health and Family Planning Commission; and Zhang Yesui, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs; Cui Tiankai, Chinese Ambassador to the United States. 

After her visit to the University, Liu toured an after-school program in downtown Chicago and was the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Thursday, Liu and Secretary of State John Kerry will co-chair a Washington, D.C. event aimed at increasing cooperation between U.S. and Chinese education institutions.