Since it was created six years ago, the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies (SCCS) has firmly established itself as the largest centre of contemporary Chinese studies in the UK and Europe.
Moving into the stunning and inspiring Si Yuan China Centre is another significant milestone in SCCS’ six year period of rapid development. The decision to go ahead with the construction of the new building was partly due to a generous £1 million donation by Mr Thomas Chen, chairman of the Si Yuan Foundation based in Hong Kong, and partly due to the outstanding financial performance of the school. Our office space has increased almost fivefold from the previous accommodation in International House and the Amenities Building on the ever-growing, picturesque and rapidly maturing Jubilee Campus.
When the Si Yuan China Centre was officially opened on 19 December 2012, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Greenaway, his Excellency Mr Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to the UK, Lord John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK and the patron of the school’s China Policy Institute, made some really encouraging and touching speeches admiring the successful development of SCCS. Over 130 invited guests and staff attended the opening ceremony, reflecting a clear endorsement of the school by colleagues and friends from within and outside the University of Nottingham.
In 2012, SCCS went through a successful school review conducted by the University. The review reaffirmed the school’s achievements and identified some challenges and constraints. Based on the review, the school’s management executive team has developed a medium term strategy to help the school achieve its long term mission of becoming the best and largest centre of education, research, policy analysis and promotion of the Chinese language and culture on contemporary China in the UK and Europe.
In the 2014 REF, SCCS aims to enter 25-27 academic staff, about twice as many as for the 2008 RAE. Preparatory work for the 2014 REF is well under way. Preliminary internal assessment indicates that SCCS will substantially raise its academic standing in all aspects, including the number of eligible academics, research quality and quantity, external impact, research grants, PhD student numbers and research environment.
In the last six years, student numbers measured by FTEs (full time equivalents) rose fivefold to 471, with PhD and taught Masters students accounting for about one-third of the student population. Financial revenues increased six fold, enabling the school to almost triple its staff numbers from 17 to 50, to eliminate its initial deficit and to produce sizeable surpluses in the last three years which were large enough to cover the construction cost of the new building. In 2012 alone, 12 new staff members were recruited, including 2 Chairs, 3 Associate Professors, 3 Lecturers, 1 Senior Research Fellow and 3 members of administrative staff. Some new posts are being created in 2013 to further enhance our research, teaching, supervision, policy analysis and student service quality and capability.
By the end of 2012, SCCS had 24 PhD students specialising in various aspects of contemporary Chinese studies. It has also attracted over 900 University students to study Mandarin as part of their degree courses, making the University of Nottingham the largest Mandarin language and Chinese culture teaching centre in the UK.
Apart from contributing to the teaching of degree courses, the Nottingham Confucius Institute teachers and volunteers run evening Mandarin classes, recruiting over 200 students each year from within and outside the University. It has also organised a Mandarin language speech competition, tai chi, calligraphy, Chinese tea tasting, paper cutting, Chinese traditional dancing and singing, and many other cultural activities in the University and the local communities around Nottingham.
The school’s successful financial performance was due to rising teaching income, external research funding, executive training and other services provided by the school to the University and some government organisations in the UK and China. SCCS has created a comprehensive array of degree programmes at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, offering a wide range of choices for both home/EU and overseas students. It has accumulated an external research and research-related income of over £7 million in six years.
SCCS has created a vibrant research environment for Chinese Studies. It has successfully organised five annual conferences for the International Forum for Contemporary Chinese Studies (IFCCS) in Nottingham and in China. The last annual conference was held jointly with the Beijing University of Industry in Beijing in September 2012, attracting over 120 papers and 200 participants from all over the world.
The School’s regular seminar series and brown-bag seminars have attracted many top China scholars from different parts of the world to present their research papers and exchange research ideas with SCCS academic staff members, visiting scholars and research students. SCCS staff members have significantly increased the volume and quality of their academic publications, producing books, edited books, refereed journal articles, book chapters, conference papers, working papers and policy commentaries.
SCCS, with its China Policy Institute (CPI) and Nottingham Confucius Institute (NCI) has become well-known both as a centre of policy analysis and promoter of Chinese culture and language. CPI has regularly produced policy opinion pieces in various Chinese and English newspapers and policy journals. Some staff members have contributed to many leading Chinese websites, producing policy blogs and commentaries and generating tens of millions of hits.
SCCS with its CPI has successfully trained three cohorts of Chevening young scholars who are mid- to high-level leaders of the All China Youth Federation. The training programme, generously sponsored by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Chinese government, will continue in 2013.
We have many reasons to be proud of our achievements, and whilst it is right we feel proud of them, we must carefully consider the current state of China and the intellectual challenges that new developments will present to us in the future.
In 2012, preliminary statistics indicate that China’s GDP expanded by 7.8% in real terms, amounting to RMB 52 trillion, or $8.3 trillion using the current foreign exchange rate (compared to RMB 47.2 trillion and $7.3 trillion in 2011). International trade reached $3.84 trillion, up by 6.2%, with a trade surplus of $231 billion.
There is no doubt that China has become a global economic superpower, but the macro-economic indicators mentioned above represent a significant slowdown of economic growth and trade expansion in China. Various external and internal factors have contributed to the slowdown, including the EU debt crisis, sluggish recovery of the US and Japanese economies, rising RMB exchange rate and domestic factor costs, particularly the costs of labour and land, domestic structural distortions and environmental pollution.
In China, the Communist Party successfully held its 18th Party Congress in November 2012. This means that China should be able to maintain its social and political stability which is an essential condition for its sustainable economic growth and prosperity.
Demand for more press freedom and democracy, however, is rising in China. Whether the Chinese Communist Party and the government are able and willing to reform the current systems of press control and bureaucracy remains to be seen, but this possible development will provide a fertile soil for China scholars in their future research.
I have been leading this school since its inception, and feel really proud to have worked with an ever-expanding and excellent team of academic and support staff whose hard work and professionalism have made the exceptional performance of this school possible. With on-going and unreserved support from University senior managers, I am looking forward to building on our achievements and to working towards an even more successful future for the school.
Professor Shujie Yao (January 2013)
Professor of Economics and Chinese Sustainable Development
Head of School of Contemporary Chinese Studies