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UMass Signs Agreement with China To Offer Online Courses

As free-Tibet protesters continue their efforts to block passage of the Olympic torch on its way to Beijing for the opening of the Summer Games, one US campus has decided that the best approach to changing the course of history is by educating China's populace.

The University of Massachusetts has signed an agreement that places it on course to become the first foreign university approved to offer online education courses and degree programs in China. Under the agreement, signed in Beijing, officials from UMass, as well as China's Continuing Education Association (CCEA) and the CerEdu Corp. will work together to make UMassOnline, the school's distance education program, available to students in China.

Plans call for UMassOnline to offer credit and non-credit courses, certificate programs and degree programs from all five UMass campuses--through online and face to face programs--throughout China. Within a year, the university expects to be offering 40 online classes, four certificate programs and one master's degree program. UMassOnline has an international base of 33,000 students.

"We are very proud to have been chosen by our partners in China to enter into this agreement," said President Jack M. Wilson. "UMass has forged extensive ties with partners in China, a nation that has emerged as an economic and scientific superpower. And those academic and research connections will pay many dividends for our students and for the citizens of the Commonwealth in the years to come."

The agreement resulted from a 2006 academic and research partnership between UMass and Tsinghua University. Both CCEA, a national academic society focusing on continuing education research, and CerEdu, which offers a distance learning platform, are affiliated with Tsinghua, which has a close relationship with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The Ministry of Education has final approval power over distance learning programs in China and currently does not recognize the college credits or degree credentials earned in China via distance learning offerings from any foreign-based academic institution. According to a statement from UMass, only 68 universities within China have been authorized by the Ministry to deliver online programs.

"This joint venture will position UMassOnline to receive the Ministry's approval to provide online education and grant degrees throughout China," predicted David Gray, CEO of UMassOnline.

"The importance of this strategic partnership cannot be overstated," said Yan Jichang, vice chairman and general secretary of CCEA. "Gaining support throughout all of China and from the Ministry of Education for UMassOnline, with the intention of encouraging, introducing, approving and sustaining high-quality online courses from a leading university already well-known to us, is important to the future of China's place in the league of nations and the aspirations of our students to achieve world class academic credentials."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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