“Our university was founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin,” Provost Vincent Price was explaining. “And his vision was to create citizens for the city of Philadelphia, the Colonies, and later, our new nation. But we’re living in a world where markets are global in scale—consumer markets, financial markets—and a student educated anywhere in the world has to have a significant repertoire of cultural proficiencies.”
Price has had countless occasions to retell the University’s origin story, but mid-March found him doing so in an unusual venue: a talk show on CCTV News, a 24-hour English-language news channel owned by China’s foremost state-controlled television broadcaster.
Price, along with more than 40 other senior administrators and Penn faculty—including eight deans—was in Beijing to open the Penn Wharton China Center (PWCC), a 17,000-square-foot facility located in the Cesar Pelli-designed World Financial Center. And now he was on TV trying to explain why.
“In today’s world, China is very important,” he went on. “We have a number of students who study abroad here in China. We have thousands of Chinese students at the University of Pennsylvania. And we feel that it’s important to have a two-way dialogue, and our establishment of the Penn Wharton Center reflects a number of opportunities we think that exist for just this kind of exchange.”
In conversation with CCTV anchor Yang Rui and Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based public-policy think tank, Price elaborated on the thinking behind Penn’s move to establish a physical presence in Beijing.
“Americans have traditionally been reluctant to engage abroad as they should,” he said, addressing Rui’s observation that Chinese students pursue education in America in far greater numbers than the other way around.
“We are seeing an uptick in interest in studying Mandarin, and studying abroad here in China. It’s now one of our top five destinations for students who study abroad. I expect that that will increase over time. And interest in Chinese culture and language is at an all-time high at the University of Pennsylvania.”
“Not all students have the opportunity to study for a year abroad,” he added. “What we’re doing now is forming seminars that might take a few weeks and travel with a class. They can come to spend time at our center here in Beijing, for example. It’s a way to expand that exposure, initially through smaller steps. And I expect over time we’ll see that grow—so that maybe coming to graduate school in China becomes more of an option.”
Penn is not the first Ivy to establish a beachhead in China. Yale and Harvard both have centers. But the University is in some sense following its alumni.
“The Center will be an invaluable resource available to the nearly 1,800 Wharton alumni living in China, and 10,000 Penn alumni currently living in Asia,” said Wharton Dean Geoffrey Garrett in a statement. A physical presence, he noted, “further enhances Wharton’s position as a training ground for current and future global leaders across public and private sectors in China.”
Wharton also expects the PWCC to be a boon for Wharton Executive Education, which partners with companies in a consulting capacity. Executives from firms ranging from Bank of Beijing to E-House China have come to Philadelphia to gain access to Wharton faculty consultants. PWCC’s website (pwcc.upenn.edu) now trumpets the extension of the program’s geographical reach: “The same Wharton faculty who earned rave reviews from participants in USA based programs are now available to work directly with your company or organization anywhere in the world including China through the Penn Wharton China Center.”
The March opening kicked off a 100-day blitz of programming covering topics ranging from e-commerce to urban landscape architecture.
“We are building on Penn’s history of broad, deep engagement with China,” said President Amy Gutmann, who plans to visit the PWCC in September for a gala marking its launch, “and creating a Center that provides an impressive infrastructure and significant resources to augment the University of Pennsylvania’s many collaborations and partnerships with great Chinese educational institutions. The Center represents another major milestone in the Penn Compact 2020’s vision of bringing Penn to the world and the world to Penn.” —T.P.